Rochester Art Through The Ages: The Greatest Survey of Influential Rochester Artists Ever Exhibited (Part I)
"A Rochester Retrospective: Painting & Sculpture: 1880-1950"
I came across this catalog while visiting with my friend, Warren Phillips, recently. Warren is a deeply knowledgeable person on topics related to local art. He's a talker and when he talks I listen and I learn. When he handed the catalog to me he told me he had seen the exhibition and considered it the single most important factor in becoming a collector. Naturally, I was piqued. "1980. I don't recall this show. Where the hell was I?" I asked myself out loud. I was in college at the time and missed the show. To be honest, I'm not sure the 19 year old me would have appreciated the show or even visited. It wasn't until after college that I developed a greater appreciation for the arts. As soon as I picked up the dogeared third or fourth generation photocopy of the catalog I knew I had to take it home for a close reading. Once I had read it I knew I had to share it with you.
It was the greatest survey of influential Rochester artists ever presented to the public or so they intended. None have dared attempt a similar effort since. The exhibit would probably never have been imagined were it not for a local collector, Bruce W. Chambers. Approximately one quarter of the works on exhibit came from private collections. The remarkable size & scope of the exhibition would not have been possible without including work on loan from private individuals thereby demonstrating the essential role local art collectors play in preserving Rochester's story.
Sometime in 1976 Chambers and a small band of collectors (referred to as "lenders" in the catalog) began plotting and planning with staff at the Memorial Art Gallery (MAG) to mount a massive retrospective featuring a survey of "important" Rochester artists from the period 1880 through 1950. It took them nearly four years to pull it all together. The exhibition opened on August 1, 1980 and ran for approximately seven weeks until September 21st.
"My aims were: to give exposure to the major artistic accomplishments of Rochester artists; to stimulate interest in Rochester's art history; and to provide a sense of the historical and cultural connections which form the context of the development of art in Rochester."
Brett Waller was Director of the MAG at the time of the exhibition. He described himself as "a newcomer" in his Foreword to the catalog and conceded "...no survey can hope to be complete or definitive..." He goes on later in the paragraph, "...Rochester long has been a city where art and artists have flourished." Flourished indeed.
Volunteers Gertrude Herdle Moore and Isabel C. Herdle had the monumental task of organizing the exhibition and co-writing the catalog's Introduction (which was a treat to read for this local art collector). They were identified as "Director Emeritus" and "Curator Emeritus" respectively having left the gallery before the exhibition was organized. There are sections, like the one in Waller's Foreword describing the Herdle family's many decades of contributions to the MAG, that remind one of passages from a Henry James' novel. This was clearly a effort that drew deeply from Rochester's arts and cultural society from that period.
Of the thirty-eight artists and more than 124 works that were exhibited in the show approximately twenty-five pieces were created by fewer than ten women.
The exhibition included (in alphabetical order)::
Below each artist's name in the catalog is a descriptive paragraph that comprises a sort of distilled curriculum vitae for each artist justifying their inclusion. As you would expect, each entry is also accompanied by a listing of works by that artist and the source of the work. Most of the work is credited to the MAG's own collection with a fair number of pieces on loan from what was then known as the "Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum." The Rochester Historical Society also contributed a number of pieces.
If I have any luck, Part II of this series will include information about the local collectors who helped organize the show as well as those who contributed work to the exhibition. I'm also hoping for some first hand accounts. I believe there are a number of people I can contact who were either close at hand to the exhibition (maybe they worked on it?) or who visited the exhibition. I know of one source who credits this exhibition with becoming an avid collector: my friend, Warren.
I hope you have as much fun pouring over the catalog it as I did!
*This artist was alive at the time of the show. I assume all have died over the intervening 38 years. I hope to identify the date of their passing in a future post.
Every so often we put the spotlight on a local collector. We'll give you a little background about the collector and then talk about one or more topics that may be of interest to other collectors.
I spent nearly an hour on the phone with Katie Verrant last night and enjoyed every second of our conversation. I had so much fun talking to her I stopped taking notes after awhile. She's pretty much the ideal Rochester Art Collector member.
