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No. 9 July 2007

Not long ago we asked members to suggest topics for our the newsletter. You said that you wanted to learn more about building a collection, or how to give a museum gift, or planning for the disposition of an entire collection or a single valuable piece. There seems no better time than the present to explore these topics as this year we've seen two of the foremost contemporary jewelry collections gifted to major museums.

In this newsletter we explore museum gifts and loans. Next month we'll shift our focus to bequests and estate planning. There is a lot of ground to cover, enjoy.

AJF Business News

Recommendations to Board. The AJF Nominating Committee has completed polling the membership and has presented the current Board with a proposed slate of new officers. At the August meeting the Board will officially accept the slate and will announce new officers in the September newsletter.

Volunteers Welcome. Here's your chance to help with our many programs. If you are interested in increasing your AJF involvement, please let us know. There are opportunities (large and small). It is easy to learn more, just send an email using the "Quick Link" and we'll be in touch to explore the possibilities.

25 Members Bound for Houston Our trip to Houston for the exhibition opening of the Helen Williams Drutt collection sold out within days of the announcement. It is the largest group of members ever to participate in an AJF trip. For those of you not making the trip rest assured we will publish a trip overview in the October newsletter.

The Art of Collecting
Ebendorf 2

There are as many definitions of a collection as there are collectors. When noted art collector and philanthropist Eugene Thaw was asked how he would define the art of collecting, he answered with this beautiful explanation: "It's about making some sense out of a group (large or small) of related objects that you've accumulated and having each one reinforce the others. You should always be reaching for better examples than what you have, and you should find out what you're missing, too, so you can fill in the blank spaces. It's an intellectual activity. I collect to learn and when I feel I have learned my way around a field enough to have a well-rounded collection I give it away -- to museums. I no longer need to physically possess works of art, I have them in my mind's eye."

The universal truth seems to be that collectors complement their passion with intelligence to build a meaningful collection. Here are suggestions that may prove helpful as you build your collection:

  • Visit as many galleries as you can, gallery owners can be helpful guides.
  • Join local art museums and introduce yourself to curators. Share your collecting interests with them.
  • AJF offers opportunities to talk to other collectors and find out what they know and what they have learned about collecting.
  • Read! Read anything you can find that relates to your collecting interests - art, art history, reviews and trade publications.
  • Visit universities that have jewelry programs. Introduce yourself to the faculty and share your collection with students. Take a history of adornment class or metals workshop.
  • Formulate your personal collecting philosophy and define the unifying characteristics of your collection.
  • Document your collection. Keep good records on each artist and each purchase.
  • When you see a piece that you love, it fits nicely in your collection and you know it will bring your joy -- buy it, wear it and share it.

Museum Gifts and Loans

Discovering how objects came into the museum is an interesting aspect of any exhibition -- some donated, others loaned, some given as a bequest or purchased with donated funds. Collectors and curators need each other, collectors for the work a museum desires and curators for bringing the work to the museum. For both the museum and donor there may be tax and legal considerations, for these reasons most museums offer highly personalized, full service consulting resources for all types of charitable giving.

Private collectors are often asked to lend their art for exhibitions. By giving the work public visibility you support the museum and the artist. Additionally, loaning may have the added benefit of enhancing the value of an object through public visibility. There are a number of considerations to take into account when loaning a piece to a museum including: value, term of the loan, insurance and liability, transportation and packing, photographic rights, exhibition and labeling and security. These and other considerations are articulated in a loan agreement document signed by both the lender and the museum. It is important to have photographs of the item and documentation that supports your purchase. Your insurance agent is a valuable resource should you have questions.

Assuming your heirs are not keeping their fingers crossed in hopes that your beloved art jewelry will some day be theirs, then you may want to consider making a gift of your jewelry. Gifts are of great benefit to museums, universities and non-profit organizations. Gifts have been responsible for the growth and enhancement of many permanent collections.

Gifts can be wonderfully simple, flexible and easy to make. There are many benefits of making a gift of art either during your lifetime or by bequest. You guarantee that your treasured piece will be cared for to the highest standards. You gain a charitable deduction for tax purposes and the removal of items subject to estate tax on the value of those objects. Through your gift, the artist is celebrated and the art form is preserved and displayed for the scholarship and enjoyment of generations to come. If you are considering making a gift, explore all the potential recipients, consider all the options, weigh the tax considerations and most importantly enjoy the process of giving. Once you have found the best place for your pieces you should document your intent to give. Museums can provide appropriate language for updating your will or assist you in documenting a current gift to the museum.

Thoughts on Wearing and Giving

As the opening of the Houston MFA exhibition Ornament as Art: Avant-Garde Jewelry from the Helen Williams Drutt Collection approaches we salute Helen for her generous gift and quote her here:

"An independent observer, free from politics and board restrictions, affords the artist freedom from oblivion. Our museums are filled with objects donated by those whose spirit of adventure and passion have recorded the taste of their time. By wearing the jewelry, these individuals stimulate inquiry. A golden triangle is formed -- artist, object and observer."

