21 November 2017

A Passion For Art: My Parents’ Art Collecting

On Monday, 6 November, an exhibition of the small art collection assembled by my late parents over 40-some-odd years opened at the Stan Kamen Gallery at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.  This was the final act in a more-than-two-year process to make a continuing loan of the collection to the university.  I first contacted the university’s Reeves Collection, the division that oversees the school’s art holdings that are used in the art department and campus display, a short time after my mother, Judith (b. 1923), died in May 2015.  (My father, Eugene, b. 1918, had died in 1996.  I’ve written memoirs of both my parents for Rick On Theater: “Dad,” posted on 20 June 2010, and “Mom,” 1 November 2016.)  After negotiating several administrative and logistical hurdles, Washington and Lee agreed to accept the loan, which will be renewed every several years.  (W&L doesn’t take permanent or perpetual loans.)

I’m extremely pleased that the university agreed to this proposal.  My father was an alumnus of W&L’s class of 1940 and I’m a graduate of the class of 1969.  My father was a very active alumnus, serving on several committees in the years since World War II until his death, and Mother supported him wholeheartedly in all his efforts.  (An alumna of Elmira College in upstate New York, Mom essentially shifted her allegiance from her own alma mater and became a sort of daughter-in-law of Washington and Lee.)  Both my parents were particularly interested in the arts on the W&L campus, perhaps because I was an avid member of the Troubadours, the extracurricular university theater in my day, for my four years in Lexington.  Dad was particularly active in the development program for the Lenfest Center for the Arts, the home to the school’s fine and performing arts programs and activities (and the site of the Kamen Gallery).  He was on the development committee for the center, responsible for raising the money for its construction, and my parents were invited to attend the opening gala when the theater was inaugurated with a dedication ceremony and a production of Evita on Saturday, 25 May 1991.

Both Mother and Dad were very proud to have contributed to the Reeves Collection over the years, most significantly a pair of antique carved wood sculptures of Japanese deities.  When I came back briefly to New York City in June 2015 after my mother’s death in Maryland, I found a note of condolence from the directors of the Reeves Center and I decided to contact them to thank them for their sentiments and to broach the subject of the loan proposal.  My parents had been collecting art since the late 1950s and had gathered about 40 pieces of various forms (oil paintings, watercolors, prints, sculptures, tapestry) and periods.  Several of the pieces are large and together with the number, it was impossible for me to keep the art myself—unless I bought another apartment just for the collection.  (I actually remember reading of a man who did just that.  He lived in one apartment and kept a second one across town in which he stored his works of art.  Periodically, he’d swap out the pieces he displayed in his home with some stored in the other apartment and would thus rotate the art on his residence walls.) 

Two things I knew: I didn’t want to sell off the art—it had meant too much to my parents and, by legacy, to me as well—and I didn’t want to put it in some kind of permanent or long-term storage until I happened to move to larger quarters . . . or died.   A loan to some place that would agree to keep the collection together was my best solution, and my Dad’s and my alma mater was the optimum choice if they could be persuaded to be interested.  Luckily for me, as soon as I broached the idea to the W&L art folks, they expressed great interest in making the deal.  As it turned out, the university was looking for works to fill in gaps in its art holdings, particularly in “20th-century and non-Western art,” as Patricia Hobbs, Curator of University Collections of Art and History, put it to me.  Among the pieces in my parents’ collection are a Fernando Botero (Colombian) oil, an Antoni Tàpies (Spanish) oil, three Sam Gilliam (American contemporary) acrylic pieces of different styles, two Leonard Cave (American contemporary) marble sculptures, and a Fritz Scholder (Native American contemporary) bronze.  There are also several non-Western pieces, including pre-Columbian (Latin American terracotta figures), Chinese (19th-century scroll), Thai (18th/19th-century works on linen), and Japanese (18th-century woodblocks).  (There were a number of African pieces, but my mother gave them to me during her lifetime.  My will, however, stipulates that all my art will be bequeathed to Washington and Lee at my death, so the school will get that parcel as well as a few other interesting works in a decade or so.)