Katie Verrant was born on the west coast in California. She moved to Pennsylvania and went to a "tiny" high school near where her family settled outside of Philly.
Katie learned to appreciate art and the outdoors at an early age. She laughed when she told me her mom "can't pass a museum or gallery without pulling over and going inside to learn something." Although her parents weren't what you'd call collectors per se they did own some original art so Katie had role models for seeing and appreciating art as well as owning art. In addition to art she told me, "I have always loved wildlife and the outdoors," You'll learn how she combines her interests in art, wildlife and the outdoors a little later in this post.
In terms of collecting local art destiny was to play an important role in Katie's life. When it came time for college she sort of stumbled on Rochester Institute of Technology. It had the program offerings she wanted. It was also far enough from home to feel independent and close enough to go back-and-forth without too much trouble. She found her "nerdy" peeps immediately when she moved onto the RIT campus and fell in love with Rochester and the region after extensive touring.
She met and worked with Erich Lehman while she was at RIT. Erich works full time as Premedia Facilities Coordinator for RIT’s School of Print Media. In addition, he was/is the co-curator and lead organizer of Rochester's internationally renowned mural art program, WALL\THERAPY and he was the founder of a popular commercial art gallery, 1975 Gallery. Eventually, Erich asked Katie to design the highly coveted 2013 WALL\THERAPY book commemorating the work and the people who made the program happen that year.
Erich became the connecting tie between Katie and the local arts scene. Her deep interest in the arts combined with Erich's connections opened doors for her all over town. He eventually became very important in Katie's personal life. He opened her up to the possibilities of serious collecting by sharing his extensive collection(s) of local, national and international artwork. She quickly caught the bug.
Would you like to see more artwork from Katie's collection? CLICK HERE
I asked Katie about her first important art purchase. In March of 2013 1975 Gallery hosted "All Things Wild and Free - New Works by Mr. Prvrt"; a beloved local muralist who's real name is Justin Suarez. Justin and Erich invited Wild Wings, Inc., a local organization that that houses and cares for permanently injured birds of prey, to participate at the opening party and receive a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Justin's work.
Well, Katie fell in love with Justin's work that night as well as the remarkable birds. She ended up spending a good deal time at the opening talking to a person she took for a Wild Wings staff member who was holding a gorgeous injured owl. it was only later after telling Erich she regretted not getting the chance to actually meet Justin that she learned who the "staff member" was: the artist, Justin Suarez.
The next day she called Erich at 1975 Gallery and asked about her favorite painting from the show. It was still available but the price was a serous stretch since she was a student. After mastering her fears she reached deep into her savings to come up with the cash and hasn't looked back. Since then she has purchased nearly 60 pieces of original art .
When Katie moved to Bethesda, Maryland several years ago she had the chance to look back on the work she had collected while she was in Rochester and discovered she had a number of images of women made by female artists. Those works are now displayed as a grouping in her home. There are many other strands to her collection: Rochester artists, muralists, street art and so on. She has added to her collection in recent years. The work made by Rochester based artists remains central to her collection. When you look at the images in her collection you can see a sort of exchange between the works. It looks like improvisational music to me with colors and forms playing off each other.
Katie deeply appreciates the opportunity to meet the artist before she buys a piece of art. She wants to get to know the person and understand their point of view. She also likes to do some research and think about the work before she makes a decision to buy. She seems to have what I would call a "lifetime relationship" with the work in her collection since she doubts she would ever sell anything from her collection.
She loves her new home in Maryland but she says the area doesn't have nearly as rich or friendly an art scene as Rochester. In Rochester, she said, every door was open to her. There is a wonderful community of artists in Rochester. They hang out together, play together, they share their lives with each other. She loved being able to meet and get to know all her favorite artists. Even after several years in Bethesda, she said, it's nearly impossible to find the sorts of places she loved so dearly in Rochester.
Oh, by the way, if you look closely in the photos here and on her site you'll see some artwork piled up against the wall. Classic collector behavior! I do the same thing. Doesn't everyone? She has dozens of pieces yet to be framed. Uh, yep. Me, too. There's always more work to frame and more work to hang...
