May Gallery hosts first Bill Barrett Annual Faculty Photography Exhibition


The exhibition ran from Feb. 18 to March 11 and was open to all current and former faculty, according to Aaron AuBuchon.

For 23 years, Bill Barrett organized and coordinated Webster’s May Gallery in Sverdrup Hall. His creation, the May Gallery, is the only photographic exhibition space of its kind within a several-hour radius.

Every year the May Gallery hosts graduating senior exhibitions, showings for non-graduating Webster students, exhibitions for high school students to show their photography, displays work from world-renowned photographers and coordinates faculty exhibitions – the most recent event the May Gallery hosted on Feb. 18.

After the recent death of Barrett, who was a professor of photography at Webster for nearly three decades, the May Gallery is continuing with the help of Webster faculty and students.

Aaron AuBuchon, associate dean of the School of Communications, fulfilled a main role in planning the recent Gallery showing, “The Bill Barrett Annual Photography Faculty Exhibition.” He and other photography faculty worked together to ensure events for the Gallery would continue.

The May Gallery is currently showcasing past and present faculty photography in the hallway of Sverdrup Hall.
The Bill Barrett Annual Photography Faculty Exhibition will be open to the public until March 11, 2022. Photo by Cas Waigand.

“The most recent show was a real collaboration between a lot of people to get it pulled off,” AuBuchon said. “For Webster, just having a gallery like that on campus, having that kind of prestige, is one on a list of wonderful things that Webster does … to contribute to the arts and culture community in St. Louis.”

For the exhibition, AuBuchon designed posters, assembled the virtual show and helped with communication between participants and other organizers.

“I’ve been really impressed that dean [Eric] Rothenbuhler has been so hands-on. I mean he’s done as much as I have I think in getting it ready,” AuBuchon said. “Thanks to Tom Barkman especially. He really put the [exhibition] together. We would not have had a physical show without him. Thanks to all the folks in the show itself for getting their work in.”

According to AuBuchon, Barkman, who is an adjunct photography professor for Webster, worked to publicize the event and obtain the photographic images, which included printing them out. He also hung them up on the first floor of Sverdrup.

AuBuchon said while he and Rothenbuler are glad to be part of the driving force behind the May Gallery for the time being, videography is their strong suit. Eventually, he hopes the administrative role for planning the May Gallery will be filled by the photography faculty.

“I will be involved in the planning for as long as they need an administrator’s hand. My field of endeavor runs parallel to photography, I mean, cameras are cameras. But I’m not a still photographer, and I don’t know that world,” AuBuchon said. “So we’re not really sure who’s going to run [the Gallery] at this point, because in a lot of ways it’s going to require a person full-time, and I don’t think anybody is yet ready to have a discussion about that because what that ultimately means is replacing Bill.”

The exhibition’s opening reception was on Feb. 18 and is set to be on display until March 11. This particular exhibition was open to submissions from anyone who had ever been employed in Webster’s photography department, not just those who have been teaching within the last year.

“After Bill’s death, we opened [the exhibition] back up to anyone who has ever taught in the photo program because we wanted it to be a legacy show that reminded people of all the folks that had come through under Bill’s wing,” AuBuchon said.

Over the course of the two decades Barrett oversaw the May Gallery, he built its reputation as a unique opportunity for both the university, the alumni and the community.

“The May Gallery is a real gallery, it’s not just a place to show student work. A person can say that they showed work at a gallery with an international reputation once they get out of here,” AuBuchon said. “They can say they participated in a showing at the May Gallery in St. Louis.”

AuBuchon, who worked with Barrett for 15 years, said he finds inspiration in continuing Barrett’s legacy from memories of how passionate Barrett was about working with students.

“Bill made the May Gallery work in part because there was a series of students involved with it. So we have to engage with the students,” AuBuchon said. “Part of what I think of as May Gallery planning is getting with the students in the photo program at-large and asking them if they can help.”

Students help figure out logistics for the May Gallery’s showings, such as which photographic pieces will make the cut. AuBuchon said the work is always judged and approved by multiple parties before display in the May Gallery, and in the senior exhibitions, the graduating students have to make decisions about which of their peer’s work is displayed.

The May Gallery was formerly in the second floor west wing hallway in Sverdrup, but is currently being moved to an alternative space in the building due to the hallway undergoing renovations. Along with the change in location, the May Gallery is also set to be renamed.

“The May Gallery is an entity more than it is the physical space. We’re changing the name of the gallery but it will still be the photographic gallery at Webster University. I think it will always bear some imprint of Bill because it can’t hardly help but do so,” AuBuchon said. “It wasn’t because it was his job, it was because it was his passion. He saw the commitment over the course of 23 years of nights and weekends. If you ever came up here on a weekend anytime near a show, there’s Bill in the hallway with rulers and nails and all the accoutrement of a May Gallery show.”

The May Gallery and its new organizers will continue to host exhibitions on a virtual platform while renovations are being completed in the west wing of Sverdrup. The May Gallery will temporarily close this month and reopen when its new physical space is complete.

While there is presently no formal plan on who will take over Barrett’s responsibility, AuBuchon said a collection of professors and staff will consistently work together to maintain the May Gallery for the time being.

AuBuchon also encourages anyone who knew or had a class with Barrett to feel welcome to stop by Barrett’s memorial outside his Sverdrup office. Anyone is free to write a message or leave a memory in his memorial book outside the office.

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Kate McCracken (she/her) is currently a staff writer for The Journal. She has previously worked as the lifestyle editor. She is a double major in Philosophy and History, minoring in Professional Writing. She has always loved to write and create stories, and she wrote her first book at age 10. Aside from writing, Kate also enjoys photography, environmental/animal activism, paranormal investigation and oneirology, the study of dreams.