Some 10 years before the Handwerker Gallery opened on South Hill, the College created its first formal space dedicated to the exhibition of art: the Ithaca College Museum of Art. Developed largely through the work of Dorothy Hoyt Dillingham, a professional artist and the wife of College president Howard Dillingham, the museum filled the Boardman House of Buffalo Street, the last remaining building of the College's downtown campus. In 1966 the museum opened its first show and, with its own board of directors, curator, and staff, began to amass a permanent collection: modern paintings, African and South American art, and lithographs and drawings, The Dillinghams donated some of the pieces, and others were purchased from various galleries. The collection was displayed on both floors of the Boardman House, together with the visiting shows (more than 75 between 1966 and 1972). The museum mounted its own exhibits, including shows of student and faculty works; issued professional publications; and orchestrated an array of traveling exhibitions.
Due to changes in the administration and an "austerity" budget, the museum was forced to close in the spring of 1972. Since there was no space on the recently constructed South Hill campus for the permanent collection, it was put into storage. Pieces from the collection were occasionally displayed in various campus buildings, but there was no formal exhibition space. Then in 1977 Murray Handwerker, a trustee of the college who expanded his father's restaurant chain, Nathan's Famous, donated the funds to develop a portion of the first floor of the Gannet Center for art exhibitions. Initially, the Handwerker Gallery was more or less a hallway. Renovations in the mid-1980s created the formal space that exists today. The exhibition area was enclosed and a sophisticated alarm system installed to ensure the safety of the art objects. These improvements have enabled the Handwerker to show important exhibits that contain valuable works of art. For instance, in the fall of 1996 the gallery exhibited American Landscapes: The Hudson River School, whose total estimated value was in the millions.
In keeping with the College's tradition of exhibiting modern art and student and faculty works-a tradition that flourished with the opening of the Ithaca College Museum of Art in 1966-the Handwerker Gallery primarily displays contemporary art. An exhibit tracing the history of the Ithaca College Museum of Art and the Handwerker Gallery was exhibited in spring 2000.
-Allison Rabbitt '99, Art History major (edited 2014)