Phillips Academy, Andover, is one of the few secondary schools in the world that can consider over 50 of America's most prominent artists as part of its teaching staff. Granted, Gilbert Stuart and John Singleton Copley haven't lifted a paint brush in nearly 200 years, but at the Academy's Addison Gallery of American Art, these and other artists continue to teach students about color, form, and other aspects of their discipline.
''What we have at Andover is a teaching museum,'' gallery director Christopher Cook says. ''It is one of the school's most important and widely used resources.
The smell of paint in the oval, marble-floored foyer indicates that this is an environment where art actively lives. In a spacious studio on the second floor, the students paint in the shadow of Albert Bierstadt, Mary Cassatt, Childe Hassam. ''For some, studying in the presence of great art might be intimidating,'' says Ann Ree, a student, ''but to me it is a privilege few other secondary-school students have.''
Mr. Cook says, ''Having a studio in the gallery is a tremendous asset, because the students have direct access to nearly 5,000 original works of art.'' Stopping for a closer look at Winslow Homer's ''Eight Bells'' and not more than 10 paces from Edward Hopper's ''Manhattan Bridge Loop,'' Cook says, ''We generally have over 100 pieces on loan to various museums throughout the world. ''Eight of our Thomas Eakins paintings, for instance, are on loan to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for its show, 'Eakins, Artist of Philadelphia.' ''
This fall the gallery features the artist Frank Stella. As an alumnus of the academy, his presence is particularly gratifying to the Andover community.
Stella's prominence in the contemporary arts scene was clearly demonstrated last May, when one of his oil paintings, ''Reichstag,'' sold for $420,000, tying a record for a price commanded for the work of a living American artist.
Stella says of his alma mater, ''Spectacular. The Andover arts program was simply spectacular when I studied here in the 1950s. I took an introductory course which combined art history and a studio workshop. That class sparked my interest. But there were many other dimensions to the program here. First, there were the human resources - the faculty. Then, there was the great collection of art available here. When I was learning about the various properties of painting - color, tone, theme, perspective, anything at all - I could go to any number of works in a multitude of mediums and see how these aspects were handled by the very best artists.''
''One-minute access,'' chimes Cook, ''We want the students to have one-minute access to each and every one of the works.''
With the art on exhibition, that is no problem. But, when 70 percent of the collection, everything from oil paintings to pen and inks, photographs, and statuary, is in storage, such a goal poses a problem. The solution?
''Sliding screens and drawers,'' answers Cook. ''For most museums a storage area is just that, but for us the space is a classroom where the students come to see how Ansel Adams studied a specific aspect of photography, or how Andrew Wyeth's brush strokes differ from those of George Bellows or Winslow Homer. Exhibits change frequently, thus giving students exposure to a variety of artists and gallery themes.
The arts program was started in 1931 by Thomas Cochran, an Andover alumnus and partner of financial tycoon J. P. Morgan.
While Morgan, Bernard Berenson, Stanford White, and others were in Europe collecting works by French and Italian Renaissance masters, Cochran stayed home and began seriously investing in American art.
"Art," Cochran explained, "is an essential part of life, particularily in youth, when one's tastes are being formed." In order to instill an appreciation of art in the students, Cochran established a small gallery space in the school's library. A year later, when Chochran asked about the students' response to his innovation, the librarian replied, "The student's come to the library to take out books, not to look at pictures." Cochran resolved to build the Addison gallery.
On the gallery's facade, the Latin words for "respect the art of your country" are etched. Cochran felt America's heritage could best be learned and appreciated through American art.
The program and its facilties have grown steadily over the years. Students can choose from 30 classes, ranging from the traditional art-history classes to courses in design, ceramics, photography, and architecture.
The photograpy class is a particular favorite, drawing over 300 students a term. Gordon Bensley, one of the innovators behind the present art curriculum, says "the reason that photography is so popular is due to the elementary visual-studies course, which is mandatory. We want the students to train their eyes by going out with a camera, working in the studio, studying shapes and colors, and working with the practical aspects of design."
One of the Bensley concepts is the slide tape, which is used to instruct students on various aspects of art. In the audio-visual library students can obtain a five-minute reel on how to use a developer, or a segment on Renaissance art.