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Commitment & Legacy of The Permanent Collection

An art museum is much more than a building. It isn't built simply with bricks, mortar and concrete. It is built with a love of art, a commitment from a community and the hope that the works of art inside can inspire generations.

The Canton Museum of Art began as the Little Civic Art Gallery on the second floor of Canton's Carnegie Library in 1935. Although activity was initially centered on giving area artists a place to exhibit and students a place to learn, in its very first year, the Gallery accessioned three works into its Permanent Collection. One of the three just happened to be a watercolor titled "Backyard" by Clyde Singer. Although the Collection would grow in different ways in the coming decades, this selection anticipated the eventual collection focus of the Canton Museum of Art.

 

The development of The Permanent Collection was not a major factor in the early years. In fact, under the list of the gallery's "eight objectives," the Collection is not mentioned until number eight. It was not until 1947 that the re-christened Canton Art Institute presented a comprehensive exhibition of The Permanent Collection in its Case Mansion home. During the museum's first twenty-five years, approximately 600 objects came to be a part of the Collection. And yet even by 1960, there was no indication of a collection focus — it was the museum's policy to accept any object donated into the Collection.
During 1965, under the careful direction of Mrs. Merlin Schneider, an accessions report documented the Collection and that year's Annual Report indicated that the Permanent Collection included 568 items "with several fine examples of enameling and other crafts and many fine pieces of furniture and furnishings (several could mean a count of 3 while many could mean 30)"'. Based on this accessions report, there were fifty watercolors then in the Collection.

 

In 1971, Ralph L. Wilson began donating works from his considerable art collection to the Canton Art Institute. His first donation contained six watercolors. Five of these artists, Charles Demuth, Lyonel Feininger, John Marin, Alfred Maurer and Maurice Prendergast, were considered American masters in the watercolor medium.

Prendergast's watercolor titled "The Grove, Lynn" is considered one of his signature pieces. In time "The Grove, Lynn" became a pivotal piece that gave direction towards a true collection focus.

 

Wilson continued to donate works from his holdings to the Art Institute's Collection until his death in 1979. At that time, the Institute's Wilson Collection contained over 40 outstanding works on paper by American artists. It now became evident that the Collection's strength rested in American works on paper from the 19th and 20th century.

Furthermore, Mr. Wilson made a bequest that allowed the Museum to purchase additional works in memory of his wife, Margretta Bockius Wilson.

In 1984, the Museum received another substantial bequest from the estate of Mr. and Mrs. James C. Koppe, an endowment that allowed the Museum to consider future purchases of works by significant American artists.

 

Further enhancement of the Collection came during the Museum's 50th anniversary year with the addition of two fine watercolors by Andrew and Jamie Wyeth. The Hoover Foundation funded the purchase of "Window Light" by Andrew Wyeth and the Goldsmith Foundation financed the purchase of the watercolor titled "Kleberg - Awake and Asleep" by Jamie Wyeth.

In 1989 and 1990, under the guidance of the Board of Trustee's Collections Management Chairman, Jane Reeves, and Executive Director, M. J. Albacete, a comprehensive evaluation of the Collection was conducted. It became evident that a clearly defined collection focus was needed. Because of the Ralph Wilson Collection and its strengths in American art and the Museum's sizeable ceramic holdings, it was decided that the Museum's Permanent Collection focus would be 19th century and later American works on paper, with a concentration in watercolors, and contemporary ceramics, 1950s and forward.

 

In 1992, the Institute developed a list of artists for potential acquisition that would enhance the collection within the definition of our collection focus. In recent years, with the aid of the endowments specified to the museum for the purchasing of art for The Permanent Collection, the Museum has acquired masterpiece watercolors by Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent and Edward Hopper.

These works, along with those donated by Wilson, most specifically pieces by the noted American Modernist painter John Marin and leading Post-Impressionist Maurice Prendergast of the Ashcan School, have become the foundation of The Permanent Collection.

 

In 1995, the Art Institute became known as the Canton Museum of Art. Since then, the Museum has researched, discovered and purchased additional masterpiece watercolors. These include works by Thomas Hart Benton, known for his pictorial documentation of the American Heartland in the 30s; Oscar Bluemner, whose hard-edged, unpopulated landscapes were forerunners to Precisionism; Emerson Burkhart, a regionalist whose work documented life in the African-American neighborhoods of Columbus, Ohio; Claude (Claudine) Raguet Hirst, a Cincinnati artist known for her trompe l'oeil watercolors of bachelor still-lifes; George Luks, Expressionist and a founding member of The Eight; and Jan Matulka, noted for his work in the Modernist movement.

We have also added two works by noted contemporary artists, Carolyn Brady and Joseph Raffael, to the Collection.

 

With the aid of a clearly defined collection focus, the Museum has also received fine gifts in recent years including watercolors by August Biehle, a member of the Cleveland School; and Alice Schille, a leading American modernist from Columbus, Ohio.

Through its focus on American watercolors and ceramics, the Museum has selected a unique identity among museums in Northeast Ohio. Building a strong, vital Permanent Collection is central to fulfilling the dream of the Museum's founders, living up to the commitment of our community and building a lasting legacy for the future.

~ Lynnda Arrasmith, Curator of Collections

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