Sunday, April 28, 2013

Ralph T. Coe & his Foundation

We gave a party the other evening for an old friend who is unfortunately not with us anymore.  He did, however, leave a legacy, The Ralph T. Coe Foundation.  To all who knew him he preferred to be called Ted.

Ralph "Ted" Coe

He was born in Cleveland, Ohio.  Went to Oberlin college for his undergraduate degree and to Yale for his Master’s in Art History.  After a stint under the famous curator, director and art historian John Pope Hennessy at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, he was hired as a curator at the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery in Kansas City, where he went on to became director.

As a young art dealer I was introduced to Ted when he came to visit our gallery.  While he was somewhat older than I, he was a lot younger than my father and cousin who ran the firm, so we kind of hit it off.  The Nelson, as Kansas City’s art museum is known, bought many works of art from my family, including paintings, drawings, French 18th Century decorative arts as well as medieval objects.  

Ted w/ Gerald & Penelope
Years after meeting Ted I sent him to visit Eugene Victor Thaw a renowned art dealer more into modern fields where Ted bought a painting by Pissarro.  Ted’s father was a major collector of Impressionists so this was of great interest to Ted and as long as he lived Ted was an advisor to Henry Bloch of H&R Block who was a trustee of the museum and formed a great Impressionist collection.

Ted’s true love, however, was tribal art and particularly the art of the American Indians.  In 1976 he did the first international exhibition of Native American art called “Sacred Circles: Two Thousand Years of North American Indian Art” and eventually decided that pursuing this interest was more interesting to him than being the director of a great museum.  Ted moved to Santa Fe where he continued working on his next show, “Lost & Found Traditions: Native American Art 1965-1985”.   He wanted to show that the creative abilities of the American Indian still existed as it had hundreds of years ago.  He travelled all over the continent collecting works made in recent years and commissioning works for the show from many different tribes.  He would come back home to Santa Fe having covered tens of thousands of miles in a single trip.  Around the time of the exhibition Gene Thaw moved to Santa Fe and Ted guided him in building his great collection of Native American Art now housed in a separate wing of the James Fennimore Cooper Museum in Cooperstown, New York

In 2003 just before Ted’s 75th birthday an exhibition opened at the Metropolitan  Museum in New York with  a couple of hundred Native American objects from his collection which were eventually bequeathed to the museum.  The exhibition was called, “The Responsive Eye: Ralph T. Coe and the Collecting of American Indian Art”.  There you will find much more about this unique scholar and collector written by his family, friends and colleagues.

Ted did not want his passing to interfere with his mission.  He, therefore, set up a Foundation to continue his effort to share in his love of life and the pleasure of collecting, transmitting to all who were willing to listen and learn about tribal heritage and cultures.

Before he died Ted asked his niece, Rachel Wixom, daughter of the distinguished medievalist, William Wixom, to become executive director of the Foundation.  She left New York and moved to Santa Fe.  She wanted the first event for the Foundation to be for those who knew and loved Ted.  As a member of the Foundation’s Advisory Committee and having known Ted over more years than anyone else in Santa Fe I asked that this event be held at our home where ultimately 40 of his friends and admirers gathered to learn about the Foundation.   Rachel told us about some of the goals of the Foundation.  We are establishing a fellowship which allows someone, probably an advanced student, to come to Santa Fe for two months with a generous stipend and work on their own project but also work on the two thousand pieces left in Ted’s collection and organize a small exhibition using some of them.

Rachel Wixom

What distinguished Ted from all the others who have studied native cultures is that he came to it, not as an anthropologist or an archeologist, but rather as an art historian.  He used that critical eye to distinguish quality in tribal art.  We hope that this discipline can be fostered through the fellowship.

Rachel is working out of her home at the moment and the Foundation needs a home of it’s own to receive visitors, house fellowship winners and allow any staff to work. One hope is to buy Ted’s adobe home where the collection was assembled and housed for so many years.  There it might also be possible to show some of the collection.

1701 Agua Fria, Santa Fe NM 

The website also needs to be developed and while Ted catalogued much of the collection it still needs to be made accessible on the internet which is another complicated and expensive project.

Rachel, the board of directors and the advisory committee have lots of work ahead of them in in order to realize Ted’s final dream.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Treasure Hunting

We have an eccentric neighbor living down the street and you may have even heard of him due to his appearances on the Today show.  His name is Forest Fenn and he is a writer, an amateur archeologist and a dealer. His recent book called, “The Thrill of the Chase” is a memoir and within it lies an enticing tale with clues to a treasure he has assembled and hidden.

In some circles he is famous and in others infamous. To briefly touch on the latter, he was among those raided a few years ago by Federal agents.  They were looking for artifacts that were illegally being taken out of the ground and sold.  One problem with taking on Forest was that he did much of his digging on a site that was privately deeded to him and so he was never indicted.   Others said that he should not be digging at all and that should be left to trained archeologists or better yet the artifacts should be left in the ground for future generations to excavate with more advanced tools… whenever that might be!

