Haden Brown, 334/844-1582


AUBURN -- The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University, the only university art museum in Alabama, will officially open to the public on Oct. 3 at a 10 a.m., ceremony. A reception will follow the opening ceremony.

There will also be a members-only reception on Oct. 1, and a formal dinner for museum donors the following evening.

The museum was named for Auburn alumnus Jule Collins Smith of Houston, whose husband, Al, a 1947 engineering graduate, donated $3 million toward construction of the museum as a 50th anniversary wedding present to his wife in 1998.

"Everyone is excited that the opening date for this grand facility has been set," said AU President William F. Walker. "It is a marvelous museum with a wonderful collection that will be an asset, not only to Auburn University and the Auburn-Opelika area, but, indeed, the state of Alabama.

"The university is extremely grateful to the many donors, especially the Smiths, who helped make this long-held dream a reality for Auburn," Walker added.

"The museum is genuinely a dream come true," said Mrs. Smith. "And, what a beautiful reality it is. The support of this project from all facets of the Auburn community and indeed, statewide, has been overwhelmingly gratifying. We are so very grateful to everyone who has been, is and will continue to be involved in this endeavor."

Meanwhile, Joseph Ansell, head of AU's Department of Art, has been named interim director of the museum.

Ansell will hold the dual posts during the search for a permanent director to replace Michael DeMarsche, who resigned in June to become president and CEO of the Fine Arts Center of Colorado Springs, Colo.

Built on a knoll overlooking a three-acre lake, the $13.2 million museum is located at Auburn's southern gateway and offers an inspiring introduction to one of the country's most picturesque college towns.

Designed by the Birmingham offices of the architectural firm Gresham, Smith and Partners, the building is one of the Southeastıs finest examples of modernist architecture.

The nearly 40,000-square-foot museum has eight exhibition galleries, a restaurant, a museum shop and a 125-seat auditorium. The 15-acre museum gardens include walking trails, a lake and a formal garden area designed in the classical European style. A new addition to the gardens is an 11-foot high brass sculpture by acclaimed U.S. sculptor Jean Woodham, an Auburn graduate.

The building's exterior and interior feature broad expanses of Italian travertine stone, which serves as one of the museumıs most distinctive architectural points.

A vaulted rotunda houses a resplendent three-tier glass chandelier, commissioned especially for the space from the internationally known glass artist Dale Chihuly of Seattle.

The museum's auditorium features the mural Alma Mater, which covers the room's north wall. Done by noted muralist and Auburn alumnus William Baggett of Poplarville, Miss., the mural depicts the daily life of Auburn University and its surrounding community.

The museum's exhibition galleries are designed to complement a permanent collection that is fast acquiring a reputation as one of the most outstanding and historically important in the Southeastern United States. The museum's Grand Gallery provides an expansive, light-filled space suitable for the exhibition of sculpture and decorative arts.

The museum's Helen and Dwight Carlisle Collection is one of the largest collections of Victorian Belleek porcelain in the world. And the Joan Cousins Hartman Collection exhibits outstanding examples of Tibetan Buddhist bronzes. On continuous exhibition in The Louise Hauss and David Brent Miller Audubon Gallery is one of the most complete collections of prints by the noted 19th-century naturalist, John James Audubon.

"The Advisory Board has always envisioned a museum that maintains the highest possible standards," says Carlisle, president of the museum advisory board. "I believe our building, collection, curatorial standards and programming are comparable to major museums across the country."

Another significant part of the museum's permanent collection is the 36 paintings and drawings that constitute its Advancing American Art Collection. This collection has been labeled by experts as one of the most important collections of American art from the post-World War II era.

Originally amassed by the State Department in 1946, the collection was purchased at auction by Auburn in 1948 in what has been called "the art bargain of the century."

The collection includes outstanding examples by such notables of the American art scene as John Marin, Georgia O'Keefe, Ben Shahn, Arthur Dove, Ralston Crawford, Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden.

Anthony Carey, associate dean of the AU College of Liberal Arts, managed museum operations during the summer, and Ansell assumed the duties with the start of fall semester on Aug. 20.

Ansell is a co-chair of the search committee for a permanent museum director. The other co-chair is Carlisle, head of the Museum Advisory Board and Alabama Revenue Commissioner. Carlisle has been nominated by AU's Trustee Selection Committee for a seat on the AU Board of Trustees.

The former dean of faculty and instructional programs at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Ansell joined the College of Liberal Arts at Auburn as director of the Art Department in 2001. Over the past two years, he has overseen the department during an upgrade of its Biggin Hall home from one of the most obsolete to one of the most modern academic facilities for art in the South.

Ansell, who earned a master of fine arts degree from George Washington University, has also taught at the University of Maryland.

The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art offers a varied and rich program of traveling exhibitions and lecturers.

The museumıs Masterpiece Lectures Series hosts speakers with international reputations, and has already presented such speakers as Thomas Hoving, director emeritus, and Philippe de Montebello, director, of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

During the fall of 2005, the museum will present "The Quilts of Gee's Bend," a traveling exhibition displaying what The New York Times has described as "some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced."

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CONTACT: Haden Brown, 334/844-1582.