Clifford Chieffo 50 Years: The Founding of Art, Music and Theater at Georgetown

Charles Marvin Fairchild Memorial Gallery

To begin, it is a misnomer to call this display a proper exhibition, because for me it is more precisely a narrative of both a tour through my studio and personal library, and my service as a professor and curator over five decades at Georgetown. In concept, it is more in the tradition of the 19th century Gentleman’s Cabinet. Though not exactly a Cabinet of Curiosities (disambiguation) or The Kunstkammer of the 16th–17th century— some may find an artist’s studio just that.

Regarding the social function of a Cabinet, my version here is best described by R.J.W. Evans’s notes on the topic stating, “[it can be] the more modest collection of the humanist scholar or virtuoso [sic], which served more practical [and artistic] and scientific purposes.”1

Over five decades, the temptation is great for revisionist history to be made—hence, the need for a visual narrative rather than a literary creation. For me as an artist, the ideas, research and the stuff of life is found in and is all about the end product—an object or artwork.

The display cases, for the most part, are loosely divided by decade and punctuated/anchored by major Georgetown events and/or by my books, grant reports, research results, etc. which will trigger and define the objects that follow. The labels may be informal, informative, or purely citations, and frequently in the first person singular or plural narrative style.

For example, the first display case begins with a prequel of the people and events that led to my being hired by Rev. Gerald Campbell S.J., then president in 1967. He served as president from December 1964 to January 1969, and interestingly, my arrival was directly in the middle of his term. At the time of my contract signing I was 29 years old and Georgetown, like colleges and universities across the country, was in an expansion and growth period.

In my first two years at Georgetown, the Faculty Senate was established, women were admitted to the College, undergraduate admissions began national recruitment, and construction on Lauinger Library had begun. Last but not least, the Arts bubble in the Georgetown glass of champagne rose to the top of the Dean’s priority list, and I founded/established the new Department of Art, Music & Theater.

Enjoy your visual stroll through my Cabinet!

1Impey, MacGregor, Oliver, Arthur, eds. The Origins of Museums: The Cabinet of Curiosities in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Europe. Oxford University Press (1985), p. 737.