Created by Andrea Lepage, Associate Professor od Art History, Washington and Lee University, in collaboration with students enrolled in Arth273: Arts of Modern Latin America Students (Fall 2016).

This lesson can be used or adapted by other educators for educational purposes with attribution to Lepage. None of this material may be used for commercial purposes. Copyright of original artworks belongs to the artist. Reproduced with permission from the artist. Please contact Andrea Lepage for information the Teaching with UCAH Project: or (540) 458-8305. Toolkit Lesson for “University Collections Research Assignment” by Andrea Lepage is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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University Collections Research Assignment Toolkit

Created by Andrea Lepage and Arth273: Arts of Modern Latin America Students

PDF version of Collections Research Assignment


Introduction to the Toolkit Lesson:

Many colleges across the country possess small but rich art collections that have the potential to expand curricula in dynamic ways across a range of subjects. Such collections often hang on the walls of offices, public buildings, or are hidden away in storage. This toolkit lesson helps professors to harnesses the expertise and enthusiasm of many students from across campus to develop content for the university’s art collection. The “University Collections Research Assignment” Toolkit provides a series of step-by-step directions to engage students with artworks held in a university’s collection. The Toolkit also provides instructions for recording information for archival purposes and facilitating active student participation in collection development.

Students enrolled in my Arts of Modern Latin America course studied Washington and Lee University’s small collection of Latin American and U.S. Latina/o artworks. The assignment can be adapted to study any collection of university artworks or objects. This museum studies assignment aims to:

  • Cultivate visual analysis skills.
  • Provide students with opportunities for primary research.
  • Help students to develop research skills.
  • Help students to develop public speaking and presentation skills.
  • Familiarize students with collections terminology.
  • Teach students about standardized metadata.
  • Build upon our present knowledge of the university art collection.
  • Preserve information about our collection for the future.
  • Make information about our collections accessible to the public.



[Latin American and U.S. Latina/o] Exhibition Assignment 

See Student Examples

“[The Washington and Lee University collection of Latin American and U.S. Latina/o art] features works by artists from Chile, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Argentina, Mexico and the United States representing a variety of art movements that fall under the umbrella of modernism and postmodernism. Half of the pieces in this exhibition come from the university’s Weinstein collection started by Dr. Jacob Joseph Weinstein and his wife Bernice Weinstein, who were deeply interested in Latin American art. The Weinsteins were the owners of the Jacob’s Ladder Gallery in Washington DC and parents of Michael Seth Weinstein who attended Washington and Lee in the 1970s. This collection also includes the work of Albert Contreras, a Latino artist based in California who donated a series of rectangular acrylic gel paintings to the University in 2005. Together, these works provide a broad overview of Latin American art and offer a glimpse into the art collection of Washington and Lee.” -Student curators/UCAH Summer Interns (Ellie Gorman ‘17, Caroline Holloway ‘18, Ailyn Kelly 18)


Project Introduction: During the term, students have the opportunity to study Washington and Lee University’s small collection of world-class Latin American and U.S. Latina/o artworks. Thanks to the work of The University Collection of Art and Art History (UCAH) staff and interns, these works are exhibited together for the first time. The exhibition is located right outside our classroom in the Wilson Hall atrium. You have to rare opportunity to study high-quality Latin American works in person. Most importantly, this assignment will allow you to make a substantial contribution to our knowledge of the university’s art collection–most of these works haven’t been studied in the past. Your work will become a permanent part of the University’s collections management database and object information file.


Project Overview:

  • Close looking at an artwork in person
  • Read the object file and conduct independent research
  • Fill out the factual details on Object Information Worksheet
  • Add your description of the artwork.
  • Create your meta-data / search terms
  • Write your Object Label
  • The “education department” edits your Object Label
  • Give a brief presentation to the class


Part 1. Spend time looking at the artwork. You have the rare opportunity to examine an artwork in person, so spend a good amount of undistracted time really looking at the object that you have chosen. Take notes while you look. While you are looking at the object, you might answer some of the following questions to get started:

  • What does the artist emphasize visually?
  • What first attracts the viewer’s attention?
  • How does the artist emphasize this feature?
  • Through scale, line, color, etc.?
  • What is the subject of the work?
  • What materials were used?
  • Is the function of the object immediately evident? Is the object designed to be functional?