Rochester Art Collectors will collaborate with Rochester Brainery on an series of five public presentations aimed at encouraging new collectors of local art. The series will be titled: "Living With Art". Each talk will focus on a different aspect of buying art created by local artists.
The presentations will be scheduled on a bi-monthly basis on Fridays beginning on March 2nd from 6:00 pm until 7:00 pm and coordinated with the Rochester Brainery's First Fridays activities. Future dates will be May 4th, July 6th, September 7th and November 2nd. Rome Celli from Rochester Art Collectors invite a special guest collector/artist to co-present each topic. The $5.00/pp suggested donation for this presentation will be used to support art exhibitions at the Rochester Brainery.
Here's what we know so far about the presentation on March 2nd:
Living With Art: A splash of inspiration at home or at work!
Join us for a fun, informal conversation about adding original art to your living and working spaces. We'll help you learn how to find affordable, handmade local art. We'll even show you a range of affordable examples. Add to your creative collection over time. You'll be inspired!
Co-presenters: Emerging collector & artist, Maria Victoria Savka, and longtime art collector, Rome Celli.
Rome has been collecting local art for over 30 years. He recently launched a new organization to support local collectors and local artists: RochesterArtCollectors.org. He'll help you get a feel for the local venues and opportunities.
Maria loves collecting other local artists' works! She shows her own work in many locations all over Rochester. She'll give you some tips and tricks when you're out looking at art.
A friend of Rochester Art Collectors has agreed to underwrite up to 10 tickets to the first presentation. The first ten people who sign up using the link below or who sign up for the event on eventbrite.com will get in free!
CLICK HERE TO CLAIM A FREE TICKET TO THE PRESENTATION ON MARCH 2, 2018
Every so often we put the spotlight on a local collector. We'll give you a little background about the collector and then talk about one or more topics that may be of interest to other collectors.
Rome Celli grew up in Rochester. He also attended school in Rochester eventually graduating from St. John Fisher College with a BA in political science in 1982. He's married to a former arts reporter for the Democrat & Chronicle, Elizabeth Forbes. They have two sons in college. Rome is a residential real estate broker by profession.
Rome has been collecting local art for over 30 years. He has served on numerous non-profit arts boards including the Pyramid Arts Center and it's successor organization, Rochester Contemporary. He also operated a small commercial art gallery in downtown Rochester for several years in the late 1980s, early 1990s hosting both in gallery shows as well as what we would now call "pop-up" shows all over town during that time. Rome is one of the organizers of Rochester Art Collectors.
Rome it not a fan of art openings since it's so hard to focus on the work at a party. He'd much rather see the work on a quiet day away from the crowds. A studio visit with the artist is by far preferred. One way or the other he very much likes to meet with the artist and talk about the work before he makes a decision to buy. He not only wants to understand the artist's thinking, techniques and approach he also enjoys just getting to know the artist as a person. Ideally, he prefers to meet at the artist's studio but it's not uncommon to meet at a coffee shop, a gallery or somewhere else. Rome met Jappie King Black at an exhibition space and Jane Lichorowic at a coffee shop. Unless the work is already familiar to Rome he rarely buys a piece upon a first exposure. He likes to think about the work and come back to look again and talk about the work with the artist, if possible, before buying.
We asked Rome about a couple of recent acquisitions...
Jane Lichorowic is an emerging artist who graduated with a degree in illustration from RIT and now works as an illustrator at the University of Rochester's Laser Lab. She currently lives in the Southwedge.
Her recent work, like the piece above on the right, features an organ of the human anatomy integrated with botanical elements such as flowers or ferns. She says she rarely begins with a specific image in mind. She may open up an anatomy book, see something that inspires her and begin. The rest comes to her as she moves along. Acrylic and paper are her preferred media. The line work on her paintings is carefully done with ultra fine brushes. Colors, contours and shading are done with a variety of slightly larger brushes. You'll note the work has a strong graphic presence.
