Fine Arts

Olaf Brauner painting self -portrait.
Photograph. ca. 1922.

As students in the 1890s came better prepared in the technical aspects of design, the school could begin to emphasize the aesthetic and artistic elements in architecture. The Fine Arts program at Cornell began with the establishment of a Department of Freehand Drawing directed by Olaf Brauner, an artist and teacher of Norwegian descent. Originally conceived as accessory to the education of architects, Fine Arts’ offerings of drawing and painting gradually gained importance and enrollment. Although it initially was predisposed to Beaux-Arts principles, the program specifically intended to develop the students’ individuality. Despite Cornell’s large collection of antique casts, the students did not trace and copy along conventional lines, but were immediately taught to draw from live models. Brauner encouraged some competitions in the context of public exhibitions and critiques. He also believed in exposing his students to contemporary art, developing an ambitious exhibition program with work by alumni and other major artists of the day.

Brauner also encouraged his students to enjoy themselves. In a letter about Willard Straight ‘01, his former student, he described the College of Architecture as "the only college in the university that had a real College spirit with...traditions of fun, of seriousness." It was Straight and his class who instituted a College of Architecture Day on St. Patrick’s Day, 1901, an event that became known as Dragon Day.

Retiring in 1939, Brauner was succeeded as chairman of the Department of Art by John Hartell ‘25, who served until 1959, and then ran the graduate program in fine arts until his retirement in 1968. In the 1950s the art program was redesigned as a four-year program, basically independent of the one in architecture. In recognition of the program’s strength, in 1967 the College of Architecture was renamed the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning.

Early Art Classes


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