It’s the second day of winter and the middle of the academic year, so I have no business (but every reason) to think about those lazy langorous days of summer.
This etching by Latvian-born artist Ruth Kerkovius has recently become part of the Community Art Collection displayed at the Tennant Memorial Gallery—one of fifty works that will be loaned to the next exhibit of the Agincourt Project; you’re all invited—so I wonder what minor event of no consequence whatsoever will emerge from its hazy over-exposure. Who enjoyed this repast and one another’s company? And where have they gone? In the meantime, let me tell you about the Community Collection.
In the fall of 1912, before there was a memorial gallery, Amity Burroughs Flynn* organized an exhibit of artwork borrowed from the homes of Agincourt’s citizens—paintings and prints that in their modest way represented artistic taste or judgment in the community. The show was hung in the G.A.R. Hall at the northeast corner of the 1889 courthouse and remained on display through Thanksgiving. It was such a success that Mrs Flynn and her committee thought it might be made permanent; the seed of a community-based collection to heighten cultural awareness in a town at the edge of the wider World of Art.
Mrs Flynn cajoled several of the original lenders to donate a few pieces, the core of a permanent collection. Then the committee acquired one or two new pieces each year until today, when there are more than two hundred works. Two thousand thirteen celebrates a hundred years of such accumulation. My challenge has been managing the evolution of the collection: wondering how new works were acquired (by gift, purchase, theft, abandonment); imagining the personalities involved, their agendas, the changing sense of what passes for beauty—and the inevitability that my own taste contaminates what should have grown organically through a hundred years and that I have failed in that regard.
Kerkovius herself was born in 1921, educated at Munich and emigrated to the U.S. Google suggests that she’s still living in New York at the age of 91. Unsigned and/or anonymous works give me the latitude to invent artistic careers, but in this case (the etching is signed) I’m obliged to imagine when and how her print found its way from New York City to northwestern Iowa. And whether the locals value it as much as I do.
Incidentally, there will be a catalogue at the 2013 exhibit and a more complete development of this story.
*The story of Amity Burroughs Flynn is told elsewhere in this blog, as well as that of her late unlamented husband Edmund FitzGerald Flynn.