I’ve been asked hundreds of times what my favorite artwork is in the Woodson Art Museum collection. My answer always centered on a question: do you have a favorite child?
What I do have are memories, including my first impressions of a work and the stories I conceive in my mind while standing before a work; I’ve always had a great imagination. Many factors influence my opinion of each artwork.
These artworks, in no particular order, would make my “favored” list.
The subtle and varying tones of blue, the sunlight highlighting two ducks with four others in the shadows, the feeling of intense cold from the icy waters and nearly clear blue sky make Frank Benson’s Black Ducks a painting that entrances me. Gazing at the work never fails to provide a sense of calm. In fact, many of Benson’s works grab my attention. He was proficient in oil, watercolor, ink, pencil, and printmaking – all mediums represented in the Woodson’s collection. To have works in multiple mediums by one artist is a tribute to the Museum’s thoughtful Collections Committee.
I’ve met many artists. The annual Birds in Art exhibition presents the work of over 100 artists, many of whom visit each September for the opening weekend. Friendships have developed; happily, I visited the homes and studios of many – Owen J. Gromme, Charles “Chippy” Chase, and Don Richard Eckelberry, to name a few.
Don Richard Eckleberry and specifically his wife, Ginnie, provided long-lasting memories. Ginnie was encouraged by Don’s artist friends to contact the Woodson Art Museum about his estate. In the early 2000s, Director Kathy Foley and I made yearly – sometimes twice yearly – trips to Babylon, Long Island, to catalogue Don’s books, drawings, and paintings – his entire studio and career work.
I eagerly anticipated those visits, which concluded in 2010 when we filled three-quarters of a semi-trailer truck with the treasured items of Don’s and Ginnie’s lives.
Here’s a bit of what that encompassed: 7,448, pencil on paper drawings, 219 paintings including illustrations for many publications, hundreds of slides and transparencies, paintbrushes, paints – anything you’d find in an artist’s studio.
One of the paintings in the Eckelberrys’ living room always caught my eye. Its haunting beauty proved Don’s ability to paint a scene encompassing the bird and environment. A glance at Barn Owl in Flight reminds me of visits with Mrs. E (I didn’t call her Ginnie), her stories, and Don’s everlasting Woodson Art Museum legacy.
When visiting the Cummer Museum of Art in the early 1990s, I was awed by its Martin Johnson Heade painting. Yes, I’d seen Heade’s work previously, but looking closely for an extended time made me truly appreciate his style and love of birds. From those impressions I placed the acquisition of a Martin Johnson Heade painting high on the Museum’s “wish list.” In 2002, the Woodson Art Museum asked Godel & Company Fine Art to send a Heade painting on approval. Two Hooded Visorbearer Hummingbirds was perched on an easel in collections storage, where several members of the Collections Committee were present to see it. I couldn’t breathe; I so wanted the painting to come to the collection. Finally, the decision was made to acquire it. I remember saying to a Board member in the room, that I could now retire; my biggest wish had come true. He said, no going or we’d need to send the painting back. I always remember how honored I felt about my work at the Museum and the acquisition of an amazing artwork
Alas, now nearly twenty years after purchasing the Heade painting, my time as Curator of Collections will come to an end when I retire October 1. Leaving is bittersweet, as I’d still like to complete that acquisition “wish list.” I rest assured the collection will continue to grow and as a visitor I can watch in appreciation as new artworks become my favorites.