Jappie King Black is a retired educator currently living in Brockport, NY; the site of a vibrant creative community centered around SUNY Brockport. Jappie was born in Detroit and studied textile design at Rhode Island School of Design receiving her MFA from Syracuse University in fiber with an emphasis in sculpture. She also studied at the Ateneo Fuente, Universidad de Coahuila; Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico. Her work has been shown at many galleries across the United States.
As you you might expect from her degrees and as you can see from the photo on the right she works in three dimensions and is most well know for using grapevine, bark, wood, wire, fibers, wax and occasionally quills to construct her sculptures. Much of the gravevine work is figurative and ranges widely in size from larger than a human figure to a size that would fit comfortably in your hand. She's done indoor and outdoor site-specific installations involving dozens of individual pieces as well as singular pieces. In addition to producing sculptures made of natural materials she also makes bronze castings.
Jappie and Rome met on a chilly afternoon this past Fall at relatively new, non-traditional, appointment-only exhibition space: Lout Cow in Spencerport, NY. Loud Cow is located on the grounds and in the barn of a property owned by artists, Aaron Delehanty & Jane Esther Mahoney.
Jappie's work was installed alongside work by Allen Topolski. Both artists were showing a fairly large amount of work at that venue. Rome & Jappie spent about an hour walking around the show chatting about the work and catching up. In the week or two that followed they exchanged many messages, photos, and ideas. They met again at Loud Cow to talk in more detail before Rome settled on "Winged Dragon Lady" (above right).
Although Jappie has been making similar imagery for some time Rome chose the work because it felt to him like it spoke to the popular culture and politics of the moment around female empowerment. Rome saw a connection with pop culture icons such as the "Mother of Dragons" character Daenerys Targaryen from the most popular TV show in history, Game of Thrones.
As a matter of personal policy Rome says he does not negotiate over price with artists. He believes artists have the right to price their work by whatever method makes sense to them. So, as much as he might like to purchase a work he may not be able to do so. "Everybody has a budget," says Rome. In his mind he can either afford the work or he can't. If the artist is able to sell their work for the price requested, so much the better for the artist! Rome's loss is someone else's gain according to him.
Although the pieces shown in this post are figurative Rome collects a wide range of styles. He's particularly found of portraits of one kind or another. Unconventional portraits are of particular interest. Most of the work in Rome's collection is two dimensional although he does have a number of three dimensional pieces as well. In the end a piece has to have an "edge" - to challenge Rome - in order for him to be drawn to it.
Not all the art in Rome's collection was made by local artists. Rome is an enthusiastic member of the Print Club of Rochester. Each member of the Print Club receives a print chosen by the Club's board every year. Usually the Club will pick an artists outside or the Rochester area. When they pick a local artist that's a bonus from Rome's point of view. Regardless, Rome enjoys interacting with Print Club members many of whom are local artists.
"Collecting artwork by local artists is a joy to me," says Rome. "Every acquisition either begins a new relationship or refreshes an established relationship."
What follows below my introduction here is a brief except from a longer piece posted to ArtBusiness.com which, in turn, is taken from a talk by Alan Bamberger given to the Friends of the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina. Honestly, I don't intend to collect art like a "pro" and I'm not sure I want to build a collection in quite the same sense as Mr. Bamberger describes but the art nerd in me found the information very interesting. The principles described apply as much to buying work by local artists as they do to buying internationally renowned artists. Link to Alan Bamberger on facebook.
Click here to see the full posting on ArtBusiness.com
There's a big difference between buying art and collecting art. Buying art is more of a random activity based on likes, preferences or attractions at any given moment, while collecting art is more of a purposeful directed longterm commitment. In both cases, you buy what you like, but if your goal is to collect art and do it right, you have to master two additional skills. The first is being able to effectively research, evaluate and decide whether or not to buy whatever works of art attract you. The second is being able to choose each individual work in such a way as to form a meaningful grouping aka a collection.
