UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO / Fall 2006
[precious gem]
Aesthetically Speaking
Longtime collaboration between the Timken Museum and USD gives students an up-close look at the art world
by Julene Snyder

“THE CRANBERRY HARVEST, Island of Nantucket”
(Eastman Johnson, 1880) is one of the reasons the Timken has been called one of the “15 great small museums in the world”

Inside, the air is cool and sound seems muffled. Summer’s heat fades to memory, and the shrieks of cavorting children are silenced as heavy doors swing shut. Friendly, vigilant guards make sure that security protocol is followed and that drinks will not — cannot — be spilled anywhere near the precious artifacts inside.

Welcome to the Timken Museum of Art, a rare jewel hidden in plain sight in San Diego’s Balboa Park. For the past five years, this is where a select group of USD art history students have gathered for an up-close-and-personal upper-division seminar led by the Timken’s director of education, Anne Hoehn.

“We’re one of the few institutions that allow students to learn about art history by actually sitting in front of the paintings — rather than looking at slides in a lecture hall — which is wonderful,” says Hoehn, who’s an adjunct professor for the university. “The seminar is an opportunity for them to learn our collection and how it fits into the art world. They learn about all the jobs, from director to registrar to development.”

The USD connection is a strong one: The Timken has loaned works to the university in the past, such as the recent exhibit of Russian icons at Founders Hall and the museum’s Renaissance masterpieces, as well as items on loan from the permanent collection to the art gallery at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice. The museum’s executive director, John Petersen ’72, attended USD, as did Deputy Director Laurie Hawkins ’76 (M.Ed.). And Robert A. Hoehn, the chair of the university’s board of trustees, heads the Timken’s board of directors.

“John Petersen was one of my art history students at USD,” recalls professor emerita Therese Whitcomb. “He was an avid student with a great eye. Since becoming director of the Timken, he’s been very generous with his time and has always been available to talk to students.”

Graduates of Hoehn’s Timken seminar have gone on to be involved with various aspects of the art world, including art conservation and internships with the Vatican and the Boston Museum. Recently hailed as one of the “15 great small museums” in the world by the luxury magazine Golf Connoisseur, the Timken attracts scholars from across the globe who come to study the galleries of Italian, Spanish, French, American Dutch and Flemish works.

“The Timken is analogous to New York’s Fricke Collection,” Whitcomb says emphatically. “It’s very much in that league. It’s really one of the finest museums in the world in the strength of its collection.”

“You can teach a really solid course with this collection,” says Hoehn, who notes that the collection includes the only Rembrandt oil painting on display in San Diego.

“Our goal with USD students is to leave them feeling confident that they can go in any museum in the world and feel comfortable. “And it’s important to note that art history aids students in other disciplines as well, including religion, history and philosophy. Each of these paintings is an illustration of history.”