W&L doesn’t have an art gallery or museum like some colleges.  The art in its collection is primarily used in the classes of the Department of Art and Art History; selected works are displayed in academic and administrative buildings around the campus and changed periodically.  The rest are kept in storage, available for the art classes and swapped for those on display.  This struck me immediately as an ideal situation because I believe my parents would not only approve, but actually delight in the arrangement.  Hanging the art in buildings where students and faculty come and go daily, rather than corralling it in a special space designated an “art gallery” where people have to go expressly to see it, seems ideal for art that had been part of the home I grew up in and saw every day as I went about the ordinary business of life.  My family didn’t go to a museum to see their art, why would they want anyone else to have to? 

And using the works in classes is a benefit it goes without saying would please my father especially.  I always felt he’d have been an exceptional teacher.  He was a kind of one first as the director of the Amerika Haus in Koblenz, West Germany, his Foreign Service post in the early ’60s, where his job was to inculcate the idea of America and the history of the U.S. to post-war Germans; and later, as a volunteer docent at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington in the ’80s, explaining some of the works of art there to museum-goers.  (Mother, too, was involved in teaching, volunteering in the D.C. public schools’ reading programs and screening applicants for high school exchange programs from Russia for Youth for Understanding.)  I know this proposition would meet with their approval all around.  (The Lenfest Center exhibit, which will remain on view until 30 June, will be the only time at W&L that the whole collection will be shown together while the university retains it.  It’s entitled A Passion for Art, which I’ve borrowed for the title to this article.  It expresses perfectly my folks’ approach to art collecting, as I hope you’ll see.)

The loan arrangements and the Lenfest exhibit are also the culmination of my parents’ nearly 50-year adventure in art collecting.  It started in 1958 or ’59 when my father bought a part ownership in the Gres Gallery in Washington, a respected venue for contemporary one-artist and theme shows.  It was a total impulse buy: Dad came home one day and pretty much exclaimed, “Guess what I bought!”  Of course, we had no idea—my brother and I were all of about 10 and 12 at this point—and when my father told us he’d bought into an art gallery, Mom asked, “What  kind of art gallery?”  “Modern art,” Dad replied, and Mom came back, “But we don’t know anything about modern art!”

That was true, too.  There was certainly more on the walls of my family’s home at this point—they weren’t bare as far as I can recall—but I only specifically remember three pieces that predate the Gres Gallery days.  Two were old-fashioned Romantic oil paintings that I recall had been presents from my mother’s father as house-warming gifts for my folks’ first apartment as a married couple.  One was a picture of four men playing dice, painted according to some notes of my father’s, by German artist Claus Meyer (1856-1919).  (A quick search on the Internet reveals a work called The Dice Game by Meyer, painted in about 1900, that strongly resembles my recollection of the painting my parents owned.)  The other, essentially its mate (though the artists are almost certainly not the same), is a painting by an unknown painter of two small children playing with a cat in what looks like a farmyard.  Both paintings are dark and painted in the style of a late-19th-century oil, framed in elaborate gold-leafed wood frames.  I was never partial to them, but my cousin loved them and my parents gave them to her when she got married in the ’70s. Today they hang in her dining room in Bethesda.  (My grandfather was her great uncle.)

