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HMA marks 60 years of bringing art to the Tri-State

Nov. 04, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- When people wander off the interstate and wind their way up the hill-top Huntington Museum of Art, they always have two questions.

How did a small city the size of Huntington get a large museum as fine as the Huntington Museum of Art?

And why is it tucked away up in those hills?

Museum librarian Chris Hatten knows the answer to both of those questions -- "Herbert Fitzpatrick."

Hatten, who has worked at the museum for 25 years, has put together a new book on Fitzpatrick whose life and legacy is celebrated this week as the Huntington Federal Savings Bank Presents: "Mr. Fitz: Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Huntington Museum of Art."

Curated by Jenine Culligan, the museum's senior curator, that exhibit, which runs through Feb. 3 and then again Feb. 23 through Oct. 20, features about one third of the 425-piece-strong art collection Fitzpatrick donated to the museum.

That eclectic collection features everything from shimmering British silver from the Georgian period, Near Eastern prayer rugs, fine European and American paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints and Asian decorative arts.

The new exhibit, as well as a permanent plaque going up in the Virginia VanZandt Great Hall, pays homage to Fitzpatrick, who passed away in 1962, after donating his art collection as well as the 52 acres that in 1952 was opened as the Huntington Galleries to store his art collection, as well as to provide for an arboretum, bird sanctuary and nature trails.

Museum Executive Director Margaret Mary Layne said that in this anniversary year the museum is taking time to honor the people of its past from Alex Booth and his amazing story of reeling in Walter Gropius to create the museum's unique workshops and studio spaces, as well as Fitzpatrick, whose generosity and vision helped lay the groundwork for one of Huntington's crown jewels.

"In the day to day you try to keep your head above water and sometimes you can lose sight of the bigger picture and how you evolved into who you are today," Layne said. "The truth is it is all about people and people who are dedicated and committed to their community and people who look beyond what is in front of them and who see what might be and what is possible and who believe they can do it. I really think when Mr. Fitzpatrick gave the directive that the community has to raise the money to build the building that for many people the value of enhancing the education of their children is what motivated them. I think for the average person who gave $25 they were thinking about their children's future and that is really a wonderful thing."

HMA's 60th Anniversary Celebration is set for 5:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, and will begin with opening remarks and a Gallery Walk with renowned contemporary printmaker, Barrie Kaufman, whose exhibit, "Curator Choice," is now up in the Daine Gallery. A reception will follow.

Layne said by adding Kaufman it will be a chance to show how the museum is not only celebrating the past but also continuing to embrace contemporary art and look to the future as art movements twist and turn.

"The idea was to celebrate the creativity of the past and how that creativity is informing our future," Layne said. "By bringing Barrie into the mix we are celebrating the creativity of today and the future as well. I thought it was a nice mix of tradition and contemporary art that will carry us into the next 60 years."

Hatten, whose book on Fitzpatrick is coming out in the spring, has been collecting information on the lawyer who founded Fitzpatrick, Huddleston and Bolen and who rose through the ranks of the C&O (Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company) to become general counsel and then chairman of the board.

While more in-depth information will be packed into the book, which will also feature more details about Fitzpatrick's extensive collection at the museum, Hatten and Culligan assembled several cases of personal effects and photographs from the museum's opening to add a personal touch to the display.

There's a deck of cards friends gave him with his portrait on them for his birthday on May 19, 1945, and some receipts of sale including a check and letter where Fitzpatrick, who gave the museum 134 exquisite pieces of mostly British and mostly Paul Storr silver, bought some silver from Edward, the Duke of Windsor.

Hatten said although Fitzpatrick was socially active in Huntington as a lawyer for 37 years, as the exalted ruler of the Elks, member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Guyandotte Club (a private club downtown) it was a real treasure hunt to find out information about the lawyer, who although moving to Richmond and then Cleveland, always came back to Huntington where he maintained an apartment. Although he would amass literally hundreds of works of fine art and an amazing furniture collection, Fitzpatrick did not buy a home here until he was in his 60s.

Hatten said Fitzpatrick always had a heart and home here in the city where his father, James Bailey Fitzpatrick was one of the first rectors at Trinity Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue.

"He was very loyal and enthusiastic about Huntington," Hatten said. "In the 1950s he tried to get the C&O to move their headquarters here, and I think it really pleased him to do the Huntington Galleries project. He wanted Huntington to build the building and to take ownership, so he offered the land and his art."

To showcase how the community came together, the museum has displayed a wall of black and white photos showing the birth of the museum's facets of art, education and nature that have been a constant through its history.

Hatten said children's art and nature programs were taught by a group of university women's groups that had founded a school of learning through nature and art in the 1940s before the museum opened showcasing the Fitzpatrick collection as well as the Dean Firearms collection, which is still a popular permanent exhibit that draws in gun buffs from around the country.

"You see in the photographs how his great collection, coupled with the educational elements, make this project get off the ground," said Hatten, of the museum, whose birth was also made possible by such folks as David Fox, Homer Gebhardt and then mayor Rufus Switzer. "It really is his collection that set a pattern for what we would do for the next 60 years."