Our first interaction with Forest was when we were asked to visit his home to evaluate a 16th century painting and decide whether it was Spanish or South American.  Every inch of every wall in his home was coved with objects he had collected.  The painting, however, was quite small and was kept in this large walk-in vault.  This past week, years after we visited his home for the first and last time we found out one of the reasons for the vault, that was where he assembled his treasure.

Two renowned authors recently came together in a panel to question the less well known author Forest Fenn.  They packed  the room at Collected Works, Santa Fe’s private bookstore, one of the best anywhere, that  hosts lectures and panels on the arts and particularly welcomes authors.

Michael McGarrity, Douglas Preston, & Forest Fenn

All three panelists were Santa Feans. Few of you will not have heard of the author Douglas Preston who has written or co-written about twenty thrillers, covering all kinds of subjects from an Italian serial killer to one centered around the ancient Incas.  Many have been #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list.  He is also a journalist and written for magazines such as “The New Yorker”, “The Smithsonian”, and “National Geographic”.

Another well known author is Michael McGarrity the author of a dozen crime novels many of them best sellers as well.  He was a deputy Santa Fe County sheriff and held other positions in law enforcement.  He was a case worker for the public defender’s office as well as a trained psychotherapist all before he turned to writing full time.

They were there to testify that they had actually seen the treasure chest in Forest’s vault (we had not) and Preston gave a vague description of its contents.  But they were also there to tease Forest and ask questions about the treasure and where it might be hidden. He was masterful at answering giving amusing responses without any information therein.   Watching his wife and family who happened to be sitting in my row I deduced that they were used to his tall tales and sense of adventure. It is, however, generally believed that the treasure actually exists. Forest has been interviewed about it for many venues beyond his recurring Today show appearances.  If you look on the internet you will find over 20 pages relating to Forest and his treasure.  There was recent press on a woman rescued after she got lost in the mountains searching for it.

We learned that in 1988 Forest was given a 20% chance of living another 2 years but as evidenced by this panel he is still with us.  He decided then that he would like to give something back in a rather novel way.  He bought a Renaissance bronze casket 10X10x 6 inches for which he paid $25,000 to fill with enticing treasures. For years he bought gold nuggets one being reported to be as large as an egg.  There is also jewelry and other precious items having been reported to be worth anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.  He hid it somewhere North of Santa Fe in the Rocky Mountains, and more he will not say.   He wrote a poem which appears in his book with clues to help lead to the treasure that he says may or may not be buried.

He told us he has received over 16,000 emails with 31 of the individuals claiming to have already found it, and giving a great deal of detail showing that they actually had not. He said somewhat facetiously that he had hidden the treasure for every redneck in Texas and he hoped it would be found by a redneck driving a truck with his 12 kids in the back.  In other words he hoped it would help a less fortunate family.   But what he was most serious about was that he hoped the hunt would inspire young folk to get out more and explore nature.  They should get their faces out of their computers and come out of their basements and their game machines and go into the great outdoors.

There were many questions and responses but in my opinion the best came from a young boy standing through the entire hour clutching an autographed copy of Forest’s book.  He wanted to know if a person’s life would be changed if they found the treasure.  Forest replied, “it is better to have enough money than a lot of money”.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Folk Song Tradition

I grew up during the 1950’s and 60’s.  As was the norm at the time, my parents sent me to 8 week sleep away camp when I was 7 years old.  In my second year there I did not like my counselors and the following summer I was sent to another camp called Killoleet which was run by a teacher from a New York City private school and who happened to be the brother of the famous folk singer Pete Seeger.  That is where I learned to love and learn about folk songs and the stories that went along with them.  We had regular campfires where we all sang songs that had become familiar to my generation and still live today.

The other night it all came rushing back.  Arlo Guthrie  (b.1947) gave a sold out concert in Santa Fe’s Lensic Theater.  Arlo is the son of Woody Guthrie (1912-1967).  While folk music has always existed in every country and culture from  time immemorial, Woody made it what it is today in the U.S.  Hundreds of his songs have been recorded and another 3,500 were just written as poems and no music was ever set down because Woody didn’t know how to write music!  He did, however, write poems, books, his autobiography “Bound for Glory” being his most famous, and he even wrote a play.  Woody’s daughter has set herself the task of getting more of this work published and even setting music to some of the poems.

What Woody is best remembered for, however, are his songs and performances.  In honor of what would have been his one hundredth birthday last year, his son Arlo, a well known singer and song writer in his own right, began a two year tour featuring Woody’s music and some of his favorite songs.

Folk music is obviously passed on from generation to generation but since Woody lived early on in the era of recorded music he was able to make some records which gave him a much wider audience.  When his friends would “steal” his songs and record them they would often modify them slightly, but, in this way, his music was disseminated far and wide and lives on.

Arlo told us who those friends were and they were the most famous folk singers of his generation influencing generations to come.  Pete Seeger, Cisco Houston, Huddie Ledbetter (better known as Lead Belly), and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot to name a few.  Many could claim to be students of Woody and his music, passing on the tradition.  Probably the most famous singers of recent times influenced by them are Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen who has recently recorded the music of Pete Seeger, Woody’s best known student.