The third piece of art that my parents had when I was a little boy was a mid-20th-century Impressionist painting, Out My Apartment Window (ca. 1948) by Maurice Bizot, a French artist who lived in the late 19th to middle 20th centuries.  This was the first piece of art my parents bought, a good decade before they became immersed in the world of contemporary art through their experience with Gres.  It's certainly not a great piece of art, and Bizot’s almost unknown.  He has almost no Internet footprint; even his life dates are unrecorded.  I know from what my folks told me years later that they bought this painting without any knowledge of art or artists and the desire was just for a piece of décor that they liked.  I don't know where they bought the painting—probably a gallery in Washington, but it could have been New York (where both sets of grandparents lived then)—but I suspect it was the 1940s equivalent of art sold at those motel exhibits that are advertised on TV late at night.  Nonetheless, it had sentimental value to my parents and it's rather a good example, technically at least, of the techniques and criteria of an Impressionist painting, even though it was painted decades after the true Impressionist era.  I always had a fondness for it, too, mostly for its view out an apartment window.  I always liked to imagine I was looking down on a Paris street, perhaps in Montmartre.

That was the extent of my parents’ involvement with art, modern or otherwise, until Gres Gallery.  My folks got interested in modern art when Dad made that impulse-buy and they threw themselves into the operation of the gallery—though Mother was the principal activist (Dad had a day job, of course—two, actually).  I got into the act, too, going with Mother to the 20th Street gallery near DuPont Circle to help stuff envelopes and such.  For all of us, that engagement was a total-immersion course in contemporary American and Western art and artists.  What I found most exciting was that the vernissages rotated among the six or so households, so when my folks hosted the parties, the décor had to include displaying some of the artist’s (or, sometimes, artists’) work in our home.  I helped in the set dressing, so not only did I get to see “real” art at the gallery, but I got to have this art in my house, at least temporarily.  It was like actually having taken one of those imaginary midnight shopping trips Mom and I later would joke about after seeing a good museum exhibit.  What’s more, I got to meet actual artists.  This whole venture was an art education for all of us and an adventure for me, and it lasted well beyond the demise of Gres Gallery in 1961 or ’62 to the end of my parents’ lives.

Founded around 1957 by a Spaniard named Tana Gres, the gallery was purchased in ’58 or ’59 by a consortium of amateurs put together by Beatrice (Mrs. Hart) Perry who trained as a sculptor.  With Beati as managing partner, Gres held first-in-America exhibits by artists from Europe, South America,  and beyond, such as painter and sculptor Wojciech Fangor of Poland (1922-2015), Colombian painter Fernando Botero (b. 1932), and Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929).  Beati Perry (1921-2011) had little interest in showing local art because she didn’t want Gres to become known as a Washington gallery, so several artists like Kenneth Noland (1924-2010) and Morris Louis (1912-62) never showed at the gallery.  Washington, however, had a lively and active art scene.  Not only have the city’s art museums such as the Corcoran Gallery (established in 1874), the Phillips Collection (1921), the National Gallery of Art (1941), and the various Smithsonian facilities (Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1829; National Portrait Gallery, 1968; Renwick Gallery, 1972; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1974; along with several specialized repositories) been important venues for displaying and viewing art of many cultures and eras, but Washington also had long had a vibrant retail gallery presence, including Gres; the Jefferson Place Gallery (1957-75), Gres’s principal competition; and the renowned Washington Gallery of Modern Art (1961-68), catering to the many collectors in the metropolitan area and beyond.  Since World War II, the Nation’s Capital has been a true art center, and it even spawned its own art movement, the Washington Color School (of which Noland and Louis were among the adherents), that flourished from the 1950s to the 1960s.  

My parents began exploring this aspect of our hometown once the Gres Gallery bug had bitten them.  Mother already had a couple of friends who were Washington artists.  Minnie Klavans (1915-99), the wife of contractor Elmer Klavans, who specialized in restorations (and did the renovation of the house in Barnaby Woods my family moved to in 1958), was an award-winning painter, sculptor, and jewelry-maker; Lila Oliver Asher (b. 1921), a friend of Mother’s from their childhoods (Lila had been Mom’s camp counselor), is an internationally esteemed printmaker, sculptor, and watercolorist.  Mom and Dad, who owned one of Lila’s prints (I also own one) and four of Minnie’s paintings and prints (plus one small painting the artist gave Mom in lieu of a greeting card—which I now have), added to these acquaintanceships by becoming friendly with other area artists they met once their interest in the work had been piqued. 

