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Students in the Fall 2020 “Special Topics: Photographic Ways” class view photographs from the Johnson Museum of Art’s collection with Kate Addleman-Frankel, the Gary and Ellen Davis Curator of Photography.

Gifts boost photography teaching, collecting

Photography and philanthropy share a long history at Cornell, including first president A.D. White’s donation of architectural photographs in the late 1800s. This year, new gifts boost the study and appreciation of photography at Cornell through the establishment of a curatorship of photography for rare and distinctive collections (RAD) at Cornell University Library as well as a teaching gallery and photography fund at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art.

Through her gifts, retired banking executive Nancy Sukenik named the curatorship, teaching gallery and photography fund in honor of her husband of 40 years, Richard Sukenik ’59, an avid photographer who died in 2014 and was a controller for chemical company W.R. Grace.

Since her husband’s death, Nancy Sukenik had been planning to make gifts to Cornell, and she was encouraged by his close friend Steve Segal ’59 to support photography in recognition of Richard’s love for the art form.

The Richard Sukenik ’59 Curator of Photography for Rare and Distinctive Collections will play a crucial role in developing and coordinating the library’s vast and distributed photographic holdings, said Tamar Evangelestia-Dougherty, associate university librarian who started RAD as a way of building connections among the special collections and archives across the library.

Library collections that contain photographic materials vital to teaching and scholarship include: the labor and management collections at the Kheel Center; Mann Library’s special collections; and the trove of items on Asia in the Echols Collection, Wason Collection and the Southeast Asia Digital Library. The wide-ranging photographic holdings in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC) include horticulturalist Liberty Hyde Bailey’s cyanotype photographs; the Cornell Human Sexuality Collection and its archives related to the AIDS/HIV pandemic; and the Africana Collections, which contains the photographic archives of the New York Amsterdam News, one of the oldest African American newspapers in the country.

The Sukenik Curator will collaborate with other curators to strengthen these and other photographic collections and contextualize them within broader visual and textual sources, Evangelestia-Dougherty said.

The gift to support the new Richard Sukenik ’59 Teaching Gallery at the Johnson Museum will greatly advance its public engagement and educational programs, said Jessica Levin Martinez, the Richard J. Schwartz Director of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art.

“This will be a vibrant and dynamic gallery classroom with works rotating along with the pace of Cornell classes,” Martinez said, “and that will make teaching with works of photography and the broader collection relevant, accessible, and fresh for faculty and students.”

The Richard Sukenik ’59 Fund for Photography will also support the work of Kate Addleman-Frankel, who for the past four years has served as photography curator for both RMC and the Johnson Museum and who will now be the museum’s dedicated Gary and Ellen Davis Curator of Photography.

“With the fund, our Davis Curator is now able to do new research, make strategic acquisitions, mount daring exhibitions, pursue new faculty and student collaborations, and care for the collection in innovative ways,” Martinez said.

Through the Sukenik Fund for Photography, Addleman-Frankel recently acquired a piece by Apsáalooke (Crow) artist Wendy Red Star, and she plans to continue building the museum’s holdings of photographs by Indigenous artists and others underrepresented in the collection, with a focus on building strengths and making connections across university repositories.

She will also serve as a counterpart and collaborator for the library’s Sukenik Curator and expand upon the Mellon Foundation-funded partnership between the museum and the library in holding joint exhibits and leveraging newly created resources for teaching with photographs on a variety of topics.

The gifts to the library and the museum are “serendipitous,” Evangelestia-Dougherty said.

“Our continued collaboration is emerging from this institutional friendship between the library and the museum,” she said. “Both entities have a resonant mission around photography and its documentation and preservation. We each have a unique voice, but we share a commitment to conversations around our collections.”

“Thanks to the generosity of Nancy Sukenik, we are able to honor and share Richard’s passion for photography with generations of Cornellians, researchers and friends of the university,” Martinez added. “We are so grateful for all that these gifts make possible now and long into the future.”

Jose Beduya is staff writer, editor and social media coordinator for Cornell University Library.

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Abby Butler