Woody’s most famous song, sung around the world sometimes with slight variations, is “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land” written in 1940.  When Arlo was about 6 years old his class at school was asked to sing this famous song.  Arlo, however, not realizing that others were singing “his family’s song” had never bothered to learn the words!  Being embarrassed he went crying to his Dad.  That evening Woody taught him how to strum the little guitar that he had been given, as well as a bunch of verses that were not in the recorded version of the song so the next time Arlo was prepared. 


Woody was always writing and his songs could go on forever.  One of these is called “Deportee”.   It is about a group of 27 Mexican field workers who had overstayed their visas and were being deported back to Mexico.  The plane crashed with all on board lost.  The story was published in the papers but only the crew’s names were mentioned but none of the deportees.  Woody being a hero of social justice wrote this song with the names of all the victims included.   No one wanted a recording with a long list so Pete Seeger made it publishable and famous by taking out most of the names and singing the song on many of his records and in his concerts.


So went the evening with lots of songs and stories interwoven into a most entertaining evening.  Everyone got into it including my wife who is not well acquainted with the folk song tradition but was so impressed by Arlo as a performer and the lady behind me who sang along to almost every song as did many in the audience.

Some performances are like magic and transport you to a wonderful time and place.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Vince Hickman

About a dozen years ago I had to fire my office assistant and was looking for a replacement.  We put out an advertisement asking for an assistant to an art dealer and a museum curator.  It is amazing the people who responded.  A former White House chef sent in his resumé as well as a well-known art advisor to corporations.  Possibly the strangest one of all was from a former Navy man who had been Assistant to a Navy Admiral at the Pentagon. This Admiral was the Director of Naval Intelligence and this was one of the men who sat outside his office and evaluated intel.

His name, Vincent Hickman but preferred to be called Vince.  He tried a few things after his naval service and his aptitude seemed to be in the area of IT so he worked at the pioneering internet company Double Click before it went public and then co-founded his own internet startup.

The day before I was to go into the hospital for open heart surgery we hired Vince who said he liked art but knew little about the business he was about to join.  I spent the day talking non-stop about the business and our particular history.  Then for all intents and purposes I was totally out of it for a month as I came slowly back to reality.

Vince brought our business into the 21st century technologically speaking and has kept things running ever since.  He is also responsible for making me believe that I could write a weekly blog!

Vince’s passion outside of the gallery, besides his family, is surfing.  Unbeknownst to me he started a surfing blog (A Slice of Stoke), which was not written but totally visual with videos he took of himself surfing in the New York City area.

Then things took a strange turn.  Vince got a phone call that he was sure was a joke. It was from a casting director who said to him, ”I love the idea of an art dealer who is also a surfer. Would you do an episode for the TV series, ‘Royal Pains’?”  Eventually, he realized this was for real and he went on the set both as a surfer and an advisor to the director who was not well acquainted with the sport.

The next thing Vince knew, he was called up by another casting director to play the part of a Gotham City cop in the latest Batman film, “The Dark Knight Rises”.  If you saw the movie you know that the good guys and the bad guys clash near Wall Street, a scene with hundreds of participants.  He learned a lesson there; in the big fight scene he was fighting with a veteran who told him to stop pulling his punches because if they did not look real the two of them would end up on the cutting room floor!  He was not only excited to meet the stars, Anne Hathaway and Christian Bale, but also the director, Christopher Nolan, and his fight instructor Buster Reeves, who is the stunt coordinator for the popular HBO series “Game of Thrones”.

Vince was not only in awe of the celebrities he met from the actors to the producers and directors but also fascinated with the technical side of the business.  He would often come back with stories about the cameras and lenses that were being used.

In 2012 Vince participated in no less that 6 different projects.  The one we have been able to best follow and enjoy is his role as an FBI agent in the series “White Collar”.  It revolves around a master art forger who now works for the FBI.  In one episode, Vince was featured literally between the two stars of the show, Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) and Peter Burke (Tim DeKay).

[Vince as an FBI Agent on USA Networks "White Collar"]

Vince has been cast in the film “Winter’s Tale” starring Colin Farrell & Russell Crowe, and also as a double for the co-pilot in an upcoming film, “Non-Stop” starring Liam Neeson as an air marshal. Now working with these stars is heady stuff. 

Vince has since appeared in a number of episodes of “Boardwalk Empire” but his steadiest work last year going into 2013 has been as double for John Reese (played by Jim Caviezel) in CBS’s “Person of Interest”.  Why does he need a double?  At times there are up to three camera units shooting simultaneously for an episode and the lead actors cannot be in all places at the same time. In addition to a striking resemblance to Mr. Caviezel, Vince’s ex-Navy military bearing and athleticism convincingly portray an ex-CIA hit man.  Of course, before he was first given a disabled gun he was schooled in how not to shoot someone!

[Vince as a prohibition era thug in HBO's "Boardwalk Empire"]

His career in front of the camera is frustrating to his wife, cutting down his time at home, and to me, when he is not at the gallery, but we do agree on one thing; we are so proud of him… Hopefully, he will soon get more than just promises and land an actual speaking role!