Among these new friends were Jacob Kainen (1909-2001), a painter, printmaker, collector, art historian, and curator of the Division of Graphic Arts at the Smithsonian’s U. S. National Museum (later the National Museum of American History); sculptor Leonard Cave (1944-2006), whom my folks met through friends; and Sam Gilliam (b. 1933), a painter who was a later member of the Washington Color School.  Sam’s partner, Annie Gawlak, who’s also his manager, is a gallery-owner in the Nation’s Capital and Mom and Dad frequently visited her various galleries in Georgetown or Logan Circle just to see what she was showing.  They also struck up an acquaintanceship with American sculptor Chaim Gross (1904-91) and visited him several times at his studio in Provincetown, Massachusetts, when my folks had a Cape Cod summer house in Brewster.  Their collection includes three Gilliams, two Grosses, two Caves, and a Kainen.  (One of the Grosses and the Kainen are now in my possession.)

They also got to know David Lloyd Kreeger (1909-90), an art philanthropist (who’d been a benefactor of the Museum of African Art for which my dad had worked) and recipient of the 1990 National Medal of Arts, who built a mansion for himself and his wife on Washington’s exclusive Foxhall Road, designed in 1963 by architect Philip Johnson and built in 1968, which was intended to become a museum to display his art collection after his death.  My folks were invited to see the museum-home before it was opened to the public (I got to tag along), and the funny thing was—it felt more like the Kreegers were living in a museum than in a home that would eventually be transformed into a museum.  Kreeger, who in his other life was formerly the president, chairman, and CEO of GEICO, the insurance giant, had the reputation in the D.C. art scene of having bought the worst works of the greatest artists—and I have to say that what we saw at the Kreeger mansion that afternoon bore this rep out.  (The Kreeger Museum opened to the public on 1 June 1994.)

The group ownership of Gres Gallery lasted only three or four years, but the association impelled my parents into an exploration of contemporary art from Europe, the Unites States, and Latin America.  Their artistic interests soon broadened, however.  Dad’s volunteer stint from the late ’60s into the ’70s as Director of Development for the private Museum of African Art, precursor to the present National Museum of African Art on the Mall, generated an enduring interest in the art of sub-Saharan Africa and trips to China, Thailand, India, Nepal, and Japan spawned an attraction to Asian art.  Visits to the American Southwest and to Mexico and Central America resulted in an affinity for Native American and pre-Columbian art, as well. 

Vacations always included visits to the local art museums and they often went on trips that were expressly arranged as art tours organized by the Smithsonian or other art institution.  Frequently, these trips included visits to artists’ studios—and they not uncommonly brought home a new work of art with which they’d fallen in love.  A trip to Mexico City in 1981 yielded Personaje de Perfil ("Head of a Man," 1980), a mixografia/aguafuerte etching by Ruffino Tamayo (1899-1991).  A visit to Los Angeles in 1987 resulted in the purchase of Mother’s favorite piece of art, Stanley Boxer’s (1926-2000) Highfromblare (High From Blare) (ca. 1987), a large mixographia monotype on white linen, and one to Dallas the same year netted Another Mystery Woman (ca. 1987), a bronze sculpture by Native American artist Fritz Scholder (1937-2005), whose work we later encountered in 2002 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Scholder had lived and taught. 

When my folks took a trip to Yugoslavia in 1981, they went to the government-sponsored artists’ colony in Kovačica (now part of Serbia) and purchased a naïve/folk art oil on canvas entitled Bride and Groom (Bridal Couple) from the artist, Martin Paluska (1913-84).  They had arrived in the little town (population then, about 8,000), and went to the municipal showroom, where samples of all the artists’ work were on display.  They liked Paluska’s painting of the couple in their traditional wedding garb and went to the artist’s home and studio.  Negotiating through the painter’s wife, who spoke some German, my parents explained that they liked the painting they’d seen at the showroom and wanted to buy one like it—but in a different color scheme.  Was that possible?  Paluska assured them it was a perfectly common request and my parents placed the order for the painting to be created and shipped to them in the States.  Three months later, the notification came that the painting was ready as requested and had been shipped. 