Part 2. Read the object file and conduct research. Some object files are more extensive than others. Don’t worry if your file doesn’t include lots of information—this simply means that your contribution to our knowledge of the university collection will be all the more important. As you conduct research you might answer some of the following questions to get started:

  • Who was the artist?
  • When was this work made?
  • What was the political, religious, or social context in which this work was created?
  • Where was the work originally located?
  • Did a patron commission the work?
  • When did the university acquire the piece?
  • Did the artist collaborate with other artists?
  • Is the work part of a series? What is the subject of the larger series? Where does this piece fit into the series?

Part 3. Fill in the basic factual details on Object Information Worksheet. You’ll find the artist’s name, the title of the artwork, the date that the work was created, classification, material, size, and the accession number on the existing label or in the object file. Look up the artist’s birthplace, and year of birth and death. Write a concise 75-word biography of the artist using information from the file and the contents of your research. Keep track of all of your sources and list them in the ‘Citations’ section of the form. Add related sources to the ‘Bibliography for Further Study’ section. All citations should be formatted properly according to the Chicago Manual of Style.

Part 4. Add your description of the artwork. Provide a general description of the overall composition. Describe visible figures, animals, and objects. Your description with include commentary about subject matter.

Part 5. Create your meta-data / search terms. Attaching standardized meta-data to your object helps others to find it using Web searches. You will add five to ten search terms to the Object Information Worksheet. The terms will situate your object historically and art historically and indicate that you know about the artist as well as subject matter. Use standard Library of Congress Subject Headings.

Example of meta-data for a portrait: Peale, Charles Willson, 1741-1827; Washington, George, 1732-1799; American Revolution, 1775- 1783; Continental Army (U.S.); Early American history; Art, American–United States–18th century; Portraiture


Definitions, Terms, and Additional Information:

  • Classification: Include the artwork type. The most common examples include: Animation Art, Architecture, Body Art, Ceramics, Drawing, Graf ti Art, Illuminated Manu- script, Installation, Jewelry, Land Art, Metalwork, Painting, Performance Art, Photography, Printmaking, Sculpture, Stained Glass, and Video Art. Visit this site to view additional types of artworks.
  • Medium / Materials: The MoMA Learning Glossary of Terms de defines medium as “the materials used to create a work of art, and the categorization of art based on the materials used (for example, painting [or more specifically, watercolor], drawing, sculpture).” Material is defined as “an element or substance out of which something can be made or composed.” Common art materials include cement, concrete, glass, metal, stone, wood, ceramics, pottery, acrylic, chalk, charcoal, gouache, oil paint, pastel, pen and ink, pencil, tempera, watercolor, and fresco. For a more complete list, visit this site.
  • Gift / Purchase: If known and public, list the name(s) of the patron(s) who purchased the artwork for the university collection or the artist(s) who donated the piece to the university collection. If known, list the name of the specific fund used to purchase the artwork. Look through the file to determine if a specific credit line should be used for the object (i.e. Gift of The Jacob J. Weinstein Family).
  • Collection: If the artwork is part of a specific collection, list the title of the collection. Some examples include The Lee Chapel & Museum, The Reeves Collection, The Art Department Collection, The Jacob J. Weinstein Family Collection, and the Vincent L. Bradford Collection.
  • Subject: Include a brief description of subject matter. The MoMA Learning Glossary of Terms defines subject as “the visual or narrative focus of a work of art.” ex. A full-length portrait of George Washington standing in uniform
  • Provenance: In chronological order, provide the object’s history of ownership, custody, or location. You’ll find these details in the university file and by conducting additional research.
  • Inscription(s): Make note of anything written on the front or back of the artwork (if you are authorized to examine the back). Never touch an artwork without the permission and assistance of collections staff.
  • Citations: Include citations to all published (print or web) sources that include direct references to the university’s artwork. All citations should be formatted properly according to the Chicago Manual of Style.
  • Bibliography for Further Study: Include five sources that will provide a starting point for additional research about the object. All citations should be formatted properly according to the Chicago Manual of Style.

