Kendal at Ithaca is a nonprofit continuing care retirement community that has been a fixture of our town since 1995. What they self-describe as the “Kendal spirit” is a communal effort by residents to “design and direct the recreational, intellectual, social, and spiritual life” of their unique neighborhood, bringing their own backgrounds and interests to the development of programs for their very active community, often in partnership with faculty, staff, and students of Cornell and Ithaca College.

Directors, curators, and educators from the Johnson Museum have all given presentations for the residents at Kendal over the decades, and we have hosted groups of Kendal residents for many special exhibition tours, collection talks, and receptions.

Strict restrictions for adult care facilities have been in place during this period of quarantine and social distancing, but the “Kendal spirit” will always prevail at the Johnson Museum of Art. Since June, Museum staff has held monthly virtual “Art Breaks” for the Kendal community hosted by curators and educators using Zoom.

“It’s perfect for us and the residents are so appreciative!” writes Meg John-Testa, Kendal’s assistant director. “We are so grateful that the Johnson and Kendal have been able to adapt and successfully continue our wonderful relationship through these difficult times. The curators and educators really keep the engagement level high and nicely counter the social isolation that our current situation requires.”

Carol Hockett, the Johnson’s coordinator of school and family programs, spearheaded the new initiative following similar success with her Learn at Home teaching.

For the first Kendal session, Carol explored the career of pioneering photographer Margaret Bourke-White. Before she became a world-famous photographer for Time Life, Bourke-White (1904–1971) graduated from Cornell in 1927. Her photographs of Fort Peck Dam and the nearby town of Wheeler, Montana, were the cover image and lead story for the first issue of LIFE Magazine. The Johnson Museum holds both vintage prints and ones printed in 1965, presented to Cornell as a gift from Bourke-White and LIFE, in the collection.

For the July presentation, Ellen Avril, chief curator and curator of Asian art, discussed a Museum project that began two decades ago. Chinese and Japanese scrolls and screens in the permanent collection were conserved and remounted, a project that had the critical support of several Kendal residents and donors with deep connections with Cornell.

A fifteenth-century triptych of Japanese hanging scrolls—The Calligrapher Wang Xizhi Watching Geese, Tao Yuanming Admiring Chrysanthemums, and White-robed Kannon—was conserved through the generosity of Kazuko Smith, who taught Japanese language at Cornell for many years and was married to Robert J. Smith (1927–2016), the late Goldwin Smith Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Asian Studies at Cornell. In her presentation to Kendal, Ellen explained the conservation process, illustrated by images of the scrolls before, during, and after treatment.

Ellen also highlighted a group of recently conserved Chinese paintings donated by Dr. Ray Wu (1928–2008), the late Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Molecular Genetics and Biology, and his wife Christina, a current Kendal resident.

Alene Wyatt is the webmaster for the residents’ website. “I’ve had lots of great feedback from Kendal residents about the Johnson’s programs, both from those who were able to participate live via Zoom and those who watched the recordings on our in-house television channel the following week,” she tells us. “Our website includes a link to the program so that our ‘nonresident’ residents were also able to watch.”

August 18, 2020, will mark the centennial of the ratification of the 19th amendment, giving women the constitutional right to vote in the United States. In August, Nancy Green, the Gale and Ira Drukier Curator of European and American Art, Prints & Drawings, 1800–1945, will preview her upcoming exhibition Women Making Their Mark for the Kendal audience, looking at the creative history of women expressing themselves in traditional and nontraditional media. Beginning in 1870, Cornell was among the first colleges to admit women, more than a hundred years before any of the other Ivy League institutions.

“These unique programs are extremely interesting and well done,” said Pauline Halpern, a Kendal resident and former Museum docent. “The information will make future visits to the Museum even more enjoyable.”