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Amherst College > News & Events > Amherst Magazine > Summer 2005: College Row
College Row

Professor Frank Trapp

Frank Anderson Trapp, the Winifred L. Arms Professor in the Arts and Humanities, Emeritus, died March 17 after a long illness. He was 82.

Trapp, who was a Fulbright Scholar, received a B.A. from Carnegie Institute of Technology and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University. A faculty member at Williams College for five years, Trapp came to Amherst College in 1956 and worked here until his retirement in 1992. During his tenure at Amherst, he served as rotating chairman of the Fine Arts Department and was the director of the Mead Art Museum for 20 years.

He was a respected scholar who produced a number of books, including Peter Blume and the Grand Tradition, British Art From Amherst College and The Attainment of Delacroix, which is considered a benchmark in its field. “As a teacher he was very, very bright,” says Professor of Art Joel Upton, who worked closely with Trapp for many years. “He was trained in the tradition of the broadest possible awareness of global art. He could speak in a learned way about Greek, Egyptian, Roman, Japanese and American art, and on and on, from caves to condos, West to East. I saw him communicate art on the deepest possible level to students—not art as documentation of culture, but art as human inspiration. He did this repeatedly, and he did it with real passion.”

Trapp also was an accomplished sculptor and painter, producing impressionist-style paintings of the Amherst landscape throughout the 1960s. Among the items he donated to Archives and Special Collections was a series of watercolor sketches that he made while serving with the Army in New Guinea during World War II. “Occasionally,” he said in notes he wrote about his service, “I slipped off on my own in my jungle boots with my painting materials at hand, practicing stealthy passage through the lush undergrowth. Once, when I was thus alone and romantically preoccupied, I detoured to check on a ripening pineapple that I had been eyeing for future harvesting. Suddenly, I was confronted by the only native I ever saw in those parts, doing the same. I had just learned from a GI Melanesian phrase book that slamat malam meant ‘hello’ and kai-kai meant ‘food,’ or ‘coconut.’ We both smiled/grimaced—a bit awkwardly,
I felt—backed off, and then went our separate ways. The next time I passed that spot, the pineapple was gone.”

Trapp’s most visible legacy at the college is the Mead Art Museum, which, with founding director Charles Morgan, he helped create. When he arrived on campus, the Mead building housed the Fine Arts Department and a library, with just a few pieces of art serving as a departmental reference collection. Many of the college’s paintings were scattered around the campus, in dormitories and offices. But Morgan and Trapp, who was initially a curator under Morgan, saw the potential for a real museum, and they set out to build one, gathering together the college’s existing works and buying new ones.

Trapp continued that process when he became the museum’s director in 1969. When the Fine Arts Department moved to Fayerweather Hall in the late 1970s, he oversaw the renovation of the Mead’s north wing and created galleries dedicated to prints, decorative arts, modern art and American art. The new galleries were needed partly to house all the artwork Trapp was procuring. Through purchases, gifts and bequests, the museum added 2,585 works of art during his tenure, including, says current Mead director Jill Meredith, “European paintings by Bouguereau, Scheffer, Taraval and van Vliet; sculptures by Barye; and American paintings by Bellows, Biddle, Maurer, Porter—even Salomé by Robert Henri.” Many of these acquisitions represented Trapp’s specialty in older European art, but more as a matter of practicality than preference, he said: The prices of old masters’ works at the time were not rising as quickly as those of modern artists. “People think that in running a museum you just take all-expense-paid trips to Europe and buy things, and you’re wined and dined,” he told the Daily Hampshire Gazette on the occasion of his retirement. “That’s contrary to the fact. I paid for my trips to Europe, we had very limited funds, and it was not a wild shopping spree.” Trapp’s efforts to find good art that had not been snapped up by other dealers, collectors and museums were helped by his broad scholarly expertise and his own talent as an artist. “You buy a work because you feel it’s good, judging by some impenetrably complex set of qualifications,” he told the Gazette, “and then you hope.”

In addition to the art he purchased for the museum, Trapp donated 70 items from his own collection, including work by Isabey, Maillol, Rivière, Tissot, Callot, Vernet, Daumier and, of course, Delacroix.

During his years as museum director, he introduced the Mead’s monograph series and mounted a number of major exhibitions, most notably a retrospective of the International Exhibition of Modern Art, better known as the Armory Show, the seminal event that introduced modern art to America in 1913. As part of that exhibition—Trapp’s first as director—he arranged not only for the loan of one of the most controversial paintings from the Armory Show, Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, but also for a visit by Duchamp himself, who later became friends with Trapp. The event brought national attention to the Mead and established a standard of excellence that continues today.

Trapp was predeceased by his parents and his brother, Robert H. Trapp. He is survived by his brothers and sisters-in-law, Dr. Donald C. and Alice Trapp of Wheeling, W.V., and Edward L. and Patricia A. Trapp of Glastonbury, Conn.; a niece, Donna Warman of Selinsgrove, Penn.; nephews Craig and Eric Trapp of Vernon, Conn.; grandniece Calley Warman of Selinsgrove; and grandnephews Brooks and Bryce Warman of Selinsgrove and Jared Tyler Trapp of Vernon.

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