Washington and Lee's long relationship with the arts dates back to its most illustrious early donor and first namesake, George Washington. In making an important gift to a struggling school in 1796, the first President noted, "To promote literature in this rising empire, and to encourage the arts, have been among the warmest wishes of my heart. And if the donation is likely to prove a means to accomplish these ends, it will contribute to the gratification of my desires."
Today, Washington and Lee University offers undergraduate degrees in art, theatre, and music, as well as coursework in dance. Its performing arts programs, while grounded on a firmly scholarly base, are performance and production oriented. In addition to student-produced productions, Washington and Lee University sponsors a wide range of professional touring productions through the Concert Guild Series, Sonoklect and the Lenfest Series.
With the opening of the Lenfest Center for the Arts in May 1991, Washington and Lee University reinforced its commitment to providing students, faculty, and the surrounding Shenandoah Valley region with the highest quality arts programming. Home of the departments of theater, music and art, it is a multi-use facility designed and equipped to accommodate a broad spectrum of the performing arts, including theater, musical theater, opera and operetta, choral and band music, dance and performance art.
In 2006, the facility was expanded to include the John and Anne Wilson Music and Art Center, bringing all of the arts at Washington and Lee together in one energizing complex. The facility is the setting for over 127 public performances each year.
Lee Chapel was named a National Historic Landmark in 1961, and from 1962 to 1963 the chapel was restored with the support of the Ford Motor Company Fund. A major renovation of the Lee Chapel Museum was completed in 1998, commemorating the University's 250th anniversary in 1999.
The chapel remains an integral part of Washington and Lee's campus today. Concerts, lectures and other University events take place regularly in the 500-seat auditorium on the main level.
A state-of-the-art museum is housed in the lower level and includes Lee's office, a portrait gallery displaying the Washington-Custis-Lee Collection, an exhibition tracing the history and heritage of Washington and Lee University and a museum shop.
The University possesses major art collections, including the Washington-Custis- Lee portraits, the Vincent L. Bradford collection of 19th-century American paintings, the Thomas F. Torrey II collection of landscape paintings, the Stan Kamen collection of Western art, the Sydney and Frances Lewis collection of 20th-century art, and the Jacob and Bernice Weinstein collection of modern art. In 1967, the University received 4,000 ceramic objects from Mr. and Mrs. Euchlin D. Reeves, including an important collection of 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century Chinese Export porcelain. This collection and the paintings of Mrs. Reeves (Louise Herreshoff) are housed in the Reeves Center, a research and exhibition center on campus.
Recent additions to the art collections of the University include Chinese, Japanese, and Korean ceramics, bronzes, and jades on exhibit in the Watson Pavilion for Asian Arts, which opened in 1993. The Watson Pavilion also houses an authentic Japanese tearoom.