If you're like most people, you know how to buy art on a piece-by-piece basis, but may not be all that accomplished at formulating a plan for making multiple acquisitions over time, or in other words, building a collection. You can find art you like just about anywhere you look and in a seemingly endless array of subject matters, mediums and price ranges, but sifting through it all in a systematic manner can be overwhelming and even intimidating. So how do decide where to focus and what direction to go in? How do you relate one purchase to the next? How do you organize or group your art together in ways that make sense? How do you present it? And most importantly, how do you do all these things well? This is what collecting is all about; it's the ultimate case of controlled purposeful buying.
What makes a great collector great is his or her ability to separate out specific works of art from the scrillions of pieces already in existence and assemble them in such a way as to increase or advance our understanding of that art in particular or of the history and evolution of art in general. In any mature collection, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts, the collector comes to be accepted as a respected authority and in exceptional cases, goes on to set the standards, determine tastes, trends and influence the future of collecting for all.
Regarding the art that does make it into your collection, most novice collectors will tell you they buy what they like. That's definitely the best way to buy, but as you gain experience, the reasons why you buy what you like should become increasingly more conscious, detailed, sophisticated and purposeful. For example, you might hear an advanced collector say something like, "Not only do I love this sculpture, but it's also a prime example of the artist's best subject matter from his most productive time period and it fills a major gap in my collection."
What an experienced collector essentially does is pose a problem and then illustrate the solution to that problem by piecing together a collection. That way, everything fits and it all makes sense according to the master plan. Take this problem for instance:
What is the history of abstract painting in Southern California? The solution is an art collection consisting of abstract paintings by Southern California artists that date from the early days right on up to the present (or from whatever time period the collector is focusing on).
Ask questions like:
* Why do I like the kinds of art I'm buying?
* What about it satisfies me?
* Do I like it for the subject matters, what it represents, what it communicates, its originality, the techniques, the colors, the historical aspects, the regions where it's made, the lives of the artists?
* Does it make me think about things I've never thought about before?
* Does it make me feel a certain way or see things in a different way?
* Do I admire its technical qualities the most?
* Do I like it for the concepts, ideas, themes or philosophies it embodies, communicates or stands for?
* Does it alter or inform my perspective on some aspect of life?
* Does it portray or present things in ways they've never been presented before?
* Is it that it's old, new, local, foreign, big, small, round, square, whatever?
Once you begin to identify the common threads, you can refine your buying to zero in on additional pieces that share those characteristics. It's almost like putting together a mission statement or clearly and specifically defining your goals...
The good news is you can begin documenting at any time and even from a standing stop. Write down everything you can about the art you own, either from memory or by contacting the original sellers. Include information like the following:
* Any stories the sellers tell you specifically relating to the art.
* Details about the purchases including any memorable moments about making them.
* What the art means or what its significance is, either according to the artist or to whomever sold it to you.
* Biographical and career information about the artists.
* How or why or any other information about how the art was made.
* When the art dates from.
* Whether any pieces have ever been exhibited in public, at galleries, written about or featured or discussed in any other way.
Another distinguishing feature of a superior collection is that it's organized. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end-- just like any good museum exhibition. This goes back to posing the problem and then using the collection to map out the solution. Take the previous example of the "history of abstract painting in Southern California." This collection can be organized in many ways including by date, by artist, by style, or by location. Or you can get even more specific. Within a topic as narrow as this, there are all kinds of subtopics:
* Abstract painting in Los Angeles organized by date.
* Abstract painting in Southern California between 1950 and 1970.
* Geometric abstract painting in Southern California.
* Abstract painting in Southern California by immigrant artists.
* Abstract paintings in Southern California that are no larger than 12 by 16 inches.
This increases not only their enjoyment, but it also reinforces your chosen direction and your future buying. Additional benefits to organizing your collection are that you can see where you've been, where you're going, where you have duplication, where you're weak, what you're missing, what no longer makes the grade, and what you have to do to resolve any problems. It's not much different from your kids putting together all the baseball cards of their favorite teams to complete their collections.
The worst possible outcome for a collection occurs when the owner passes away leaving no information about the art, how much it's worth, how to care for it, or how to sell or donate it. Countless works of art have been resold for pennies on the dollar, given away, or even thrown in the trash because the owners kept little or no records and left no instructions on what to do with it.
Header image © Roy Sowers 1999
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