Right from Trinity's beginning in 1959, the college embraced robust Christian cultural engagement. Taking the arts seriously was part of the college's DNA because Calvin Seerveld, one of four founding faculty members in 1959, had written his dissertation on the nature of art at the Free University in Amsterdam.
While Seerveld was was finishing his degree, he met Henk Krijger —an artist, typographer, designer of the typeface, Raffia. Mary Steenland '66 studied in Europe the year after leaving Trinity. Steenland, Krijger and Seerveld, who was on sabbatical in Europe in '67, all met at Krijger's studio.
As part of her studies, Steenland had written a paper on the artist in society. The paper proposed an art community modeled loosely on notion of mentor-with-community of young artists. She explains, "This proposal integrated aesthetics, art history and the same for the other arts as well... but this was just a very small beginning." The ideas in her paper germinated a fledgling arts organization, the Institute for Christian Art (ICA). Seerveld pulled together a "board of directors" for this new venture, and brought Krijger to Trinity as an artist-on-residence and the ICA's master artist. The ICA began in an old house in Worth, the next suburb over. Bringing Krijger and founding the ICA were instrumental in moving the College toward an art department and a gallery. Incidentally, Krijger designed Trinity's three-bar logo in response to students' request for a school ring. His three-in-one design was meant to communicate Trinity's values in a modern idiom that would speak to contemporary culture.
When Krijger left after just a few years, there were a series of faculty, including Steenland, Janice Russell, Jake Westerdijk and Katie Veenstra. The department filled the gaps in staffing by taking advantage of adjuncts drawn from the heart of Chicago's art community, some of whom became major figures at institutions like the Museum of Contemporary Art. Trinity has always had a strong connection to Chicago art culture.
In 1976, the college hired Jake Van Wyk, a printmaker and ceramist. Van Wyk began to build the program in earnest. David Versluis joined Van Wyk in the late 70s. Van Wyk proposed the art major in 1980. Versluis, a printmaker and graphic designer, founded both the college's design office and the design concentration in the art major. Both Van Wyk and Versluis were professionally active in Chicago and beyond. They resurrected Trinity's gallery program which has since shown some of the most important artists from Chicago and beyond.
John Bakker took Van Wyk's place in 1982. Building from the foundation that Van Wyk and Versluis had laid, Bakker wrote the art curriculum. The department began its growth from 6 majors in 1982 to over 50 majors by the mid '00s. Along the way a variety of artists joined the faculty and then moved on to significant careers in the artworld: 1987–1999 painter Tim Vermeulen; 2000–2002 sculptor and painter Heidi Van Wieren; 2002–2004 sculptor and video artist Jack Sloss; 2005–2008 sculptor Emily Kennerk. Emily's brother and Chicago gallerist, Rowley Kennerk, became an adjunct faculty member teaching art history in 2006 and a half-time instructor-practioner in 2011. Sculptor Dayton Castleman and designer Ellen Browning joined the faculty in 2008 just as the department moved into its new building.
Under Bakker's direction the gallery showed a who's who from the Chicago art world and beyond, including significant artists as their careers emerged like Conrad Bakker, and, on occasion, national and international art figures like Tim Rollins who showed his work at Trinity at the same time it was was included in the American Century Show at the Whitney Museum in New York. Bakker turned the direction of the gallery over to collector and English faculty member, Bruce Leep from '07–'09. Josh Ippel took the gallery for the next two years and Cherith Lundeen assumed the gallery director role between 2011 and 2013.
The Art Department's facilities in the '80s were in an attic apartment and a small out building. —In the summer Bakker's attic office was 130º. In the winter, the bucket under the leaky dormer next to his desk, froze—the department moved to the maintenance department's vacated brown metal pole barn in 1989, and eventually added a double wide trailer and two basements before settling in its current state-of-the-art facility in 2008. Graduates from those years who have gone on to very successful careers are alternately jealous of the current facility and nostalgic for the "Art Barn" with its menagerie of box elder bugs and succession of faculty dogs from Vermeulen's bulldogs, Knuckles and Lola, to Bakker's fleet-footed Wheaten Terrier, the escape artist, Riley, to Emily Kennerk's Miniature Pinscher, Gus.