Children and art. That’s the lesson—for me at least—of “Sunday in the Park with George”. I can’t claim the former, so my legacy will be the latter.
I spent almost two hours Thursday afternoon talking with someone about bequeathing my art—more accumulation, really, than collection—when I’m gone. Anyone who’s been to the house knows there’s boat load of it. Is it hubris to think the collection could avoid the obligatory estate sale? I recall my father’s wake, when people I scarcely recognized stood with me at his coffin and said “You know, your dad always wanted me to have [fill in the blank].” If he’d wanted them to have it, they would.
My friend spoke with me about the impermanence of permanent collections. No surprise there. What I’ve accumulated during the past fifty-plus years bears the stamp of none but me and any institution accepting it has no obligation to maintain that integrity. It may represent my eye, my discrimination, but no institution will (or should) keep the collection together for my sake alone. My motivation is simple: these things have brought me joy; perhaps they can do the same for others.
These days another collection is on my mind: the Community Collection on display intermittently at the Tennant Memorial Gallery in Agincourt. Emily Weise, the collection’s keeper, is busy selecting fifty pieces, more or less, as a loan exhibition to us here in Fargo-Moorhead. Emily tells me there are two ways to see the role of art in any community. The first is equivalent to “trickle-down” economics; the notion that a small place like Agincourt needs Great Art as model for emulation. “Top down” institutions abound. Far fewer are those grass roots galleries driven by the spirit of “Let’s get together, hang out and figure out what art is.” Agincourt is fortunate to have evolved one of those.
From its simple beginning as the 1912 GAR Exhibit, to its 100th anniversary last year, the Community Collection has been guided by no one and everyone. And I, for one, am anxious to see what that might have meant. Amity Burroughs Flynn*—you remember her; Ed Flynn’s widow—might have come to town with that big city top-down attitude, setting standards for the masses. But I suspect she was just trying to please Ed. Once he’d passed from the scene, Amity chilled and made amends. Indeed, her greatest legacy (in the spirit of Stephen Sondheim) wasn’t children; it was art.
Is it vanity to walk in Amity’s footsteps?
*Mrs Flynn’s portrait, by the way, will be in the loan exhibit. Since posting this image some months ago, our conservator Steve Johnson has taken a swab of cleaning emulsion to Joseph Newman’s portrait of about 1925 and found that her “mopcap” turned out to be waxy buildup. Nicely cleaned and reframed, she is even more handsome and a worthy centerpiece to the show.