Hope Connections Play Critical Role in Exhibit at the Kruizenga Art Museum

The exhibition Living Tradition: Contemporary Ethiopian Christian Art from the Sobania Collection, on view at the Kruizenga Art Museum until Saturday, December 15, would never have happened without critical contributions from current and former Hope College students who worked together with the museum staff in various capacities as donors, artists, curators and catalog designers.


Neal and Liz Sobania donated their large collection of Ethiopian Christian art to Hope.

The person most responsible for the Living Tradition exhibition is Dr. Neal Sobania ’68, who, together with his wife Liz, donated all but two of the 67 artworks featured in the exhibition. After graduating from Hope, Neal served for four years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia. He then went on to earn a Master’s Degree from Ohio University in 1973 and a PhD from the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies in 1980, where his research focused on nomadic herders of northern Kenya. Neal returned to Hope College as a history professor in 1981. He taught at Hope from 1981 to 1995 and at Pacific Lutheran University from 1995 to 2015, while also directing the international education programs at both institutions. The Ethiopian Christian art on display in Living Tradition is part of a much larger African art collection that the Sobanias have been donating to the Kruizenga Art Museum in installments since 2015. The Sobania gift is one reason why the Kruizenga Art Museum now possesses the largest, most diverse collection of African art in West Michigan.

Ethiopian-born artist and 2003 Hope alumnus Daniel Berhanemeskel spoke at the Kruizenga Art Museum about traditional Ethiopian painting materials, techniques and styles.

Artist Daniel Berhanemeskel ’03 painted four of the icons that are included in the exhibition and also donated a set of Ethiopian priest’s robes that are among the visual highlights of the show. Daniel belongs to a prominent family of Ethiopian religious artists and has been painting since he was eight years old. With support from Neal Sobania and former Hope art professor Del Michel, Daniel came to Hope College in 1999 to major in art. After graduating from Hope, Daniel earned an MFA degree from Michigan State University and has continued his career as a painter while also working as a computer programmer in Northern Virginia. Daniel gave a gallery talk at the Kruizenga Art Museum on September 22 that drew more than 70 people, the largest audience ever to attend a gallery talk at the Kruizenga Art Museum.

Thanks to an endowment established by John H. Dryfhout ’64, the Kruizenga Museum is able to employ student interns to research its collections and help curate exhibitions. Nina Kay, class of 2019, is a current Hope College senior who is double majoring in Art History and Women and Gender Studies and minoring in Creative Writing. Nina worked at the museum as the John H. Dryfhout intern in the spring of 2018, helping to curate the Living Tradition exhibition by cataloging, researching and writing labels for all of the icon paintings in the exhibition. Nina’s work on the exhibition also led her to ask questions about the role of women in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which in turn prompted the curatorial team to add an entire section to the exhibition addressing that topic. Students have participated as curators or preparators in every major exhibition organized by the Kruizenga Museum since it opened in September, 2015.

The last major contributor to the exhibition is Tom Wagner ’84, who currently works as a photographer and graphic designer based in Grand Rapids. Tom designed and produced the catalog for the exhibition. A digital copy of the catalog is available free of charge on the museum’s website and a limited number of printed copies are available for purchase at the museum. The Living Tradition catalog is the second exhibition publication produced by Tom for the Kruizenga Museum. The museum strives to produce at least one exhibition catalog every year to showcase the research and writing of student curators.

The Kruizenga Art Museum functions as an educational resource for Hope College and the greater West Michigan community. The museum features two public galleries as well as a classroom and climate-controlled storage space for its 4,000-object permanent collection. It is named in honor of a leadership gift from Dr. Richard and the late Margaret Kruizenga of Holland, both of whom graduated from Hope in 1952.  

Additional information is available at hope.edu/kam. The museum is located at 271 Columbia Ave., between 10th and 13th streets and is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Precision and Heart: Beijing Guitar Duo

The acoustic guitar world is a demanding world. Precision is key, but heart is essential. A technically precise performance is expected, but if that is all you hear, you leave the concert impressed but unmoved. But when a performance combines technical skill with passion, you can walk away with a slightly altered worldview. Of course, this is the result of any great art which takes you into another realm and sends you back with a new way of seeing your world.

It can also be a solitary world for the guitarist, practicing for hours alone in preparation for those few hours in front of an audience. But for guitarists Meng Su and Yameng Wang, who make up the Beijing Guitar Duo performing here at Hope this Friday, those hours alone are supplemented by hours of working together. A solo guitar concert is a chance to watch an artist single handily fill the void, but a duo guitar concert is similar to watching a pas de deux in ballet. There are moments of individual soaring, but the guitarists are continually working around and with one another.

Wang and Su obviously love this guitar dance. Both come from the coastal city of Qingdao in China, and they each found early individual success. Before Su left high school, she had already won several international guitar competitions. Wang was the youngest winner ever of the Tokyo International Guitar Competition — when she was 12. Eventually, they both ended up in the U.S. studying in Baltimore with the legendary Manuel Barrueco. But despite their individual success, they continue to work together.

In addition to recording a CD with Barrueco himself, the duo’s other recordings have found great success. Their debut CD,  Maracaípe, received a Latin-GRAMMY nomination for the title piece, written specifically for them by Sergio Assad (who performed at Hope College with his brother in 1998). As a duo they have performed throughout Europe, Asia, and North America. This past season alone took them to countries such as Germany, Russia, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Poland, China, Panama, and the United States.

Watch and listen to the Beijing Duo!

But for our audience, you only need to drive to the Jack H. Miller Center on the Hope College campus to be part of the Beijing Guitar Duo’s world. As with any performance, you get the chance to see the world with new vision.


Beijing Guitar Duo
Friday, Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m.
John and Dede Recital Howard at the Jack H. Miller Center
Tickets are available online, at the Hope Ticket office in the Anderson-Werkman building (100 East 8th St.), or at the door on Friday.

Hope Alum Wins at ArtPrize

We kick off this new blog, The Arts at Hope, with fantastic news! Last Friday night in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Hope alumna Megan Constance Altieri ’13 was named a winner in ArtPrize, the West Michigan-based international art competition recognized as one of the world’s largest annual public art events. Altieri’s piece, Sonder, won the $12,500 Installation Public Vote Award.

Installed on the grounds of the Grand Rapids Public Art Museum, Sonder “illustrates the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as our own,” reads the description of the work on the ArtPrize website. “In our awareness of even a single other person, we begin to grasp the magnitude of the 7.6 billion coexisting realities all as specific and important as one another. Over the past two years, Altieri has gathered fragments of overheard conversations and hand-stamped them on articles of clothing matching those of the speaker.”

Sonder is moving for its empathy as it offers viewers a greater awareness of lives lived outside their own. The public engagement with the piece was also touching; at any one time, dozens and dozens of curious people engaged with the work, taking in and talking about its significance.

“Megan was one of those students I’ll never forget. She was constantly in the studio and devoted herself fully to her art, yet also had the best sense of humor,” recalls Dr. Heidi Kraus, associate professor of art and art history and director of the DePree Art Gallery. “You could always expect to see Megan laughing, but the seriousness with which she approached her work was never in question. The department is so proud of her—although we certainly aren’t surprised by her success. She was and remains a bright light in our program here at Hope.”

When she’s not winning an ArtPrize, Altieri — who also was a four-year women’s soccer player for Hope — is an art teacher at Wellspring Preparatory High School in Grand Rapids.

Watch Altieri talk about Sonder‘s creation and relevance.

Congratulations, Megan Constance Altieri! Your alma mater is happy for and proud of you!