Gifts to Cleveland Museum of Art will keep on giving for generations
The Plain Dealer
By Steven Litt
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Anyone who reads labels at the Cleveland Museum of Art would recognize familiar names including Leonard C. Hanna Jr., John Long Severance and Noah and Muriel Butkin. All were among the many Cleveland art collectors who have donated collections to the museum since it opened in 1916, making it one of the nation’s most admired treasuries of art.
From now on, label-readers will encounter a new set of names: Dr. Paul Vignos Jr. and Maxeen and John Flower.
In 2011, the museum received 37 European and American paintings, prints and drawings from the estate of Vignos, a longtime museum trustee and a University Hospitals doctor known internationally for his research into the treatment of muscular dystrophy.
The Vignos gifts, already trickling into the galleries, include a striking Russian Cubist portrait of a reclining woman by Robert Falk, which made a serious splash when it appeared in the museum’s East Wing earlier this year.
Other works in the bequest include a pair of luminous watercolors by the 20th-century German Expressionist Emil Nolde, a 17th-century Dutch landscape by Jan Wijnants and a landscape by Cleveland artist Joseph O’Sickey.
From Maxeen and John Flower, who died in 2010 and 2011, respectively, the museum has received more than a dozen works of art from India and Southeast Asia. They include a stunning torso of a female Buddhist deity carved with liquid contours in lush, black chlorite and a highly detailed Cambodian bronze sculpture of the 16-armed Buddhist deity Hevajra, which the museum considers one of the finest works of its type in the world.
In the season of giving, it is perhaps fitting to consider how the museum and the community have benefited from the Vignos and Flower gifts.
“I feel greatly rewarded,” said retired curator Stan Czuma, a specialist in Indian and Southeast Asian art, who served the museum from 1972 until his retirement in 2005.
The Flowers asked Czuma to guide their collecting and promised to leave their purchases to the museum. In doing so, they let it be known that the gift was in Czuma’s honor.
“Maxeen and John were very generous,” said Czuma, who lives in Cleveland Heights with his wife, Ingrid. “They were dearest friends. We miss them terribly.”
Vignos gave museum first pick of artworks
Before his death in 2010, Vignos (pronounced VEEN-yo), stipulated that the museum would have first pick of the artworks in the collection that he and his wife, the former Edith Ingalls, amassed at their former home in Hunting Valley. Edith Ingalls Vignos died in 2005.
Vignos also allowed the Snite Museum of Art at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., to choose works from his collection. The remaining items, more than 1,000 artworks, antiques and decorative items, were auctioned in November at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago, where they netted roughly $3 million.
Proceeds from the sale of just the artworks, roughly $1.54 million, were split between the museums, enriching the Vignos gifts of art with cash.
“It’s hard not to see it as a win-win,” said C. Griffith Mann, the museum’s chief curator. “This really ends up being a very significant gift to the museum.”
For Vignos and his wife, and for Maxeen and John Flower, living with art was part of a life well-lived.
Czuma said he met Maxeen Flower in 1972, when she was married to Morris Stone, an executive vice president and later vice chairman of American Greetings Corp. Maxeen Stone, as she was then known, was a photographer, antiques dealer, a leader of nonprofit organizations and a national trustee for UNICEF. She also loved to travel, often in Asia, and had a keen desire to collect works of art.
After meeting Czuma, she agreed to buy objects the museum needed to make its Asian collection more complete.
“She wouldn’t build an extensive collection but would concentrate on unique objects that would fill gaps in our collection,” Czuma said.
This practice continued after Morris Stone’s death in 1989 and Maxeen’s marriage in 1993 to Flower, a musician and former president of Cleveland State University.
“Right away, John jumped on board,” Czuma said, emphasizing that although Flower was new to Asian art at the time, he quickly developed a passion for it on buying trips to London and New York and journeys to Asia with the curator.
Flowers’ gifts will be highlighted in new wing
Mann said that the Flower gifts will be highlighted in the reinstalled galleries for Asian art, which will open in late 2013 when the museum’s new West Wing is finished, signaling the completion of a nine-year, $350 million expansion and renovation of the entire museum.
In all, the Flowers donated 13 works ranging from the third to the 15th centuries. Nearly half are stone carvings that almost certainly were part of Buddhist or Hindu temples at one time but were removed. He said the museum is confident that all of the works have been acquired in keeping with international laws aimed at preventing the looting of cultural heritage sites.
“They had pretty good records as to where the material came from and when it was acquired and the provenance immediately before,” Mann said.
Caren Sturges of Princeton, N.J., the oldest of three Vignos children, said that art collecting was deeply rooted in her mother’s family, stretching back through the family tree from her maternal grandfather, David Ingalls, to his mother, Jane Taft Ingalls, who grew up in the Cincinnati mansion now known as the Taft Museum.
“There’s a fairly long history of appreciating art and buying art and living with art in the family,” she said. Her father, who had a passion for food, wine and travel, also developed the interest and amassed a library full of art books.
Sturges said she remembered as a child how her parents befriended William Milliken, director of the museum from 1930 to 1958.
“In my early teens, we went skiing with him in Sun Valley [Idaho],” she said. “He was really fun, and not scary.”
Sturges said she also remembered that the big Robert Falk Cubist painting dominated the large wall over the sideboard in the family’s dining room. It functioned as the central showpiece in the home, which she described as a rambling farmhouse that had undergone several expansions.
“My dad was really proud of that,” she said, speaking of the Falk. She added: “The picture looks so much better in the art museum. The house was dark. It [the Falk] didn’t have enough light on it. We could never see why he was so excited about it — and now that it’s at the art museum, it looks superb.”
Although the Vignos collection is a gift from her father’s estate, Sturges said her mother “would have been very happy with his choice to have it go there. She would be ecstatic.”
Sturges herself cares less whether her father’s name is on the labels than she does about knowing that the artworks are in a place where they can reach a wide audience in Cleveland.
“I feel extremely happy about the pictures being showcased and looking as beautiful as they do,” she said.
sourse:BUDDHIST ART NEWS