A year ago, the Columbus Museum had on exhibit a collection of American works on paper called "Tracing the Nation." It was a collection of 105 pieces featuring the works by such artists as John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer.
It was masterminded by collector Paul Magriel, who died in New York City in 1990 at age 84. Before he died, he convinced Joseph and Claire Flom of New York to buy the collection.
A few years ago, an art consultant called the Columbus Museum's former curator of collections and exhibitions Stephen Wicks and asked if the museum might be interested in the collection.
"I did extensive research on the Flom drawing collection compared to those already owned by the Columbus Museum," Wicks said. "Knowing the Floms did not want to break up the collection, I was concerned that the two groups might overlap, which would make it hard to argue for buying the lot. Fortunately, I found the two groups of drawings to be remarkably complementary."
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The museum already owned a Sargent landscape; the Flom collection featured a portrait. The museum's Homer is a scene in charcoal set in America; the Flom collection's is a figure study done in England.
Wicks said the Flom collection had rare drawings "of very high quality" by artists not represented in the museum's collection, including Theodore Robinson, Eastman Johnson, William Sidney Mount, James Whistler and Frederic Church.
Believe it or not, these 105 pieces were hanging in the Flom's New York home.
"These are absolutely fabulous works," said Kristen Miller Zohn, who is now the museum's curator of collections and exhibitions. "Some of these filled a lot of holes in our collection. So we made it a priority to purchase it."
Buying the art took a little creative thinking.
The museum formed a group of 105 people who gave $6,000 over three years to buy the collection. If anyone wants to participate, it's not too late, Zohn said.
Last month, the museum was able to complete the purchase. All 105 pieces are currently in the museum's vault.
"Although I was involved in the research and negotiation of the acquisition, I'm convinced that much of the reason why the Floms seriously considered Columbus when so many other worthy museums were a potential repository is because of the museum's strong reputation among dealers like the one who brought this opportunity to our collection," Wick said. "Also to its serious commitment to building its American drawing collection."
Because the entire collection was on view last year, it will not be seen all together again for a while, Zohn said. Claire Flom came to Columbus for the opening of the exhibit. Sadly, she died a few months later.
Zohn is currently working on refurbishing the Hardaway Gallery. The Hardaway Gallery is currently being used as gallery space for traveling exhibits. But this space will become a gallery for the permanent collection. Some of Magriel/Flom collection will be shown in this gallery starting in November when it reopens, she said.
With this acquisition, the Columbus Museum is now in the Top 5 museums who own American works on paper, Zohn said.
"This is a major step," she said. "We have been collecting important American drawings since the museum opened in 1953. These are unique works on paper."