While the artwork they’re charged with preserving and once again displaying collects dust in a library basement, Wellesley’s Kepes Panel Subcommittee has for more than a decade done its work largely unnoticed.
The committee, first formed 12 years ago this week, has spent those years researching potential landing spots for dozens of abstract panels by the late Gyorgy Kepes, an artist and former professor at MIT whose work adorned the sides of the 1959 library—since replaced—across the street from Town Hall.
The six men and one woman who’ve served during that time, with minimal turnover in membership, have learned about the artist—a teacher to two of them during their days at MIT decades ago—and have outlined a set of goals, the core one being to find a way to give the Kepes panels a home outside of the Hills Branch basement.
“We are the stewards of a legacy,” subcommittee member and former Kepes student Robert H. Murphy said last week. “And if we’re the stewards of a legacy we have more of an obligation to just sell them off.”
The panels nearly were sold off before Murphy stood up at Town Meeting in 2004 and moved against doing so. Now he and another former Kepes student, George Roman, are working with the rest of the group to reintroduce the panels to town.
“We just think it’s of value to the town to keep and display these,” said Roman, explaining the group’s motivation to continue its work despite little-to-no success so far. “That’s what keeps us going.”
A group of the panels is on display on the rear of the new main library, and more are on display inside the high school. The members of the committee lament the lack of continuity, though, which is against one of their core principles: to display the panels in complete sets, together.
Six of the panels will emerge from the Hills Branch basement later this month and will be put on display—for the first time since their removal from their former home—in the Veterans’ Parade during Wellesley’s Wonderful Weekend.
The parade, according to the committee members, is a chance to remind the town about the panels and—they hope—start a conversation about where they might one day be publicly displayed again.
“I feel their importance has not been recognized in town,” Roman said last week before the committee met again to evaluate its newest opportunities. “They’re of value [and] our mission is to preserve those values.”
During the 12 years the committee has worked, Kepes’ body of work has gained more recognition globally. A museum of his work has since opened its doors in his native Hungary, and more of his work is on display in London. His commitment to the intersection of several areas of study, the members said, is also gaining more respect as time goes on.
“His main interest was the combination of technology, science and art,” said Roman, a former student of Kepes, “which sounds pretty obvious now, but back then people weren’t thinking that way.”
Kepes, who lived in Wellesley and was a contributor to several different art forms—photography, cinema and—Roman thinks—sculpture, passed away in 2001 at the age of 95.
Tory DeFazio, another member of the community, said the group has four main goals: retain ownership of the panels, display them in sets, keep them in Wellesley and make them available to the public once again.
“They were designed so you could walk around and look at the panels as if they were in an art gallery,” DeFazio said. There’s been interest from Babson College, to name one, but nothing has panned out to the point of bringing the panels back out into the light.
“We’ve had a number of dead ends,” DeFazio said, even as they’ve pieced together a sheet showing exactly how the panels were originally displayed following their commissioning and, as a result, how they ought to be displayed in the future.
“The work was considerable to figure out which panels were where [on the old library],” said Joel Slocum, who joined the committee two years into its work.
They’re not always in agreement.
Slocum and Roman, during the group’s conversation with the Townsman last week, debated briefly whether the panels were entirely abstract or—as Slocum suggested—inspired at least in part by the Brook Path. Roman, for his part, steadfastly believes they’re entirely abstract.
That issue aside, though, they’re on the same page. They all see it as their duty to have the panels dusted off and put on display.