While many aspects of Fitzpatrick's life remain a mystery as he never married, had no living relatives, and today has no living contemporaries, Hatten and Culligan said the one thing for certain is that he had an incredible eye for classic art that has stood the test of time.

"I tried to pick things from each category he collected in," Culligan said as she walked among the significant subsets of art that included: 52 prayer rugs, 134 pieces of silver, 30 bronze sculptures, seven drawings, 63 prints, 84 paintings and 50 Asian decorative art.

One of the oldest prints is an Albrecht Durer print of a bagpiper that dates back to 1514. That collection of European prints gives way to more modern works as you see Fitzpatrick's wide tastes that range from extensive French Barbazan paintings to British silver and Auguste Rodin and Frederic Remington sculptures.

"He was interested in modern works too. He really got into artists like Pisarro and even Matisse and Picasso. He was watching art history and keeping an eye on it, " Culligan said. "I like that about him. You look at him in his photographs and he was very stoic and some of his art is very traditional, but maybe in his art you see another side of him coming out."

Culligan said a testament to the quality of his collection is the fact that many of the sub-sets, including the extensive Eastern prayer rugs, have traveled to other museums both in the United States and around the world.

"This painting has been to France more than I have," Culligan said with a laugh about the Jules Breton painting, "Love Tokens."

Layne said she is proud that they are able to have people on staff such as Hatten, who in addition to being the Museum Information Technology manager and librarian overseeing a 25,000 volume collection, was able to dig into everything from LP audio recordings of the opening ceremonies to interviews from the 1980s to newspapers from the early 1900s to tell Fitzpatrick's story and thus the story of the museum.

"What we have here are people who are really dedicated to their jobs and to their profession and also dedicated to the future and the vision," Layne said. "That is why we have been able to survive against all odds as we have and to grow and serve more people in more ways year after year."

Hatten, whose limited edition book will be released in the spring as the museum continues its year-long 60th anniversary celebration, said it was like opening a time capsule on this man whose name you do not hear often these days, and on a time when the city was bursting at the seams with energy and people.

"He's kind of one of those guys that slipped out of the public eye. Yu don't hear his name mentioned in many articles about Huntington," Hatten said. "Over the years we have had some great things happen, when we got Walter Gropius to do the additions. Over time things have just fallen into place and you saw that in the beginning. A lot of things just worked together with the women who had the nature and art classes and Fitzpatrick with the land and the collection. There was just a lot of optimism in Huntington in the 40s and 50s. There was such good employment here. They built the Field House and the airport, and everything was looking up. It was peak population. The population in 1950 was 85,000 and so it was definitely a community on the rise and working together and thinking ahead. We are fortunate to have a place like this."

WHAT: Huntington Federal Savings Bank Presents: Mr. Fitz: Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Huntington Museum of Art. This exhibition marks 60 years of bringing art to the Tri-State community. This extended exhibition presents selected highlights from the more than 425 works donated by the late Herbert Fitzpatrick. His tastes in art were wide-ranging, from British silver from the Georgian period, Near Eastern prayer rugs, fine European and American paintings, sculpture, drawings and prints and Asian decorative arts.

WHERE: Huntington Museum of Art, 2033 McCoy Road, Huntington

WHEN: Now through Feb. 3, 2013, and Feb. 23 through Oct. 20, 2013.

OPENING RECEPTION: HMA's 60th Anniversary Celebration begins with a Gallery Walk with Barrie Kaufman at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, in conjunction with the opening for her exhibit Curator's Choice. A reception follows. Admission to the opening event is free.

ABOUT MR. FITZ: Herbert Fitzpatrick jumpstarted the museum project donating 52 acres for a site. The Huntington Galleries (now known as the Huntington Museum of Art) opened in 1952.

THE BOOK: For the past two years the Museum's Archivist/Librarian Chris Hatten has been researching Herbert Fitzpatrick and the early years of the Museum. Photographs, videos and ephemera from the Library archives and new material collected during his research will be on view in a portion of the gallery. A limited edition book about Herbert Fitzpatrick and the founding of the Museum written by Chris Hatten will accompany this exhibit.

WHAT ELSE: Ceramic artist Katherine Ross is the Walter Gropius Master Artist in November. An exhibit of work by Ross titled "Ghost" runs through Nov. 18.

"Tracks: Photography and the Railroad from the George Eastman House Collection," runs Nov. 3 through Jan. 27. Exhibit opening during Fourth Tuesday Tour at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27. James E. Casto will appear as Collis. P. Huntington.

"Harvey Littleton: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Glass Studio Movement," through Nov. 18, in the Glass Gallery.

"Curator's Choice: Barrie Kaufman," in the Daine Gallery, Nov. 10 through Feb. 3.

"American Impressionism," through April 7, 2013 in Gallery 3, and "Selected Paintings from The Daywood Collection," through Feb. 17, in Gallery Three, the Bridge Gallery will feature an additional selection of American and French paintings from The Daywood Collection, mostly landscapes, seascapes and portraits.

CONTACT: Visit www.hmoa.org or call 304-529-2701.

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