Part 6. Write your Object Label (150 words maximum). You have now amassed a great deal of information about your object of study. You’ll need to sift through the information to craft a short label that will present your artwork to the general public. Consult the ‘Writing Effective Wall Labels’ handout for additional information.

Research suggests that museum-goers spend very little time examining artworks or reading wall labels. Viewers spend about ten seconds looking at each artwork–about seven of those seconds are spend reading the label. An effective label can help to direct close looking and sustain viewer attention. In Gail Greg’s ARTNews piece, “Your Labels Make me Feel Stupid,” she suggests that viewers stand in front of artwork with a few VERY basic questions in mind:

  • I don’t know where to start.
  • I don’t know what to look at first.
  • Have I looked at this long enough?
  • What does circa mean?
  • Your labels make me feel stupid.
  • How did the artist make this?
  • Why would a museum put this on display?
  • Is this really art?

Your task will be find a balance between addressing these basic questions and presenting interesting and well-substantiated information to the viewer.

Some Tips for Writing Effective Wall Labels:

  • Determine your target audience. What kind of information will best reach that particular audience?
  • The label should tell a story about the object on display. Write in a narrative style accessible to a wide audience. Be aware that parents often read wall labels to children. When you read your label out loud, does it sound like a story worth hearing?
  • Have a clear but accessible thesis statement (in other words, make a point), and make it at the beginning of your label.
  • Present the most crucial information at the beginning of your label. This crucial information might hook the viewer into reading the entire text.
  • Provide content and context that is supported by research.
  • Make sure that the individual label somehow relates to the larger exhibition. What are some of the main themes expressed throughout the larger exhibition?
  • At the same time, each label must be independently accessible because there is no way to guarantee that any one viewer will read all of the labels (and let’s be honest, it’s very likely that a viewer will not read all of the labels!).
  • You may include relevant–but brief–quotes from the artist.

Sources Consulted:

Part 7. The “education department” edits your Object Label. We’ll assume the role of a museum education department and edit wall labels to ensure that label clarity and suitability for our target audience. Each student will edit two labels. Students will incorporate edits into the final draft of the Object Information Worksheet.

Part 8. Brief in-class presentation. You’ll present your research during a five-minute in-class presentation. You should elaborate upon the content included on your object label. You might also talk about aspects of the research project that you found most surprising or illuminating.

