'Great Minds' are on display in Trumbull

The works of great minds have always filled the shelves of the Trumbull Library. Now, those great thinkers and revolutionaries are on the walls too — in a larger-than-life way.

The Great Minds Collection opened at the library’s main branch, on Quality Street, in October. The collection belongs to Trumbull residents Dick and Jane Resnick and consists of 33 large canvases, painted by contemporary artist Robin Morris. As the name of the collection suggests, each painting depicts one or more great thinkers in human history, some living and some dead, who helped shape our world today.

The genesis of the Great Minds Collection started five years ago with an unusual and striking painting of William Shakespeare.

Dick recalled the hot day in Miami, at an Art Deco fair, when he spotted the stylized portrait, showing the Great Bard with just one eye, some of his famous words floating behind him. Jane Resnick remembers that the painting was so large it barely fit in their apartment.

Dr. Resnick, who had a long career in medical dentistry, also has had a love of philosophy and art since his days at Colgate University. He began to think about the legacy he wanted to leave behind. The Robin Morris painting spoke to him, inspiring him and his wife to become the artist’s patron and start the collection.

“I collaborated with professors and other learned people I know,” Resnick said of choosing great minds to be painted. “The obvious names are easy, but it takes more thought after that.
“In the collection, some people you will know — some you may have heard of but you aren’t sure why,” he said.

Some of the more obvious great minds include Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, Abraham Lincoln, and Albert Einstein. Major religious figures like Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad are also included. Since the Muslim religion doesn’t sanction portraits of Muhammad, the painting respects that, finding a unique way to capture “The Prophet.” Each painting is unique and includes elements related to that person’s life and work.

Dick Resnick said there is a difference between a great mind and a hero, though many great thinkers in the collection are often labeled as such, while others are not.

“Some of the selections are controversial, and it’s meant to be — it stimulates thought and discussion,” he said.

Library Director Susan Horton said that, without fail, one of the most controversial portraits is one of a still living “great mind” — Oprah Winfrey. That selection doesn’t always sit well with some, particularly males.

Another one that raises questions is a painting of several major figures in the women’s movement from 1744 to the present. Some argue they shouldn’t all be grouped together in one portrait. Horton, for her part, made sure that painting was put in a prominent space. She also welcomes all the discussion and debate.

If someone isn’t sure why a great mind was chosen or what that person did to deserve a spot in the collection, they can read the biography and painting description that accompanies each one, written by Jane Resnick. Each description can be found along the collection tour route, which winds through the library. Each painting and accompanying biography is also put together in a book on the collection, for sale at the library.

Jane Resnick is a professional writer, who said it was a challenge to keep each great mind to a one-page description.

“It gave me a chance to use my skills, which had become a little rusty,” she said.

The short biographies also capture the greatest accomplishments of each figure and keep the information accessible to a wider audience, she said. She learned a lot in the process and saw the connections and similarities between some of the great thinkers.

The collection, which has previously been on display at Colgate University and the Quick Center for the Arts, is a work in progress.

“It’s an interactive exhibit,” Dick Resnick said. “We want people to tell us who should be the next great mind.”

Proposals have already been left in the suggestion box at the library, and Horton said Trumbull schools will get involved in the exhibit and submit suggestions.

Once the collection leaves the library in May, the Resnicks hope to get it into another museum or gallery space.

Bringing the large collection to their hometown library was no small task. They thanked all the library staff and everyone who helped hang and arrange each large piece.

“We approached it with a lot of trepidation,” Horton said of the Resnicks’ offer to display Great Minds. “We don’t have an art gallery space.”

However, Horton said, the library’s mission has grown to include serving as a cultural center for the community. The library felt this was a great opportunity to do so.

Already, visitors have come back to the library, just to look at the collection a second time. It’s attention-grabbing, she said.

“The most exciting thing is people are talking to each other about it, and discussing ideas and concepts,” Horton said.

The Great Minds Collection will be on display through the month of May. The library has a map of the exhibit available, and people may also learn more at Trumbullct-library.org.