The underground history of Nazareth College with President Daan Braveman

The underground history of Nazareth College with President Daan Braveman

Myself and President Braveman. With hard hats and lantern for our art adventure in the tunnels [Photo: Jane Kelly]

To a Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History, a subterranean tunnel system decorated with wall paintings is an embarrassment of archaeological riches.

That’s exactly what one finds in the tunnel system linking all the original buildings of the campus. For my time travel spelunking, I was joined by Nazareth President Daan Braveman and Jane Kelly, Associate Vice President for Student Development. We walked through the history of the school as it has evolved from a Catholic women’s college into a co-ed, non-denominational, comprehensive college — perhaps no better exemplified than in Dr. Braveman, its Jewish president.

The painting themselves have never been cataloged or systematically photographed by the college. In a way, this may have been the first “official” tour. Daan and I learned there is no formal submission process or set criteria for choosing paintings. Instead, students–when moved–simply fill out some nominal paperwork. Apparently, none have ever been flatly rejected or censored. The results are spontaneous and organic.

IMG_0820As we strolled through the labyrinth of hundreds of artworks, the strict historian in me was disappointed. Except for the few I and Jane photographed, most did not contain overt social or political themes. Rather, they were brightly colored images of clubs, of teams, of individual figures, of uplifting themes, joyful, soothing, and life affirming. Many were untitled and artist unnamed. Rather than history–except for a montage of yearbooks–we got timelessness.

As we veered left and right, we discussed overall patterns or motifs: along with spontaneous and organic, “authentic,” “creative,” “inclusive,” “diverse” and “generative” — all in keeping with the tenor of the campus above ground.IMG_0831

I will say that at this point we began to feel claustrophobic. Daan admitted–except for the art, of course–he likes fresh air over the tunnels. The students enjoy wearing flip flops in winter, but he prefers natural light. On this yet another picturesque Pittsford day, it felt blasphemous to be underground.IMG_0826

Finally back to hazy autumn sunshine, I pondered the excursion. One term kept coming back based on the tones, images, motifs, and themes: “feminine mystique” — old fashioned and essentialist as that sounds. True, over time most Nazareth students have been women and undoubtedly most of the artists too. But that initial reaction says more about my own cultural perceptions. So, as I re-thought, a better term: feminist mystique. A term I would use approvingly regardless of the actual gender of the artists.

I liked the murals and their visions as did Daan (although he would probably not use my phraseology). The paintings were not made to represent the spirit of Nazareth per se. But they come close enough.IMG_0823

Another excursion (video) Using the tunnels

see also On the Thomas Merton Room and the 100th Anniversary of his birth

Nazareth College’s President Daan Braveman on defining moments and his own March on Washington, August 1963


About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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