Conference Announcement

"Adornment: The Magazine of Jewelry & Related Arts" has announced its upcoming conference, A Place in Time: Jewelry within the Context of the Decorative Arts. The conference will examine personal ornament as a decorative art form. The event will be held at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC on October 6th and 7th. Speakers will address the ideology, inspirational sources, motifs, and techniques common to jewelry and its sister arts. It will also consider the ways in which jewelry is unique among the arts. For conference details and registration forms, contact Adornment at (914) 286-7685, or visit the conference's Web site using the "Quick Link".

In the Forum

We are pleased to begin our discussion of gifts and loans with a two-part interview with Kelly L'Ecuyer. Kelly is responsible for moving the gift of Daphne Farago's jewelry collection into the care of the museum and holds the title of the Ellyn McColgan Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Art of the Americas. She was interviewed by AJF founding member Susan Cummins.

Susan: Kelly, can you tell us the story of how Daphne decided to put together a jewelry collection?

Kelly: Daphne collected American folk art for many years before turning her attention to studio craft, and especially studio jewelry. She has always loved things that are handmade and that reveal the individuality of the maker. So in a way, the transition from folk art to contemporary studio craft was a natural progression in her collecting. She has told me that she began collecting artist-made contemporary jewelry in about 1989, beginning gradually with the work of a few artists, like Bruce Metcalf or Mary Lee Hu, whose work strongly appealed to her. As she continued to learn about the field, looking at new work, visiting galleries and museums, always looking for the best quality works -- she broadened her reach until her collection comprised more than 700 objects by well over 200 artists.

Susan: What were her criteria for adding new work into the collection?

Kelly: She has always sought excellence and works that give her "joy." I think that sense of pleasure and personal connection to the work has always been her foremost criteria in part because she really wears this jewelry on a daily basis. She feels that it is the collector's role not only to buy the works of living artists, but to help carry their ideas and their message to the world by wearing this art in daily life.

This idea of wearing jewelry to make it a kind of public art guided her collecting in that she tended to acquire works that could actually be worn, at least for short periods, and that relate to the body in a meaningful way. She generally avoided works that veered into performance art, like some of the more radical experiments of the late 1970s. This is not to say she avoided provocative jewelry -- she collected daring pieces like Jan Yager's crack vial necklace -- but the basic relationship of jewelry to the wearer was important to her.

Daphne is a true collector with an extraordinary eye for quality. She sought out works that represent the best of a particular artist's production. In other words, she didn't buy a lot of minor works in order to collect important "names." So many artists I've spoken to have said to me in more or less these words: "Daphne only wanted our best work."

Susan: Did she know she was putting together a "museum quality" collection from the beginning? Did she seek advice from curators?

Kelly: Quite early on in the process of building the collection, Daphne decided that she wanted to form a collection that a museum would want. I am most impressed at how thoroughly she educated herself: by looking at jewelry, by reading, by talking to curators and dealers and artists. She was incredibly active in this regard, always curious and engaged and fascinated with the field.

She took advice from a number of dealers and curators who helped put her in touch with artists and helped her evaluate works for acquisition. She knew how to seek help from trusted advisors so that she could make good decisions. But she really did her "homework," and this is evidenced by the tremendous library of jewelry books and catalogues she amassed and gave to the MFA along with her collection. There are a couple hundred publications, mostly museum exhibition catalogues and rare, out-of- print gallery publications, and they are all marked up with her notes about pieces she purchased or considered purchasing. They are a librarian's nightmare because they are full of post-it notes and marks in the margins, but they are a curator's dream.

Along with all these publications, she kept meticulous files on each artist and work of art in her collection, with all her invoices, receipts, correspondence, and magazine clippings. Again, this kind of record- keeping is a curator's dream and it shows her thoughtful and intelligent approach to forming a museum-quality collection. If there is such a thing as a professional collector, Daphne would be it. To be continued...


  • Bob Ebendorf, "Lost Soul Found Spirits" Neckpiece, 1999. Iron, aluminum, sterling silver, crab claws. Museum Gift of Sienna Patti to the Mint Museum of Art.
  • Keith Lewis, "Heart Orgy" brooch, 2001. Sterling silver, 24k gold. Exhibition loan by Sally von Bargen to Fuller Craft Museum for the 2006 exhibition The Edges of Grace: Provocative, Uncommon Craft.
  • Kiff Slemmons, "Wrist Flick II" Bracelet, 1999. Sterling silver, photographs, mica. Mint Museum purchase, funds provided by Sharon and Craig Campbell.
  • Marcia Macdonald, "If You Sit Still You Can Take Off the Mask" Neckpiece. Silver, gold leaf, wood. Promised gift of Sharon Campbell to the Tacoma Art Museum.

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