Student Examples

Albert Conteras by Rachel Baker

  • Artist: Albert Contreras
  • Title: 24 untitled works, 2003-2005.
  • Medium: Acrylic on linen
  • Object size: 12 x 14 inces each
  • Subject: A selection of 24 abstract, acrylic gel paintings.
  • Birthplace: Los Angeles, California
  • Artist Birth Year: 1933
  • Artist Death Year: 2017
  • Artist Biography: Albert Contreras was born in Los Angeles in 1933. After a brief stint in the Coast Guard, he studied art around the world and eventually found his way to Stockholm, Sweden. There, he explored a black circle motif for over a decade, and followed minimalist art to its natural end. Upon moving back to LA, he began working for the sanitation department and took a 25-year hiatus from painting. In 1997 he returned to art, and now lives and paints in Santa Monica, CA. He shows his work at the Daniel Weinberg and Peter Mendhenhall Galleries in Los Angeles. Because he now paints with such vigor, Contreras often donates his paintings to universities.[1]
  • Collection: University Collections of Art and Art History, Washington and Lee University.
  • Gift/Purchase: A gift from the artist. Contreras sent these works to Washington and Lee as a donation in order to “decorate a hallway, office, student center”[2] or anywhere appropriate on the campus grounds.
  • Provenance: In 2005, Albert Contreras wrote Washington and Lee University’s president, Thomas Burish, and asked if he could donate 24 works to the university. According to the Deed of Gift, Contreras’s offer was accepted and the works were accessioned into Washington and Lee University Collections-The Reeves Center. The works hung in Dupont Hall until 2013 when the building’s renovations made their removal necessary. Later that year, six pieces were installed in the office of Associate Professor of Art History Andrea Lepage, and in 2016, the remaining 18 were hung in display in Wilson Hall.
  • Description: Albert Contreras demonstrates his command of symmetry and color in these 24 acrylic paintings. Eyes are supposed to jump from one color, one pattern, one square to the next. Described by artist Joe Fyfe as “an endlessly seductive colorist,”[3] Contreras paints using spatulas and trowels to create raised and patterned effects. Contreras intended that the twenty-four 12” x 14” linen boards gifted to Washington and Lee University be presented in four rows of six column Together the twenty-four pieces demonstrate the multiple painting types that Contreras has employed over the years, such as the circle, grid, plaid, checkerboard, and scalloped motifs. In 2005, he began using custom-made palate knives [4] that he likely used to create the raked texture in the black and gold pieces. Each square is a labor of passion, and when examined as a unit one cannot help but feel optimistic.
  • Search terms: Contreras, Albert; Painting, Abstract; Neo-Geo (Art); Los Angeles County; Santa Monica; Color; Art, American–21st century—Exhibitions; Peter Mendenhall Gallery; Minimalist ; Abstract Expressionism.
  • Label text: After a successful career as a Minimalist painter, the artist Albert Contreras went twenty-five years without touching a paintbrush. However, in 1997 Contreras rekindled his artistic passion, began to create with fervor, and in turn reinvented himself. The former minimalist now creates bold, acrylic pieces that are bursting with color. In his work, colors and shapes collide with glitter and texture, creating a work teeming with a childlike joy that one would not expect from the now 83-year-old. Contreras forms these geometric abstractions by piling layers of paint on a solid wooden panel. He then removes the paint in slabs using customized palate knives. This work is reminiscent of the time he spent resurfacing the asphalt streets of Los Angeles working for the sanitation department. Contreras’s art imitates his life, as he says, “art never comes to an end. It keeps reinventing itself, in all kinds of unbelievably beautiful forms.”[5]

Notes: [1] Fyfe, Joe. “Albert Contreras at Bill Maynes.” Art in America, January 2002. [2] Letter from Contreras to then University President, Tom Burish. [3] Pagel, David. “In Albert Contreras’ hands, X’s and O’s form wild statements colored with a little magic.” Los Angeles Times, December 29, 2015. [4] Fyfe, Joe. “Albert Contreras at Bill Maynes.” Art in America, January 2002.  [5] Pagel, David. “Coming Full Circle, and Then Some.” Los Angeles Times, Art & Architecture section.

