Stark Foundation holds building dedication for multi-million-dollar addition to museum

The Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation Board of Trustees and Staff dedicated the new Walter G. Riedel III Education Center and Eunice R. Benckenstein Library & Archive at the Stark Museum of Art on Thursday, Feb. 22.

The new two-story addition, a more than $7 million project, is approximately 15,000 square feet, built primarily from concrete and steel. The new building is designed to withstand a category 5 hurricane, according to a release by the Stark Foundation.

“We see the new facility as a community space where people will want to come regularly and do art as families and in groups,” said Trina Nelson Thomas, director, Stark Art & History venues.

The first floor of the new education building has added much needed office and prep space for the museum’s growing education programs, including space used for student and educator programming, adult studio art workshops, family programs and workshops, lectures and community art such as the annual Juried Student Art Exhibition. A new kiln area has also been added, which will allow for firing ceramic and glass projects onsite.

“The building has a community gallery. One of the things we’ve been building over the last four or five years is our student art programs and exhibitions,” said Jennifer Restauri Dickinson, curator of education for Stark Museum. “We’re getting ready to open our fourth annual Juried Student Art Exhibition. That is a competition open to Region 5 (ESC) and Calcasieu Parish students K-12. But this space is going to be utilized for different exhibitions. It’s going to allow us to grow that program and more opportunities for students and hopefully community members to display their artwork.”

The theme for the latest Juried Student Art Exhibition is “This Land Was Made for You and Me.”

“It is a geographical theme that’s supposed to show lakes, mountains, prairies, coasts and deserts,” said Sarah E. Boehme, curator of the Stark Museum of Art. “We had over 400 entries, and then the staff juries the show down to a number that can be shown in the gallery. They’re judged on their composition, use of materials, and their creativity.”

Students also have to write an artist’s statement to help give the viewer an understanding of their work. A special reception, open to the public, will be held April 4 to honor the students for their artwork. The Juried Student Art Exhibition will remain on display until June 2, Boehme said.

At the dedication, the museum also displayed Navajo weavings that were part of a community gallery from a few years ago.

Guests who visited the exhibit Feb. 22 could then spend time doing some weaving themselves to better understand the process.

The museum’s Reading Rug program was also on display in front of the Navajo weavings.

“Our Reading Rug program is designed for Pre-K and Kindergarten  students. When that age group visits for a group tour, they sit on a rug in a gallery and the educator reads a book that relates to the artwork the rug is in front of and we discuss the artwork. Then we take them to the studio to make art that also is linked to the book and the art they discussed. We have several different themed Reading Rug programs,” said Brandon Aldrich, marketing and public relations specialist for the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation.

The second floor, housing the Eunice R. Benckenstein Library & Archive, provides a controlled environment to preserve the foundation’s collection of historic documents and library collections for future generations. The archive holds many records of the early Stark and Lutcher families, and their business concerns, including the Lutcher Moore Lumber Company and the records of the Stark Foundation. The new space includes compact shelving, a research room, a small exhibition and display area, library collections storage, secure archival storage, a workroom and staff offices.

“Our compact shelving allows us to house much more material,” said Jenniffer Hudson Connors, manager of the Eunice R. Benckenstein Library & Archive. “We have enough room that we’ll be able to grow for the next 20 years.”

The library is open to staff and to scholars and students by appointment only.

On display Feb. 22 in the library were several old ledgers, including one from the Vinton Petroleum Company dating back to 1910. The ledgers are part of the Eunice R. Benckenstein collection.

“The Vinton Petroleum Company was a very successful business,” said Dottie Hoepner, volunteer at the Eunice R. Benckenstein Library & Archive.

According to notes from the archive, the business was originally formed in Louisiana in 1910. Leonard Frederick Benckenstein was the vice president and general manager. By 1911, W.H. Stark and Edgar Brown were recruited to invest in the company. A substantial gusher came in March 1913, bringing in 15,000 barrels per day.

In 1914, the company became a limited partnership between W.H. Stark, H.J. Lutcher Stark, E.W. Brown, W.D. Gordon, and L.F. Benckenstein. It became a corporation based in Texas on June 2, 1914.

By 1927, W.H. Stark was Vinton Petroleum Company’s president, and Stark family members were majority stockholders. Charles H. Benckenstein led the company for many years, acquiring land and mineral rights to drill for oil and gas in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Sometime after 1958, Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark sold their shares to Eunice R. Benckenstein, the widow of Charles, dissolving the company.

The new education center is named after Walter G. Riedel III, former president and CEO of the Stark Foundation, who had 40 years of service to the organization. Riedel originally began his career with the Stark Family in 1977 as Nelda C. Stark’s private accountant and, also, as a Stark Foundation staff member. In 1986, Riedel became controller of the foundation and was also named to the Board of Directors upon his advancement. He continued to work primarily in an accounting capacity until the death of Mrs. Stark on Dec. 13, 1999, at which time the Board of Directors named Riedel as Stark Foundation president and CEO.

During Riedel’s tenure as the foundation’s president and CEO for over 17 years, he guided the organization through a significant expansion in vision, operation, and programming, including the construction of Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, the conversion in legal status of the organization from a private grant making foundation to a private operating foundation, and most recently, the addition of the museum annex building for education, library and archival operations.

The new library and archive is named after Eunice R. Benckenstein. She worked as a secretary and bookkeeper for H.J. Lutcher Stark and the Vinton Petroleum Company. By 1939, she joined other businesswomen and chartered the Orange Pilot Club. Benckenstein served on numerous Boards, including the Stark Foundation, and also led the restoration of the historic W.H. Stark House.

“Through her business acumen, commitment to education, and her dedication to the vision of Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark, Eunice R. Benckenstein’s legacy continues to serve our community,” a release by the foundation states.

The Stark Museum of Art has several upcoming events, including the 2018 Juried Student Art Exhibition, a CREATE! Workshop, Doodle Days, and a 10th Anniversary Family Day Event. For a full list of events, visit starkculturalvenues.org. The Stark Museum of Art is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

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