Milan Petrovits (1892 - 1944) 1934 - Hungarian Csardas - 42 x 61.
Courtesy of Friends of Art
Alan Thompson (1908 - ?) 1940 - A Crowded Street Car.
Edward J. Burda (1958 - ) 2003 Hostess in a Quirky Booth - watercolor and gouache - 30 x 22.
By M. Thomas / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In 1916, a group of visual art aficionados, now known as the Friends of Art, formed to purchase original artworks for the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Over time some of those works have disappeared, and the Friends and the schools are offering a no-questions-asked amnesty for the return of any artwork or information related to a missing work.
The amnesty is not about blame or criminal prosecution, said Jody Guy, visual arts coordinator for the Pittsburgh Public Schools. “There’s nothing we want to convey to people other than thank you, thank you, for returning the work.”
Artworks and/or information will be accepted by Alison Oehler, gallery director, Concept Art Gallery, 1031 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square. She may also be reached at 412-242-9200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s a neutral space,” Ms. Guy said. “We wanted to encourage people [to return the works]. We don’t want them to feel uncomfortable. We want to make it as easy as possible for them.”
The impetus for the amnesty is a centennial exhibition of Friends of Art works that will be held at the Senator John Heinz History Center opening Sept. 16 and continuing through June 2017.
“This is the first time a comprehensive representation of the collection is being shown to the public,” Ms. Guy said. “We want to represent as much of that legacy as we can.”
It is also a milestone year for the Friends of the Art collection which acquired its final piece earlier this year.
“The collection was begun in 1916. It’s 2016 and we’re getting ready to celebrate at the history center. The collection is in a sense complete. We’re done,” Ms. Guy said.
Ms. Guy has been visual arts coordinator since 2010, but the project to catalog all Friends of Art work began earlier, led by local artists Adrienne Heinrich and Patricia A. Sheahan. Early on it became evident that works were missing.
A big change in the approach to the collection came, Ms. Guy said, when one of the paintings was sold at auction in 2013 yielding about $750,000 to the district. Some of that was earmarked to care for the collection.
The decision to de-accession (or remove from the collection) the painting – “Interior, Light from the Window” by Henri Le Sidaner – was made because it was atypically by a French artist. Other collection art was created by members of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh and purchased from their annual exhibitions.
After the windfall, Concept Art Gallery was hired to appraise the collection and it was then insured. The gallery has also repaired or replaced frames and is installing protective Plexiglas on appropriate works. Conservators Christine Daulton and Wendy Bennett have restored, respectively, paintings and works on paper.
The collection cataloging project located about 325 artworks, Ms. Guy said, and about an equal number are missing. Represented are works in an array of media, including painting, collage, works on paper, photography, sculpture and clay.
The Friends purchased on average five or six works annually depending on how much funding was available. Work from every decade and from almost all of the 100 years is still present, including 1916. “We’e looking for key pieces for each decade,” Ms. Guy said. That would allow the exhibition to illustrate the evolution of expression by Western Pennsylvania artists over a century, she said.
Ms. Guy said she has hope for the reunification of at least most of the collection. Some people may have picked up a work without realizing it belonged to the Friends, as when a school closed and property was being discarded. Recently an administrator found a missing work in a school closet. Family members may discover works when clearing a deceased relative’s house. Labels on the backs, if not the frames, often indicate the work was purchased by the Friends.
When looking, people might ask “Did anyone in this family work in the Pittsburgh Public Schools?’ Ms. Guy said. “That’s one clue.”
Occasionally an artwork turns up in an auction catalog. “We do try to retrieve them, but that’s a really slippery slope. Often they can’t trace ownership.”
Images of many of the missing artworks are at https://www.flickr.com/photos/foa-missing-artworks. A list of missing works for which no image is available will be added soon. [The link to the Flicker site works only on Google search engines.]
“It would be just a huge gift to the community to get [the collection] back. We don’t need any names. We’d just like to put it back together,” Ms. Guy said.
M. Thomas: email@example.com or 412-263-1925.
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