Student Author: Rachel Baker, Arth273 Fall 2016

Enrique Castro-Cid by Deanna Schreiber

  • Artist: Castro-Cid, Enrique (1937-1992)
  • Title: Ladya and Flora
  • Medium: Acrylic painting
  • Object size: 62” by 72”
  • Subject: Two distorted women inside a warped box.
  • Birthplace: Santiago, Chile
  • Place of Death: Madrid, Spain
  • Artist Birth Year: 1933
  • Artist Death Year: 1992
  • Artist Biography: Enrique Castro-Cid was born in 1937 in Santiago, Chile. Between 1957 and 1959, Castro-Cid studied at the school of Fine arts at the University of Chile. Due to the difficulty for artist to make a living in Chile, Castro-Cid decided to move to New York City. In New York, he received the Guggenheim Fellowship Grant.[1] While in New York Castro-Cid developed a friendship with Henry Geldzahler who served as the art director at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and had close relationships with many major contemporary artists of the time. As a result, Castro-Cid received many major commissions that allowed him to display his work at major galleries including the Richard Feigen Gallery.[2] Many of his exhibitions in the sixties focused on robotics and kinetic art, producing robots that displayed the complexity of the machine and the human mind. In 1980 Castro-Cid moved to Miami but maintained his interest in technology and experimented with mathematics to distort his painting. He explored non-linear painting, working to create multiple dimensions within one image.[3]
  • Collection: The Dr. Jacob Joseph and Bernice Fox Weinstein Collection of Contemporary Art, Washington and Lee University.
  • Gift/Purchase: Gift of Bernice Weinstein.
  • Provenance: According to the receipt of gift, Mrs. Jacob J. Weinstein donated the gift in 1989. The piece was produced in 1980 and was likely shown at the Frank Kolbert Gallery in New York in 1981.[4] Likely, the Weinsteins purchased this piece directly from, or from a gallery that represented Enrique Castro-Cid and were the only owners of the piece for the 9 years before it joined the university collection.
  • Description: Castro-Cid paints a woman in a green leotard, leaving her legs, arm, and neck exposed. Her left arm is painted in the same green up until her mid-forearm, blending in with the leotard. Her hand rests against her on the outside of her left thigh. She bends slightly forward from her waist and is turned out towards the left side of the image. She has short brown hair and a neutral expression. Her feet are placed on the black ground, but are not grounded on the uneven plane. The other figure is all brown, outlined in a gray/white line. This nude figure is disproportionate. She has a very small head and her gaze looks out in the distance. She has a large bush of hair that puffs out from her head. Both of her arms extend far past her hips and her right arm expands from her elbow through her hand, as her oversized pointer finger reaches towards the woman in green. Her left arm reaches out as well, much smaller than her right and her pinky finger points out. Her body is proportionate from her small shoulders and her breasts, then from her rib cage her body bulges out, a large bulge on the right side, forcing her right hip upward. She stands in a counterbalanced stance, with the weight on her right leg, exaggerating the right hip’s elevation, while her left leg is propped up on her toes. Castro-Cid places these two figure inside a topsy-turvy box, he creates a space but one that distorts the usual rectilinear box. The black foreground sags in the center of the image and narrows at the back. The middle ground, behind the two figures is formed with three lines that connect in a rectilinear fashion and then a third that loops down, behind the brown figure, distorting the box like feel. Above them and to the right of the figure in green, Castro-Cid uses a darker color to distinguish the ceiling that encloses them. Around the edge, Castro-Cid painted a brown border, similar to the color of the brown figure. The entire frame has also been curved, adding a slight wave to the outer rim and further enforcing the distortion of space and spheres.
  • Search terms: Castro-Cid, Enrique, 1937-1992; Mathematics in art; Computer Art–Exhibitions; Arts, American–Latin American influences; Dia Art Foundation; Kinetic art—Exhibitions; Cahn, Robert S.
  • Label text: Enrique Castro-Cid, a Chilean born artist, created a series of images in the late seventies and early eighties. These images combined his early sketches that focused on creating multiple dimensions, with his interest in technology.[5] Castro-Cid manipulated figures in space by creating a grid and distorting the figures by manipulating the dimensions of the grid.[6] As his career developed, Castro-Cid became interested in robotics and technology and had several shows in Richard Feigen’s Galleries and across the country in which he expanded the notion of robotics as art and Kinetic art. Castro-Cid’s immersion in technology and his frustration with his inability to properly distort his hand-drawn sketches resulted in images like Ladya and Flora.Castro-Cid commented on his use of technology, saying, “My work is merely the product of the intellectual atmosphere of the times.”[7] Castro-Cid paired with Robert Cahn, a mathematician, to take each sketch he created and digitize it onto an X, Y plane. He was then able to apply a formula that would warp the image in an unpredictable way. As seen above, for example, Castro-Cid could then project this graphed, distorted image onto a canvas and paint it.[8] Although little is recorded about this specific image, the title, Ladya and Flora, represents the two figures in the image. In several other images that Castro-Cid created around the same time, he replicated the image on the right and employed the word “Flora” in his titles, such as in Flora and Benjamin, confirming the brown, distorted figure’s identity as “Flora.”[9]

Notes:  [1] “Enrique Castro-Cid – Pioneer in Latin American Art,” ArtfixDaily. 17 Aug. 2011, Accessed 6 Oct. 2016. [2] “Enrique Castro-Cid,” Artistas Visuales Chilenos, Museo Nacional Bellas Artes: pg 1-2. [3] Weinstein, Diane P., “Enrique Castro-Cid Chilean Artist’s Robots Show Machines Can Be Playful,” The Cornell Daily Sun (11 Feb. 1965). [4] Frank, E.,“Enrique Castro-Cid at Frank Kolbert {New York; exhibit},” Art in America, 69 (Oct. 1981): 143. [5] Goodman, Cynthia, Digital Visions: Computers and Art, Edited by Charles Miers (New York: H.N. Abrams, 1987): 56-57. [6] Ibid. [7] Frankeacosta. “Enrique Castro-Cid.” YouTube, 2:56-3:04. Posted [Jan 3 2012]. [8] Goodman, Cynthia, Digital Visions: Computers and Art, Edited by Charles Miers (New York: H.N. Abrams, 1987). [9] Frankeacosta. “Enrique Castro-Cid.” YouTube, 2:56-3:04. Posted [Jan 3 2012].

