Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Other Side of Collecting

Looking back at the past 14 years of Missives I see I have made reference to donations to institutions in many different ways but hardly ever regarding our own collections.

For the most part we are well past our collecting mode with only two acquisitions in the past three years. In what is our last quarter we have been making more and more donations to institutions. A few months ago, I wrote about some of what goes into such a process:

Over the first 25 years of our marriage, we collected Art Nouveau. We sold the furniture when we moved to the Southwest where it simply did not fit in. We knew that the Cooper Hewitt Museum had lacunae in Art Nouveau as Penelope had worked on their exhibition “Rococo the Continuing Curve”. So, in addition to a prime example of Rococo gilt bronze, we gave them our Jugendstil metalwork, and a couple of Dutch Art Nouveau ceramics, in all 32 pieces.

I can’t say I learned a whole lot studying for my master’s degree at Columbia University, but I do remember a couple of professors fondly. When two visitors from Columbia came to Santa Fe to reach out to alumni who might be interested in the University art collection, we offered them the 17th and 18th century medals with portraits of Louis XIV and XV which I had given over the years as presents to my wife. These were accepted as particularly appropriate to the University, relating to the fields of history as well as art.

We did not hang the collection of photographs we assembled over 35 years in Santa Fe because we felt they would fade in the bright light of New Mexico, and also our Native American collection was taking over the house! We sold a number of the photographs but offered others to a curator, Brian Young, who we had met at the The Arkansas Art Museum. He had moved on to become director of an institution new to us, the Baum Gallery at the University of Central Arkansas. Both Brian and the Photography Professor were enthusiastic. Surprised by the press release regarding the donation and the exhibition to be mounted around our images, we followed up by giving the University all our books on photography. Here is one of the photos donated.

Wendell MacRae, “Rockefeller Center” circa. 1934

Leaving New York permanently, we were concerned about our painting “The Happy Family” by Marguerite Gerard. It is in pristine condition but on wood panel and we feared that in the dry climate of New Mexico it might warp, or worse split. Further, left in a warehouse, nobody could predict what might happen. We were friendly with the director and curator at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama, and they were more than happy to take it on long term loan. After close to a decade, we decided to make it a gift. In spite of the fact that they have had it hanging in their galleries for all that time we are still waiting for the trustees to approve the acquisition later this month, but we are rather optimistic!

While we were going through the donation process, I mentioned to the new Curator, Robert Schindler, our 4,000-book art library. As a serious German scholar, he jumped at the chance of acquiring it and soon had the Librarian and Director on his side. They are arranging the transport as I write. This was the greatest miracle of all. Most institutions would want to cherry pick, taking a few books and leaving the rest! Our next-door neighbor who was leaving Santa Fe said he had to bribe the library here to take his books (bribe, of course, meaning make a cash contribution).

Last year our friend Beth Wees, announced her retirement from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She was curator of silver and jewelry in the American Wing which now includes Native American Art. Thirty years ago, we acquired an exceptional concho belt by the Hopi silversmith Roy Talahaftewa for more than we had ever spent to date. Each of its eight silver plaques depicts a different katsina scene. The Met had no examples of Indian silverwork so, with the approval of the new curator of Native American Art, Patricia Norby, we donated this exceptional piece in honor of Beth so her name will appear on its labeling. The first image is the artist holding his belt, the second is a detail of the work.

Closer to home we gave several pieces of Hopi silver to the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian here in Santa Fe and were so proud when we saw them prominently displayed in their gallery of Southwest Indian jewelry.

More recently we asked Elysia Poon, Director of the Indian Arts Research Center at the School of Advanced Research, for advice on our Native American textile collection. They already have a major collection of textiles, but we thought she could guide us to an institution where ours may be needed. To our surprise we learned that although their collection was strong in Navajo textiles, they lacked the Pueblo weavings we collected, so ours would make a meaningful addition to their holdings. The Registrar is scheduled to pick them up this week.

The last donation I will mention is the most important of all, my gallery’s archive which is going to the Frick Collection in New York. It covers over 75 years’ worth of records and photographs of works of art and documents of dealings with institutions and private collectors as prominent as members of the Rothschild family, John Paul Getty, Helen Clay Frick (daughter of Henry Clay Frick) and the Estée Lauder Family.

It is not easy to part with pieces from our past, but, on the other hand, as my family keeps reminding me, it is most rewarding to know that these chunks of our lives will not be sold or tossed out by future generations, but live on for the continued enjoyment and education of others.

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