John “Jack” Snapper may use the title of associate professor of philosophy at IIT College of Science and Letters, but he might as well have switched that cap for an Indiana Jones fedora as he demonstrated the mechanics of smoking an ornately carved bamboo peace pipe that he acquired in New Guinea in 1970.
“I was traveling in the central highlands with friendly cannibals when I collected these pipes,” he says, nonchalantly, rolling a scrap of paper to simulate how a twist of tobacco would be inserted into a small hole atop the pipe. “I fear that the people who made these may now be extinct.”
Eighteen pipes that he collected now hang like a vertical xylophone in his office on Main Campus. The ethnographic artifacts join the hundreds of other art objects, paintings, and sketches, including Persian calligraphy, Indian folk art, and a New Orleans carnival mask, that adorn his workplace and Chicago Hyde Park neighborhood home.
“I’ve slowed down my collecting,” he admits, indicating brown paper-wrapped prints wedged alongside his desk. “I literally have no wall space left.”
He uses a New Guinea spear to point out a child’s pull-toy from Guatemala, a scribes’s desk from Tibet, drawings by known local artists, shelves of baskets and pottery from around the world, and works by his artist wife, Zoe Spirra. Snapper cradles a terra cotta-colored vessel he purchased from a Parisian street market with the seller’s claim that it was of Roman lineage.
“It may actually be Roman, but it may also be a fake,” he acknowledges. “I use this in class to illustrate the difference between real things and fake things, because there’s no way to tell by just looking at it. The only way to determine authenticity is by running a chemical test.”
In addition to teaching philosophy and art theory courses, Snapper helps to support art exhibits at the Kemper Gallery in IIT’s Paul V. Galvin Library, including the recent show Hidden Works by painter Theodore Czebotar and an upcoming one by Chicago artist Adam Clement. Snapper says that to fully appreciate art, particularly contemporary art, one should study the methods and understand the artist’s intentions and influences. On the other hand, when collecting art to live with, it is important to seek art that you just plain like.
“My students would scream at me for using terms like ‘pretty stuff’ or ‘interesting stuff,’ but that's how I see it,” he says, as he surveys his personal museum. “As you begin to care about art, you want to live with it and surround yourself with all this pretty, pretty stuff.”
An exhibit of art by Adam Clement is slated to be on display in the Kemper Gallery beginning in mid-March with an opening reception toward the end of March.