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Published: Saturday, 1/22/2005

Growing collection

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

With the Glass Pavilion slated to open next year, staff at the Toledo Museum of Art are planning to show-and-tell the 4,000-year-old story of glass.

TMA's glass collection is broad and deep, but it has some historical gaps. "We do not have much glass from Europe from the 19th century. We are buying several objects from that era," said Jutta-Annette Page, TMA's curator of glass.

Last year, the museum landed an important piece: a slender goblet with lid. It was blown by an artisan and engraved with two gothic castles by another artist -- an ambitious 18-year-old from northern Bohemia.

His descendants say that about 1845, young Paul Oppitz engraved the 20-inch vessel and submitted it when applying to join a master engraver's guild.

Ms. Page learned a dealer in London was selling it on behalf of Muriel and Leslie Oppitz. It had been, the Oppitz siblings said, in their great-grandfather's collection. The dealer planned to sell the goblet at a large art sale in Holland.

"We had to act fast. We knew it would be snapped up quickly," said Ms. Page. A flurry of trans-Atlantic communiques ensued. She conferred with TMA director Don Bacigalupi, and they presented the prospect to the six-member art committee, which gave a thumbs up. The Oppitz goblet was purchased with money from a legacy created long ago by Edward Drummond Libbey, and goblet and lid were numbered "2004.3a, b" -- the third acquisition of 2004.

In the 2003-04 fiscal year, the museum acquired 92 objets d'art and books, including an Andy Warhol (Brillo Box, 1968) and six Roy Lichtensteins (Bull Profile Series, 1973, lithographs, screenprints, and linecuts). It also acquired a curvaceous, green Coca-Cola bottle dating to about 1932.

In 2002-2003, the TMA acquired 44 pieces; in 2001-2002 it added 35, and in 2000-2001, 64.

"We look at ways to build on strengths or to find ways to fill gaps in our collection," said Mr. Bacigalupi.

The acquisition process often begins when a curator learns that something desirable has come on the market. He or she will research its history, condition, and market value, discuss it with the director, and present the prospect to TMA's art committee for final approval.

Sometimes, acquisitions aren't seen by the public until they're included in an exhibit.

This fall, look for a lovely Japanese woodblock print of three raven-haired ladies walking with umbrellas. Rain in May was created about 1765 by Suzuki Harunobu using one wood block for each color.

Last year, Carolyn Putney, curator of Asian art, read in a Sotheby's catalog that it would soon be on the auction block. About 8-by-10 inches, it had superb color, beautiful subject matter, and a rock-solid history. It was last purchased in 1909 by Adolph Stoclet, a Japanese art scholar. He and his descendants had carefully stored his collection in darkness for nearly a century.

"It was a chance to get a fabulous print by one of the great Japanese printmakers," said Ms. Putney. She designated two as ideal prospects.

A few weeks later, Mr. Bacigalupi was up at 4:30 a.m., bidding at the London auction by telephone with the assistance of a Sotheby's agent.

The museum has a large collection of 20th-century Japanese woodblock prints, thanks to a Toledo entrepreneur who fell in love with them. In 1930 and again in 1936, the museum displayed two huge exhibitions of the prints. In 1939, Hubert Bennett, a civic leader and president of Toledo Scale Co., bought and donated an entire exhibition -- 393 pieces. Rain in May will be displayed in the upcoming show of Japanese woodblock portraits, Strong Women, Beautiful Men.

Other recent acquisitions include a pair of Chinese candlesticks dating to about 1765, a diamond and gold brooch from Holland, circa 1860, and a 1918 print by Max Beckmann.

Also acquired are a "Three-Quart Saucepan, Freeze, Cook, Serve Libbey Ware," from 1963 and many other utilitarian items made by Libbey Glass and Owens-Illinois, most dating to the 1930s.

Contact Tahree Lane at:

tlane@theblade.com

or 419-724-6075.



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