Of course, the element that set my parents’ art collecting apart from many other art patrons was that they didn’t buy as an investment, and they didn’t buy work by famous artists—or artists they thought might become famous.  They bought only what they really liked.  As a result, the growing collection represented an expression not only of their taste in art, but of their enthusiasm; it was a reflection of their emotional responses to the painting or sculpture—and to the artist.  Consequently, the collection meant much more to my folks than an assemblage of attractive decorations; the art was a treasured facet of their life together.  One suggestion of this is that Mother stopped buying art after Dad died.  It was something they did together, as a couple; it wasn’t an activity either indulged in individually.  (The one exception was Botero’s Boy with Guitar, 1960.  Mother bought that as a 42nd birthday gift for my father from her, my brother, and me; it was one of the earliest art purchase after we’d become involved with Gres, from which it was purchased at the artist’s second show there, Botero in October 1960, and that situation never arose again.)

(My parents never again bought art for each other—I don’t think this was some kind of pact; it just developed that way—but they did buy art for me and my brother.  The very next purchase, also from Gres, was Intermezzo, 1958, by Norman Carton, 1908-80, in December 1960, a gift my folks made to me for my 14th birthday.  Unlike Botero, who soon became world-famous, Carton, who was on the faculty of the New School for Social Research—now known simply as The New School—in New York City, never became well known outside art circles.  Nonetheless, I cherish the little, heavily impastoed, multi-colored abstract expressionistic oil as much as any piece of art I own.  Almost 30 years after it was painted, when the oil paint finally began to dry inside the thick blobs, it began to flake and peel away from the canvas and I knew I’d lose the painting if I didn’t do something.  I asked my dad, then working as a docent at the National Portrait Gallery, to find a conservator who might be able to save the Carton and I ended up paying five times the purchase price—but a quarter of its estimated value at the time—to stabilize it.  The expense was more than worthwhile to me.)

Along with Boy with Guitar (also called Boy with Mandolin) and Intermezzo, my parents acquired several pieces from Gres, all within the short period between 1959 and the gallery’s demise in 1961 or ’62.  Among these, the foundation of their small collection, were Pegasus (1951) by Spanish painter Antoni Tàpies (1923-2012); Biblique (1959) by Aleksander Kobzdej (Polish, 1920-72); Ossidiana VI (1959), aluminum gel on canvas by Franco Assetto (Italian, 1911-91); and an untitled pen-and-ink drawing  (ca. 1959) by Rafael Alvarez Ortega (Spanish, b. 1927), part of his line-drawing series “Los Niños del Mar” (“Children of the Sea”).  (The last two are in my possession now.)  One piece which is no longer in the collection, a Yayoi Kusama canvas, an untitled 51"-square, red-and-black oil from her “Infinity Net” paintings, was bought from one of the 1960 shows of her work at Gres; Mom sold it in 1996.

The Kusama canvas was the only piece of art my parents sold from their collection.  They did give the two Romantics to my cousin and over the years, they gave a number of works to me; in the last several years of Mother’s life, she decided to give me pieces of art instead of presents on my birthdays and other holidays, so some things that were originally part of my parents collection are now in my home.  They never, however, sold another work of art other than the Kusama.

