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Historian and Art Sponsor Phil Adamo

Phil Adamo perches on the arm of a chair, resting his elbow on a plinth displaying a bust in the Lindell Library
Photo by Stephen Geffre.

If you crossed paths on the Augsburg campus with history professor Phil Adamo, you would quickly learn of his enthusiasm for the history of the place. You may even hear him share one of the many stories that make Augsburg’s 150-year history so intriguing.

Phil Adamo came to Augsburg in 2001, after completing his PhD in medieval history at The Ohio State University. In 2015, he was named “Minnesota Professor of the Year” for 2015 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, the same year he began as Director of Augsburg’s nationally recognized Honors Program. Since 2013, he’s been working with students on a history of Augsburg for its sesquicentennial celebration in 2019.

When asked what made him decide to sponsor a work of art for the Hagfors Center Art and Identity initiative, here is what he said:

Phil Adamo studies at a table with a student. They are surrounded by boxes of files and papers.
Adamo worked in the College archives with students, including Caitlin Crowley ’16, as part of a class documenting the history of Augsburg. Photo by Stephen Geffre.

“Most people don’t know I’m a bit of an art collector. I go to all the student shows and have purchased student self-portraits and other contemporary art. I’m a fan of art and want to support artists. When I found out about the Art and Identity initiative, I started looking at the portfolio of stories about the artists. In fact, I watched every video story on the various artists.

“I noticed the collection includes work by former campus photographer Stephen Geffre. Stephen and I have worked on several projects together over the years. In my current work, writing the history of Augsburg, Stephen took many of the images I’m using. I’ve also bought some of his photography. Then I found out he is a multi-dimensional artist, working as a sculptor. The piece he’s doing for the Hagfors Center appeals to me because it brings to life something of the College’s past. The elm trees in the quad hold a lot of our history.

Adamo in front of a window. On the sill sits a sculpture made of metal ribbons that billow and wave as if stirred by wind.
Adamo with a Geffre sculpture in his home collection.

“I appreciate the way objects tell stories, which is something I’m exploring in my history of Augsburg. This object Stephen is creating tells a story, that links to some of the stories I want to tell. For example, when the original Science Hall was built, in the late 1940s, students lamented the removal of an old tree during construction. ‘One thing that really bothers me,’ one student said, ‘is that someone had that beautiful, scrubby old tree by Science Hall cut down—it was the best and the only shade on campus … a person needs a tree for shade now and then.’

“Stephen’s piece is large and dramatic. It will hang in the new building not far from where the elm trees in the quad once stood. For almost 75 years, half the life of the College, students, staff and faculty walked past those trees, sat in their shade, watched their leaves turn in the fall. Now, when you come down the main hallway of the first floor, you’ll walk directly towards a cross-section of one of these trees, showing the history of Augsburg in its rings. Stephen’s piece adds an outline of the tree, suggestive of what once was there, but now is just a memory. That’s what historians do.”

— by Catherine Reid Day