David Becker ’70 was still a student at Bowdoin when he gave his first gift to the Bowdoin Museum of Art. His generosity continued until his death in 2010, when he gave his alma mater a final donation from his extensive art collection.
Over the last forty years, Becker donated more than 1,500 prints to the Museum and temporarily worked as curator at the Museum of Art. He was also director of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and served on the Board of Trustees.
Now, an exhibition at the Museum is being held in his honor. “Printmaking ABC: In Memoriam David P. Becker” seeks to pay tribute to the donor while continuing his lifelong goal of sharing his love of printmaking with the Bowdoin community and beyond.
The collection spans the last 500 years, and includes prints by Rembrandt, Dürer and Picasso.
Curator Joachim Homann structured the exhibition in order to give a broad overview of the history and variety of printmaking, in the hope that there will be something for everyone on display. Homann says he drew on pieces of the existing collection, as well as from Becker’s particular interests and personality, for Printmaking ABC.
“I tried to learn from the playful spirit that David Becker brought to collecting,” says Homann. “I picked up his interests in writing manuals and alphabets and decided that we should present selections from the collection according to letters of the alphabet, associated with terms that resonate with the collection in interesting ways.”
The gallery space will be organized alphabetically‑pieces showcasing writing manuals and text design can be found in the gallery under “A” for alphabet. Other letters include “L” for lithograph, “J” for jest, and “X”—for xxx.
Perhaps the print most reflective of Becker himself is David Hockney’s 1966 work, “Two Boys Aged 23 or 24,” which shows two men lying in bed together. Becker was a huge supporter of LGBTQ rights throughout his life, founding the group OUT and funding programming at the College to support LGBTQ life and education about the LGBTQ community.
“He was a determined social activist, and I think one of his lasting legacies to Bowdoin was to have been openly gay and to insist that the College take that into account,” said longtime friend and coworker Katy Kline.
Becker was deeply involved with the College throughout his life. He was a benefactor, a trustee, and even curated some exhibitions at the Museum himself.
Becker’s final donation, as well as his involvement with the museum throughout the years, has had a profound impact on the College’s art community—especially the printmaking department.
“At other schools, in order to go see a significant museum show you have to get on a van or a bus and travel for a long ways,” said Mary Hart, visiting professor of art. “Here, you walk five minutes and the door is open and there’s this amazing resource.”
Hart took her Printmaking I and II classes to the Museum this fall, where many students were inspired by the works on display. Audrey Blood ’13 found herself particularly drawn to Leonard Baskin’s woodcut print Hydrogen Man.
“I had seen Leonard Baskin’s prints, but I had never been able to interact with them in this way before,” said Blood. “This show is like my dream come true. It’s such a huge gift.”
Becker was known for his generosity, and many continue to feel his presence by way of his print collection now that he is gone.
“His uniform was a gray blue flannel shirt and an L.L. Bean jacket and this really crummy-looking hat that looked like it came from a thrift shop,” recalled Kline. “He had a wicked sense of humor...I have wonderful memories of hearing him hoot; he almost snorted when he got laughing too hard.”
Becker established many connections and friendships in the Maine and international art communities.
A symposium titled “Reading Prints: David P. Becker’s Legacy” will be held at the Museum on January 31 and February 1, and will feature speakers from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Harvard Art Museums, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
In the exhibition’s guest book, visitors are encouraged to give feedback and pay tribute to Becker. One visitor seemed to sum up Becker’s legacy.
“What an eye, what a heart, what generosity!”, one visitor wrote.
“Printmaking ABC: In Memoriam David P. Becker” will be on view at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art from November 15 to March 24. The symposium in his honor is free of charge and open to the public.