The Yayoi Kusama Infinity Net painting, along with Kobzdej’s Biblique, are artifacts in a couple of historically interesting art events at Gres in which my parents participated.  One early exhibit Beati Perry organized at the gallery was Six Japanese Painters in 1960, a display of Japanese artists working in Yōga, or contemporary Western-style painting, rather than Nihonga, traditional Japanese forms—something that was unfamiliar to American collectors at that time.  Six Japanese Painters was so noteworthy (not to mention popular) that it toured the country, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.  Kobzdej was part of a show that was even more striking, a group of Polish painters, which also included Fangor, who were working in contemporary forms instead of the approved Soviet style of Socialist Realism.  This work wasn’t officially sanctioned in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe and had never been allowed outside the region before, but Perry put together 15 Polish Painters at Gres and it, too, was borrowed in its entirety by MoMA in 1961. The show was still only quasi-officially recognized: the Polish ambassador didn’t come to the opening—I believe he came privately later—but the embassy did send a middle-ranking diplomat as a representative. 

My parents eventually met Kobzdej, but it was hard to do because of the Cold War.  The artists hadn’t been allowed to come to Washington or New York for the exhibits; the art was okay to leave the country, but the artists apparently weren’t.  The Cold War was a truly Kafkaesque time!  I wasn’t there when my folks met the artist (I was probably at school), but I heard the tale.  Kobzdej had been allowed to travel a little in Western Europe by then (the early ’60s), but he was closely monitored and his itineraries were carefully laid out so as to leave little opportunity to socialize with Westerners—or, worse, defect.  Somehow my folks had learned the artist was going to be somewhere in West Germany—I guess they must have been in correspondence—so they planned to go there at the same time and try to see him.   Anyway, they didn’t connect—either Kobzdej’s schedule changed or my parents couldn’t get to see him in person.  (The same thing happened to a friend and me trying to connect with his pen-pal in the Soviet Union.)  But he was going to be in another town later or on another trip, and this time they were able to get together and had a long talk about his work and travels and my folks’ lives in Germany—just chitchat (I imagine they were monitored; it would have been the practice in the Cold War that Kobzdej have a minder).  I do remember that he was delighted that my parents had one of his paintings—I think he remembered the specific one.  (When Mom met Tàpies years later, he didn’t recall the Pegasus we had!)

The subsidiary consequence of the way my parents bought their art was that it came to mean more to me than mere possessions as well.  I’ve already said that the art was more important to me than the furniture or my mother’s jewelry, or the set of crystal, or the sterling flatware.  Those were nice—my parents had wonderful taste and Mother had an eye for home decorating—but I wasn’t ever going to use them, so I gave some of it to family members and sold the rest at auction.  But I couldn’t do that with the art, as I explained.  It’s not even quite that I “grew up with it.”  I didn’t live in my parents’ home from 9th grade on; I came home for holidays when I was at school and visits after I was an adult—but I didn’t live there anymore.  But the art was somehow special—and it wasn’t only because of the way Mom and Dad acquired it.  I love it, too, separate from its association with my folks—probably because I went though that initiation back in the late ’50s along with my parents.  I suspect it made a stronger impression on me, at 12, 13, and 14, than maybe it did on Mom and Dad.  (The experience doesn’t seem to have had the same effect on my brother, two years my junior.)

The collecting, as I said, went on in earnest from 1959 until a few years before my father’s death in 1996.  I moved out of my parents’ home in September 1961 to go away to school, but until college, I returned home regularly.  So the art that was accumulated between 1960 and 1965 might as well have been mine in the sense that I lived with it almost continually as I was growing up.  As I told people at Washington and Lee when I was there for A Passion for Art, some of those works became like old friends.  My relationship with the pieces added later, after I was in the army and then had my own home in New York City, was different—even though some of my favorite pieces of art in the collection are among these.  But those pieces are just that: works of art I like and admire, not special friends I visited when I came to see my parents.  Among these are Sam Gilliam’s Chinese (1990), a formless canvas of many-colored acrylic which is shaped differently every time it’s hung and takes on a completely different character depending on who’s done the installation.  (Gilliam himself hung the piece the first time it was installed in my parents’ Washington, D.C., apartment in 1990.  He rehung it for Mother when she moved several years later to another apartment, and it was different in both apartments: in the first, it bent around the corner of an entranceway from the dining room into the living room; in the second, a lobe reached up the wall onto the ceiling.)  Another favorite is a maroon-and-white op-art tapestry by Victor Vasarely (French/Hungarian, 1906-97).  Both Gilliam and Vasarely are artists my parents liked particularly; they owned three Gilliam works (and, as I recounted, he became a friend) and two Vasarelys, plus a pair of Vasarely “wearable art” cufflinks, Jolie (silver and black enamel, 1988), Mother and I bought for Dad as a gift for his 70th birthday.  (I also own a Gilliam—and I have the Vasarely cufflinks, which Mom gave me after Dad died.  I made a particular point of wearing the jewelry to the 14 November reception at the Kamen Gallery that marked the exhibit’s opening.)

