On the day of the opening of Audubon to Warhol: Two Centuries of American Art on Paper, I thought there was no better way to introduce the exhibition than to quote Ed Pollack from the exhibition catalog.
I bought my first “collectible” when I was a freshman at Hobart College in the fall of 1951. While walking on South Main Street, I came upon an auction of household goods being held on the lawn of a house. For fifty cents I bought a pair of deer antlers on a plaque. In the dormitories nails in the walls were prohibited; we had to use hooks which held to the walls with an adhesive glue. I hung my new acquisition on the wall above my bed. It stayed there for about a week before it fell on me while I was asleep. That ended my collecting for a long time.
I recall going into an art gallery in Cambridge, Massachusetts when I was a law student and seeing an exhibition of prints by the German artist Käthe Kollwitz. I was surprised that they didn’t seem to be particularly expensive for work by an artist whose work I had only seen before in museums. Whether they were beyond my possible budget, or whether I hadn’t yet come to the understanding that an ordinary person could, or should, actually own work by a world famous artist, or some combination of both, I don’t remember, but I didn’t give serious consideration to the idea of buying and owning anything in the show.
Years passed. I graduated from school, was drafted into the army, came out and worked first in a law office in New York City, and afterward as an attorney at the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). An internal move placed my cubicle next to the office of a senior attorney who had on his walls, instead of the usual diplomas and certificates, actual pictures. I knocked, went in, asked, admired, and was invited to dinner on the spot. Julius and Shirley Pinelas lived in Forest Hills, New York in an apartment hung floor to ceiling with art, much of it by the German Expressionists, almost all of it prints. Before I left, I had bought a picture off the wall for $175.00. It is an etching by Otto Dix from a 1920s portfolio called Zirkus (Circus), and it depicts a perform- er called Suleika, das Tatowierte Wunder (Suleika, the Tattooed Wonder). I still have it; its value is now about 100 times what I paid for it 50 years ago. From that point, and with Julius’s guidance, I began to buy pictures.
More years passed; I moved to Boston, still with HUD. I became involved in running an antiques shop, and put a few boxes of books I had into the store. These began to sell, while the antiques sat on the shelves. I bought more and they sold too. When the store closed, I had a lot of books. I started to go to antiquarian book fairs, and concluded that I had material as good as the general run of what I was seeing at them, so I joined the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Antiquarian Booksellers and began to exhibit at their shows. I gravitated to books about art and artists, and became known as a specialist. Eventually I joined the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) and started to do their shows. In the early 1990s bookselling moved to the internet, shops began to close, and the business became very different, and in many ways more difficult. I began to take prints along with my regular stock to the book shows. When they began to sell better than the books, I thought I might be on to something, so I began to buy more and more art. This change of focus really escalated after I sold my Boston condominium and had some money to spend. I started to do print fairs along with the book shows. I joined the Inter- national Fine Print Dealers Association. At this time I did both my book business and my art business out of my house on Cape Cod. Then I began to do some business with an art gallery in Portland, Maine. I would travel up there periodically, and eventually allowed myself to be convinced that it would be a good idea to have an art gallery there. It was not a good idea, but moving to Portland was. The gallery is called A FINE THING, but might better have been called “A Folly of Old Age.”
As an art dealer I specialize in works on paper: Fine Prints, including etchings, lithographs, woodcuts, screenprints and the like, drawings, photographs, and posters. There may be an occasional painting, sculpture, piece of pottery or other object, mostly from the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. I also collect for myself, outside of my business. Some things come to me as purchases for my business and either I become attached to them, or they to me, and they become part of what I consider my personal collection. Some things that I buy for myself become merchandise; others, where my connection to the artist is personal, stay in the personal collection.
For this show, I have included works that are part of the inventory of Edward T. Pollack Fine Arts and works that are part of my personal collection. Much of the latter consists of work by artists with whom I am personally friendly, or whose work I particularly respect even if I don’t know the artist. We have hung these works separately to show this distinction, but I would emphasize that it is an amorphous and somewhat artificial separation.
The theme of the show is American works on paper created from about 1820 to the present. Beginning with Audubon, Cassatt and Whistler, the show encompasses early twentieth century masters such as Reginald Marsh, John Sloan and Rockwell Kent, Social Realists such as Raphael Soyer, Joeph Hirsch and Isabel Bishop, modernists of the mid-century such as Alexander Calder, Gabor Peterdi, Mauricio Lasansky and Karl Schrag, and on to contemporary artists like Jim Dine, Claes Oldenberg, and Andy Warhol.
The works explore the various print media – etching, lithography, woodcut, and screen- printing, as well as drawing and photography. There are some items which don’t conform in that they are not on paper such as the sculpture by Bisbee or the painting by Tooker. Some of the items are included to display technical differences or progressions such as the preparatory drawing, the copper etching plate and the final etching of Thomas Nason’s print Maine Islands, or the drawing and lithograph versions of Joseph Hirsch’s Monument. There has been some attempt to cover the various art “movements” of the period such as Social Realism and Modernism, and I have tried to include well recognized names as well as those not so well known. Similarly, I have included work by artists who were, or are, women, African-American, and gay or lesbian, and work by artists who emigrated to America from elsewhere. Though these qualities are pointed out in the descriptive text or the comments thereon, I consider all of these people to be “artists” without the need of any identity qualifiers, and this is true even in the case of those artists whose subject mat- ter primarily is consistent with an identity qualifier For example, although John Wilson’s subjects are usually African-American people, he nevertheless stands as a great American artist because of the quality of the work, and I think that more and more he will be so recognized.
Finally, it should be clear that this is not intended to be a comprehensive survey of American Art on paper; rather it is a selection from a subjectively assembled portion of what might be available or that ought to be included, limited by personal interests and taste as well as by budget.
Edward T. Pollack H’55