A few hundred years can pass forward, and then back, all in the span of a few feet inside the Cornell Fine Arts Museum. Ancient large-scale oil portraits hang inches from abstract modern day works, taking you on an abridged trip through the museum’s collection history from the 1890s to the present.
From Renaissance paintings of “Madonna and Child,” to American landscape works of the 1800s, the gallery walls of the museum on the Rollins College campus serve as a timeline of its collection history in acquisition order.
The museum’s most recent major acquisition, however, doesn’t come framed or attached to a wall. Last fall, New York transplant and new Baldwin Park resident Ena Heller was named the new executive director of the Cornell, filling a years-long void at the museum just in time to celebrate its 35th anniversary.
As Heller’s first order of business, she celebrated the occasion with free admission for the rest of the year, to help re-acclimate the Orlando community to one of its best-kept fine art secrets, tucked on the lakeside of the Rollins College campus.
“I’m really trying to say to the greater Orlando community that this is a resource not utilized as much as it should,” she said.
Between the free admission and enriched programming for adults, students and children, Heller and the museum are gaining exposure with as many local community passersby as possible.
Heller left her position as the founding director of the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) in New York City to take the position at Rollins and residence in Baldwin Park, and she said she’s already come to love the Orlando arts community – along with the Florida weather and her 10-minute commute.
“For me it’s very exciting right now,” she said. “I see a lot of community support and a lot of potential around here, especially in growing the museum.”
Heller’s daughter is enrolled at Glenridge Middle School, and she said she’s been putting a concerted effort into getting other local schools involved in the arts at Cornell, from arranging field trips to CFAMilies programming.
“I’m one of those people who thinks the younger you get exposed to the arts the better,” she said. “… It really opens your mind and your eyes in completely different ways. It opens a whole new lens to see the world through.”
The ability to blend the arts with academia was one of the draws of the Cornell job for Heller. She knew she’d not only be able to curate the museum, but also have access to students and professors on campus.
“It was the perfect mix, bringing those two worlds together,” she said.
Another mix she’s working to perfect is that of permanent collection displays and changing exhibits in the museum’s different showrooms. The “Collecting for the Cornell” exhibit, featuring highlights from the permanent collection hung in chronologically acquired order, will be on display through Sept. 1. In order to move forward, she said, it’s often good to look back to see how you got to where you are – letting the differences in displays speak for themselves.
Exhibitions, she said, are what museums do, but collections are what museums are.
“I’m one of those people who’s never satisfied with the status quo, and I think I came in (at) a good point where this museum is really ready to start up and do more,” she said. “… I’d like it to be the other museum in Winter Park that everybody knows about. Everybody knows about the Morse, but everyone should know about Cornell too.”