Works of art that once were part of private collections can now be enjoyed by the entire community at a new exhibition at the McLean County Arts Center in downtown Bloomington.
“Selections from the Permanent Collection” is on view through Aug. 21 in the Brandt Gallery. Selected by the board, members of the committee and staff members, the show features works that have been collected by the Arts Center over the years, many of which have been donated to the center from private collectors in the community. Those donated pieces reflect a generosity of spirit from the collectors, said Executive Director Doug Johnson.
“I get calls every week from someone who has some treasure that they would like to share with the community. Most of the time, we can find a way to include that," said Johnson. "A great thing about a collection like this is the community gets this repository of the community’s art history and legacy.
“Sometimes we’re surprised by the works that are in our community. I’ve been in people’s houses and seen Rembrandt prints. I saw a 15th century embroidered tapestry in a farmhouse out in the country–I never would have believed it!”
Not all the works in the collection are from artists located in McLean County, Johnson said.
“We had board members back in the '30s, '40s and '50s that had selected some important artists and then donated those works to the Arts Center. It’s a wide range, and sometimes a very unusual range of works. There’s a lot of New York artists from the '40s and '50s. It’s a mix of those artists who have a national and historic reputation and other artists who have a more local connection.”
The current exhibition includes a work by American master Grant Wood (remember “American Gothic...?). It’s a hand-colored lithograph of wildflowers and was part of a diptych that included cultivated flowers.
“This work came to us from our friend, Clarise Jefferson, who passed away a couple of years ago,” Johnson said. “Initially, her intent was to give it to my wife and I, but we thought that it was something that had to be shared with the community, so we encouraged her to instead donate it to the Arts Center.”
Originally, the Wood lithograph belonged to Jefferson’s mother, who taught in the School of Art at Illinois State University and had studied with Grant Wood in Iowa.
“And it was there that she purchased this terrific work. It had hung in Clarice’s apartment for years and I had always admired it, so it was really wonderful to be able to have that gift to the Arts Center and, really, to the community.”
The current exhibition also includes a work by George Rodrigue, who gained national acclaim in the 1990s with his Blue Dog paintings. One of those dogs now makes his home at the McLean County Arts Center (MCAC). Johnson also noted a number of works by artists who were a part of the Ashcan School during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The late Harold Gregor also is represented in the exhibition with a color linocut called, “Above the Farm IV.”
“Harold was really an amazing artist,” said Johnson of the former ISU art professor. “His work is an amalgam of a lot of artists, not the least of which is Henri Matisse. It’s Matisse’s color sense and sophistication that this work really represents.”
“Selections from the Permanent Collection” is the first show on view at the MCAC since the pandemic forced the center to close its doors. The exhibition will be open to groups of six or fewer by appointment only. Johnson said those interested in viewing the show are required to wear masks and social distance while enjoying the works on display.
“Our job here at the Arts Center is community development, and the arts are a vehicle for that. To have a collection like this that speaks to who we are, and who we have been as a community and what our cultural interests are is a treat. What people can experience when they come to see a show like this is not just these beautiful masterworks, but a sense of self and a sense of place.”
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