A Portrait of the Faculty as Young Bibliophiles

A new exhibition at The Alfond Inn at Rollins puts books—and professors—at the forefront.

In a hallway near the lobby at The Alfond Inn at Rollins, a series of portraits—what artist Richard Baker calls book portraits—hang on the wall.  In some, the pages have yellowed with time, their once-firm covers looking more like worn fabric than paper.  Others have long shed their original dust jackets. There are the ones with broken spines; those with creases forged into them; and still others that rely on rubber bands to hold them together.

“[Books] come to stand for various episodes of our lives, for certain idealisms, follies of belief, moments of love,” Baker writes on Poets & Writers' website. “Along the way they accumulate our marks, our stains, our innocent abuses—they come to wear our experience of them on their covers and bindings like wrinkles on our own skin.”

Each of the 19 in this collection was identified by a Rollins faculty member as a transformative book in their lives. And together, they represent the full spectrum of a liberal arts education. The faculty themselves span the arts, sciences, humanities, and social sciences. The books are primarily in English, but there’s Gao Xingjian’s Bĭ’àn (The Other Shore)—selected by Li Wei, lecturer in Chinese—which is in Mandarin, and G. Cabrera Infante’s Tres triste tigres (The Three Sad Tigers)—selected by Gabriel Barreneche, associate professor of modern languages and literatures—which is in Spanish. They’re fiction and nonfiction. Prose and poetry. And they represent a range of topics from literature and science fiction to philosophy, religion, and history.

According to Ena Heller, Bruce A. Beal Director of the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, this range was intentional. “The collection [at The Alfond Inn] was built around themes of literacy, text, and image,” she says, “and this particular collection plays with the ideas of both literacy and visual literacy.”

It’s also the only part of the nearly $3-million collection—which contains more than 100 pieces and features 21st-century art by well-established and emerging artists—that was commissioned. Barbara ’68 and Ted ’68 Alfond, who assembled the collection, wanted something that represented part of what nourished their education at Rollins: The books they were exposed to.

“Both Ted and I credit our formative years at Rollins College with helping us foster curiosity and respect for differences, as well as expanding our global perspectives,” says Barbara Alfond, who wanted to highlight the books that were most formative for a cross-section of faculty members.

So they asked Rollins faculty to pick the books that most influenced them, but with one caveat—the faculty members had to temporarily hand over their copy, so that Baker, who has been painting book portraits since 2004, could paint them.

For some, this was easier than for others. McKean Professor of Philosophy Hoyt Edge, for example, was teaching from his copy of The Portable Nietzsche, and couldn’t relinquish it until the semester was over. President Emeritus Thaddeus Seymour’s copy of Robert Frost’s New Hampshire contains Frost’s signature as well as a poem hand-penned by the poet—a valuable piece and every collector’s dream.

“The collection ties in with who we are as a college and as a museum,” Heller says. This particular part of the collection creates a tangible connection between the Inn and the College, creating what Heller calls a “visual syllabus” and capturing the breadth and intellectual curiosity of Rollins’ community of learners.