Art as a part of Centre’s curriculum came only after consolidation with a local women’s college. Caldwell College, also located in Danville, was founded in 1860, renamed Kentucky College for Women in 1914, and in 1926 became the Women’s Department of Centre. Instruction in various aspects of art was a part of the women’s school from the beginning. The 1860-61 Caldwell annual catalogue includes a Department of Fine Arts under the direction of Mrs. H.W. Allen, who taught organ, harp, vocal music, and “painting in its various branches”. The 1881-82 catalogue lists a Miss Ovie Smedley, who taught drawing and painting to thirteen students, including some adults. By 1905 Caldwell had an Art Department under the direction of Mary McRoberts, which included instruction in drawing, oil and water color painting, outdoor sketching, and china painting. All of these courses were aimed at students who wanted some training in art, but did not wish to enroll in the regular college degree program. In 1915 the college began offering a structured two-year program taught by Lucille Turner, a graduate of the Chicago School of Applied and Normal Art. The first year consisted of instruction in various mediums, and the second in more specialized areas. By the early 1920’s, Kentucky College for Women was offering courses in art history, along with instruction in studio art. Courses in art history and applied art continued to be offered after KCW merged with Centre College to become the Women’s Department of Centre College.
Although the two schools had consolidated, separate campuses, about a mile apart, were maintained for both the men and women students until 1962. All art classes and studios were located on the women’s campus, and while students from the men’s campus could take art classes on the women’s campus, this probably rarely took place in the years immediately following the consolidation. All the instructors prior to World War II were women, and often professors in the home economics department. In 1946, classes were taught by Laura Robinson, a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and professor of Latin and Greek, and Katherine Cameron, professor of home economics. All this would change when in 1947 Jack Kellam came to Centre.
For the next three decades, Kellam would be the art department at Centre. He had received a B.A. from the University of Texas, a M.A. from Columbia University, and a M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. He had also studied at the Chicago Art Institute, making him Centre’s first academically trained art instructor.
A minor was soon offered in art, with courses in art history and studio art. Some courses remained in the home economics department, including clothing, textiles, and related art. For much of the decade of the 1950’s these courses were taught by Katharine Nichols. A graduate of the University of Tennessee, Nichols had become professor of home economics in 1945, teaching courses in clothing, costume design, and fabrics. By 1950 the program was able to fill the requirements for students wishing to teach art in Kentucky secondary schools, and in 1953 art was first offered as a major. In 1955 Katherine Nichols came. In 1963 the home economics department was discontinued, and Nichols became part-time in art department, plus Centre’s coordinator of interior decoration and furnishings.
By 1970, the program was flexible enough to provide an emphasis in either studio art or art history. However, when Kellam, who had essentially been the program for two decades, retired in 1979, replacing him proved difficult, and the program struggled to find stability and define its role within the college. During a period of four years, one professor resigned to focus on art, two were part-time, two were dismissed, one resigned to avoid being dismissed, and one visiting professor not given an extension.
Following this period of upheaval, normalcy returned to the program. In 1982 Leslie Hennessy was hired as professor of art history, a position she held until 1985. In 1983 Stephen Powell, a glass artist, began teaching at Centre. Sheldon Tapley, a painter, followed in 1985. William Levin was hired in 1986 as professor of art history to replace Hennessey. These three constituted the art program for over a decade, until Judith Pointer Jia, a ceramics artist, was hired in 1998.