The University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts has put the kibosh on an informal figure drawing group that’s been meeting weekly at Lawrence Hall for at least the past 20 years.

Artist Will Mitchell, who has been coordinating the free drawing sessions since May, said he was told by Carla Bengston, head of the art department, that the Saturday figure drawing sessions could no longer be held after Sept. 27.

“I was told by Carla Bengtson… that the University is concerned about issues of liability, that our group might be one where the public is on campus seeing a nude model ‘who might be an exhibitionist,’ or an artist ‘might have the wrong thoughts,’ and where there is no university representative monitoring the sessions, and that art students might want to use that space at that time sometime in the future,” Mitchell wrote on a website for the group.

In an interview, Mitchell said he has never heard of a single problem with the sessions, in which a group of two dozen or more artists sit and draw pictures of paid nude models, male and female alike. “My jaw dropped,” he said. “The implication was that it could attract voyeurs.”

I’ve been to the drawing sessions myself in the past, as have a number of local artists, and it’s hard to see exactly what the complaint could be. They’re about as racy as a medical exam. Working from live, unclothed human models is a traditional method of honing drawing skills that goes back centuries.

I called and emailed Bengston to ask for her explanation, but got an out-of-office reply saying she’s gone until Sept. 29.

An email sent out by AAA Dean Brook Muller in response to questions about the decision said that “misinformation” has gone out about the cancellation.

“We … have no concerns whatsoever with either the professionalism of the models who have posed for these sessions, or the professionalism of individuals who have attended these sessions. To the contrary, we have been very happy with the way both of these constituents have presented and conducted themselves over the years.”

The dean went on to mention unspecified threats about the sessions. “Some recent communications, comments, and inquiries about the sessions have led us to believe that the safety of the individuals involved in the program could be potentially compromised if these sessions continued in their current unstructured and unmonitored format.”

If cost is an issue, Mitchell said, the artists involved would be happy to contribute. “If it’s a money issue, we’re willing to pay,” he said.

I’ll add to this post if I hear more…