By Thom Hall
Thom Hall, longtime registrar and artist at the Arkansas Arts Center, wrote this essay when he retired last year. In the essay, he explores the exponential growth of the collection over the course of his time here. He also writes about growing as an artist in his own right. Throughout his artistic career, he worked in a variety of mediums – from painting and drawing to enameling. While he is often best known for his narrative figural paintings and drawings, Hall’s enamel works present a fascinating world of memories, dreams and desires. We brought this essay out to celebrate the first comprehensive exhibition to explore Hall’s enamel work, Glass Fantasies: Enamels by Thom Hall, which opens at the Arkansas Arts Center Friday, October 7 and runs though December 31.
When I joined the staff in 1975 the drawing collection consisted of about 600 works. Most were regional works, and in truth, only 10 were by important artists: Willem de Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, Morris Graves, Robert Gwathmey, Jacob Lawrence, René Magritte, Georgia O’Keeffe, Philip Pearlstein, Mark Tobey and Andrew Wyeth. With Townsend Wolfe’s leadership, drawings became the primary focus of the collection in 1971, so these 10 works were particularly significant in that they represented the broad scope the collection would have. What a great beginning!
During my 40 years here I’ve worked on great exhibitions and witnessed amazing growth of the collection and the institution. The Winthrop Rockefeller Gallery opened in 1982. The next year we published the first major catalogue of the collection featuring 10 amazing new acquisitions by Max Beckmann, Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Alberto Giacometti, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt, and Vincent van Gogh. We circulated 20th Century American Drawings to 12 museums in 1984-1987. The National Drawing Invitational debuted in 1986 to strengthen our focus as a major drawing center. In 1991 we organized the first retrospective of drawings by Will Barnet with most of the works ultimately entering the collection.
The growth of the collection has been staggering – today we have over 5,200 drawings, over 1,100 contemporary craft objects, some very important paintings and many other works of art. As registrar I’ve been involved with cataloging acquisitions, managing the collection database, organizing shipping and storage, coordinating production of exhibition catalogues including editing a few of them, and more and more and then some. I have been fortunate to work directly with donors, patrons, scholars, museum and gallery personnel all over the world, and visitors and students of all ages.
I have particularly enjoyed working on some special collections that you all should know are available to enrich your lives: the Paul Signac Collection of Watercolors and Drawings (132 plus 1 print) given by James T. Dyke; the drawing collection of Faces and Self-Portraits assembled by Jackye and Curtis Finch (150 of the 400 count collection already given to the AAC); 290 John Marin watercolors and drawings given by Norma Marin; 150 contemporary craft objects given by John and Robyn Horn; 85 Will Barnet drawings and prints – most given by the artist; 31 works by Arthur Dove (28 given by the artist’s son); 150+ post-minimalist drawings given by Wynn Kramarsky; 1,300 works by Peter Takal; 50 sketches by Seymour Lipton; 26 Arnold Bittleman drawings; 2,400 Disfarmer negatives and contact prints; almost 400 drawings and craft objects given by Diane and Sandy Besser; 140+ watercolors by Robert Andrew Parker; the Impressionist Paintings on loan from the Jackson T. Stephens Charitable Trust for Art – and I could go on.
Who could image working with all these amazing objects and the amazing people connected to them! I have escorted Arts Center art from Florida to New York and to Paris, Germany, Switzerland, and Japan.
I’ve grown as an artist and exhibited my work consistently. Early on I was in the AAC Delta and Prints, Drawings & Crafts shows, and I had a solo show of my drawings at Tatistcheff Gallery in New York in 2005. I have work in the Finch, Dyke, Horn, and AAC collections, and one of my cloisonné enamel paintings from 1989 was recently acquired by the Enamel Arts Foundation in Los Angeles. I have certainly been validated for my unique vision. Retirement from my job here will let me focus on drawing in my studio – my hands are eager.
I will miss my daily contact with the treasures of the vaults, and I will miss the interaction with the passionate art lovers I have encountered throughout the years through my work at the Arts Center – I’ve been blessed. Art makes life better, so open your eyes and your hearts and let it touch you.
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