Belmont Hosts Acclaimed Artist Sandra Bowden on Chagall Exhibit

Hallway lined with Chagall art
Watkins College of Art

Belmont Hosts Acclaimed Artist Sandra Bowden on Chagall Exhibit

March 15, 2024 | by Emma Johansson

Artist, collector and visual theologian Sandra Bowden visited Belmont’s campus this week to present on the works of Marc Chagall, whose work will be on display in the Janet Ayers Academic Center Atrium through the spring semester, as a part of a rotating exhibition of original, biblically themed art. The tradition began in Fall of 2022, with art from Sadao Watanabe, and Katie Michell, director of galleries and programming at Watkins College of Art, spearheading the installation efforts.

“Art like this can help form what University President Dr. Greg Jones calls our ‘scriptural imagination,’ immersing us visually in the story of God’s work in the world in ways that touch us beyond words,” said Dr. Todd Lake, vice president of spiritual development.

Sandra Bowden speaking at Chapel

Photo by: Sam Simpkins

0312-art-223.jpgThe Chagall exhibit is a part of the esteemed Sandra Bowden Collections, a series of traveling exhibitions influenced by biblical motifs. Marc Chagall (1887-1985), a highly influential Russian, French and Jewish artist in the 20th century, was known around the world for his renderings in a diverse range of artistic mediums, often shaped by his dreamlike visions and personal experiences. 

Co-sponsored by the Watkins College of Art, Belmont’s Women’s History Month Committee and the Office of Faith-Based Engagement & Church Relations, Bowden spoke to students at the exhibition site on March 12 and a chapel service on March 13, unpacking highlights of the Chagall collection and discussing the importance of art preservation and education for both individuals and institutions. She also debunked myths of art collecting, emphasizing that the practice can be for anyone, and inexpensive pieces can be found at antique shops, bookstores or even on the internet or swapped amongst art students. 

Chagall art lined on the wall

Photo by: Emma Johansson


“Each time you buy work, you enter a whole new world,” said Bowden. ”You study the life and work of the artist. You write descriptions and keep a catalog of the pieces you have. It's like finding a new friend.”

Bowden has collected her pieces from a wide variety of sources – friends, strangers, strangers that turned into friends and galleries across the world. After encountering Chagall’s work in 1986 on a trip to southern France, she became entranced, later purchasing her first two Chagall pieces in the mid-90s and faithfully collecting 58 of Chagall’s etchings and lithographs. 

Her “why” for spreading Chagall’s work across the world is simple. “I'm interested in helping the church see scripture. We hear it, we read it. But do we see it?” Chagall’s vibrantly symbolic art allows the viewer to engage with biblical stories in a tangible, visual way. 

Bowden’s collection has stood the test of time, making its way to over two dozen locations and even surviving a fire at a church in South Carolina. “Every collection is put together one piece at a time, and every piece you acquire has a story,” she said. “If you think you had a story when you acquired it, you've only just begun.”