There is a time to acquire and a time to divest. This is especially true in the world of ardent folk art collectors. As the saying goes, you can’t take it with you. But you can and should find a place for it to go – rather than leave such an important decision up to others or to chance. Three main ways to dispose of a collection come to mind: (1) leave it to family or others, (2) sell it at auction or through dealers or (3) donate the collection to a museum or other institution.
Many Folk Art Society of America members have built their collections over a long period of time – in our case, over more than 30 years. We’ve had a wonderful time in the process – meeting and becoming friends with the artists, other collectors, art dealers, museum personnel, etc. These friendships and experiences are a large source of the pleasure we personally have derived from collecting.
But now the question is – what will happen to this collection? What will we do with it? Who will care for it, preserve it, benefit from it?
Among members of the Folk Art Society we have witnessed the distribution of many collections, beginning with the Herbert Waide Hemphill Jr. and the Chuck and Jan Rosenak collections, both of which were acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum by gift-purchase arrangements. Monty and Anne Blanchard donated a significant part of their art collection to the American Folk Art Museum in New York. Allan and Barry Huffman worked out a gift-purchase with the Hickory (N. C.) Museum of Art, that is now on permanent display. Baron and Ellin Gordon gave more than 300 works to Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. The art galleries there bear their names, and a rotating exhibition of their donation continues.
Tom and Donna Brumfield gave a collection of African art and major works of folk art both to Longwood University in Farmville, Va., and the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Fla. Carl and Babe Mullis have donated and promised a large portion of their folk art to the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia in Athens, and the Folk Art Society conference attendees will be visiting this collection in October.
Portions of the collection and archives of the late Dick and Maggie Wenstrup of Cincinnati were bequeathed to the Kentucky Folk Art Center of Morehead State University. Didi and David Barrett from New York recently donated 30 major works from their collection to Harvard University; this collection will go on display there in the near future.
The Milwaukee Art Museum has been the recipient of three important collections, beginning with the Richard and Ema Flagg Collection of Haitian Art, and later, the Michael and Julie Hall Collection of American Folk Art. Recently, Anthony Petullo gave his collection of self-taught and outsider art emphasizing art from outside the United States, to the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the museum is currently exhibiting this collection.
The Folk Art Messenger has featured most of these donations in past issues, while the Mullis and Petullo collections are discussed and pictured in the current issue.
As many of our readers know, we (the Oppenhimers) are in the process of donating most of our folk art collection to Longwood University, and the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts presented 286 works from our collection September 9, 2011-January 6, 2012 in the exhibition, Three-Ring Circus. For the catalogue, we wrote an essay, “Why Longwood?” Because that essay comprised three pages, I won’t repeat it here. However, to summarize briefly: we wanted our collection to be appreciated, cared for, preserved and (most important) used for the benefit, education and enjoyment of others.
Longwood University’s museum serves 10 surrounding counties that were left deprived and undereducated as the result of the so-called “Massive Resistance” movement in Virginia, when the public schools in Prince Edward County were closed for five years to avoid integration in the 1950s and ‘60s. Currently, the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts (LCVA) each year brings thousands of school children of all ages to the center, and it remains the only cultural entity for this large area. For the benefit of students, staff and visitors, there is also an initiative to place art throughout the older campus buildings, in many outdoor spaces and in the special galleries created as part of each newly constructed building. Art has become important on the campus of this small public institution of 4,500 students.
Longwood University also has established a special collections division of the university library to house archives and books in the field of folk art. In addition to the Oppenhimer collection, other donations of folk art now include the works of the late Virginia artists Marion Line and Clinton Ford, given by their heirs to Longwood. Richmonders James and Barbara Sellman recently gave Longwood 30 works by Thornton Dial Sr. The collection continues to grow.
The LCVA is rapidly becoming a recognized center for the study and appreciation of folk and self-taught art. It is a good feeling to know that our collection has found a safe repository and that it will serve a valuable purpose.