Great Beings: A Vast Assembly in a Small Room

Buddhist arts from the College of Wooster Art Museum 

December 6-9, 2022 

This small exhibit of Buddhist art works from the CWAM collection defies first impressions. Although only eight artifacts are on display, these bring you into the presence of more than a dozen ‘great beings’ from Buddhist traditions, as represented in several distinctive Buddhist cultures.  

This exhibit illustrates paradoxes of scale and presence in Buddhist traditions. The vastness of a Buddhist cosmos and the greatness of Buddhas and bodhisattvas who inhabit the cosmos can be manifested in the smallest spaces. Likewise, the greatness of their divine presences can be witnessed and encountered in spaces and artifacts that are seemingly mundane.  

Another aim of this exhibit is to prompt reflection on the differences and intersections between museum environments and Buddhist environments. In distinctive ways, both kinds of spaces may be and become sacred spaces. While these artifacts are now living together in this museum and this exhibit, they were made to be displayed and interacted with in ensembles, and in familiar environments, such as shrines or altars in family homes. We could not create an environment here that would be considered a fully sacralized Buddhist space, but we did collaborate with the art works in this space to create a museum environment that indicates what a Buddhist sacred space might be for such art works.   

Every item in this exhibit and every great being present in these artifacts embodies a story: There is a story of how each artifact was created, how it got here, who and what in Buddhist traditions it embodies, and how each artifact relates to the others and to us, not only in this space but throughout Buddhist traditions. Each artifact — in its postures, gestures, expressions, wrinkles, cracks, and imperfections – is a story. As you spend time with the artifacts and beings in this exhibit, we invite you to be mindful of the stories shared here, and through this exhibit, to learn along with us.  

This exhibit prepared by participants in the Fall 2022 RELS 267400 course, “Buddhist Visual and Material Cultures. Student curators: Troy Baughman, Claire Berlin, Tara Brunner, Sean Gaston, Kaleb Lester, Alysha Matson, Kevin Poe (Teaching Apprentice), Tyler Rak, Matthew Rohlman, Jerusha Savage, Hope Scott, Saugat Shakya, Kyle Shuler, Dylan Strickland.  Faculty: Mark Graham (Religious Studies). 

Special thanks to Dr. Marianne Wardle (Director/Curator, CWAM) and Doug McGlumphy (Preparator/Collections Manager, CWAM). This exhibit would not have been possible without their expertise and efforts. Thank you!