Student Author: Deanna Schreiber, Arth273 Fall 2016

Rufino Tamayo by Chase Leeby

  • Artist: Rufino Tamayo
  • Title: Mujer India, 1959
  • Medium: Color Lithograph
  • Object size: Unframed: 30 ¾ x 22 in. (78.1 x 55.9cm)
  • Subject: An abstracted portrait of a woman standing in the corner of a room
  • Birthplace: Oaxaca, Mexico
  • Place of Death: Mexico City, Mexico
  • Artist Birth Year: 1899
  • Artist Death Year: 1991
  • Artist Biography: Rufino Arellanes Tamayo was born on August 26, 1899, in Oaxaca, Mexico. In 1917, Tamayo entered the National School of Fine Arts, but quickly abandoned his formal training and began drawing pre-Columbian artifacts on view at the National Museum of Archeology, which greatly influenced his artistic style. He lived in New York from 1936 until 1944, where his fame as an artist grew. Tamayo’s works draw from both indigenous Mexican aesthetics and European movements (such as Surrealism and Abstraction), creating a unique synthesis of styles that emphasize Tamayo’s interest in pre-Columbian art.
  • Collection: University Collections of Art and History, Washington and Lee University, Virginia.
  • Gift/Purchase: Gift of Henry Hecht, Jr.
  • Provenance: This lithograph was gifted to Washington and Lee University in 1980 by Henry Hecht, Jr. Hecht was from Baltimore Maryland and graduated from Washington and Lee University in 1963.
  • Description: A woman, standing near the doorway of a room, faces out towards the viewer wearing a white dress. The woman is painted in yellow and reduced to her essential geometric forms. Her head and neck are disproportionately large compared to the rest of her body. Her left arm wraps around the front of her body, resting on her right hip, and her right arm disappears behind her body. Her dress extends past the figure’s knees, and her two legs stretch down from the dress to meet the floor. The back wall is painted in light blue with shadow accents shown in dark gray or black. The woman’s shadow is also shown on her right side in the same gray color. The door is depicted by a thick line of black and, paired with the thin lines that make up the trim, helps to create a sense of space within the dimensions of the room.
  • Inscription: Inscribed in pencil at lower right, about 1 inch above the edge of the frame: “ R Tamayo.”
  • Search terms: Tamayo, Rufino, 1899-1991; Art, Mexican–Indian influences; Art, Mexican–20th century; Surrealism—Mexico
  • Label text: Rufino Tamayo’s works are often described as simple, almost sketchy, but charged with symbolism. Mujer India, as the title would suggest, depicts a native woman standing in the center of a room, but the figure is represented as a conglomerate of simple circles, triangles, and trapezoids. The colors are not confined to the outlines of the figure and they seem to penetrate through borders and planes, making the woman become the space, instead of appearing in the space. This painting echoes Tamayo’s belief that man is not a product of nature, but rather nature itself. Tamayo is regarded as one of the most brilliant Mexican painters of the twentieth century. As with many other modern Mexican artists, Tamayo’s works often contain references to indigenous Latin American culture and aesthetics, but following the modernist movement towards abstraction, Tamayo likes to reduce his figural forms and objects into their essential geometric shapes.

Notes:  [1] Rodríguez, Bélgica. “Tamayo, Rufino (1899–1991).” In Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, 2nd ed., edited by Jay Kinsbruner and Erick D. Langer, 13-14. Vol. 6. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2008. Gale Virtual Reference Library (accessed November 4, 2016). [2] Tamayo, Rufino, Octavio Paz, and Jacques Lassaigne. 1982. Rufino Tamayo. New York: Rizzoli. 11.

Student Author: Chase Leeby, Arth273 Fall 2016