I guess the upshot is that my parents passed on to me an affection for this collection because of the way they brought it together.  I’ve affirmed that my mother and father didn’t buy art because they saw it as an investment; it wasn’t a statement of any kind, either.  It was more than just decorative, pretty things to put around the house or apartment—although it definitely served that purpose as well.  They bought what they truly loved, which is why I found the exhibit title so apt: they undeniably had a passion for art.  But they also developed a love of the process of collecting, going to galleries and museums to see the work of artists, to studios where they met the artists in whom they took an interest, getting to know some along the way.  Art and art-collecting became one of my parents’ greatest pleasures; even though my mother stopped acquiring art after my father’s death, she never stopped enjoying seeing it and being around it.  Mom and Dad went to art museums and galleries almost as far back as I can remember and later took trips, as I’ve noted, expressly to see art and artists.  We always included art museums, especially museums of local art, in our trips in the U.S. and abroad and when Dad died, Mom often saved those kinds of visits for when we visited one another.  She began giving me art as gifts not because it was easier than buying presents, but because she wanted me to have the pieces—and she knew I’d love them, too. 

The collected works had special meaning to Mom because their assembling had been an endeavor she and my father shared.  Each piece reflected something unique.  I have anecdotes about many of the works in the collection—Mom had stories about all of them.  As sentimental as it sounds to articulate it, my parents’ art collection was brought together with love.  More than anything else they left me, the art collection holds the most meaning for me.  In a way, I’m glad I can’t display it in my home.  If I did, no one would see it except me and a few friends and relatives.  On loan to Washington and Lee University, where it can be seen around the campus by students, faculty, and visitors (and W&L is a historic school with a campus designated a National Historic Landmark and renowned as the “most beautiful college campus in America,” so it gets a fair number of visitors), I get to share it with others—even if they don’t actually know why they’re seeing it.  (Pat Hobbs told me before A Passion for Art opened that there was a lot of buzz around the campus and after the reception she confirmed that the attendance was the largest ever in the Kamen Gallery and had included not only faculty and staff, but students and community members as well.  I hope that’s a harbinger of interest to come.)

[I’ve covered art and artists a fair amount on Rick On Theater, including some of the painters and sculptors named above.  Both “Washington Art Matters,” posted on 5 September 2013, and “The Washington School of Color,” 21 September 2014, touched on some of the art history mentioned here as well as several of the artists shown at Gres Gallery and included in my folks’ collection.  Sam Gilliam, who figures in both the general articles, is featured in “Picasso, Bearden, Gilliam, and Gauguin,” 26 June 2011; “Lila Oliver Asher,” 26 September  2014, and “Yayoi Kusama,” 18 May 2017, are profiles of the artists of the titles.  There’s also a report on Fritz Scholder: Indian/Not Indian, a two-part exhibit at the two branches of the National Museum of the American Indian in 2008-09 which I posted on 20 March 2011.]


  1. impressive memory and details. You parents would be thrilled at this loan/bequest.

    1. Thank you. I certainly hope so! I think they would.