Leatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle, leading collectors of decorative arts and founding members of the Mint's The Founders’ Circle, assembled renowned collection over 53 years
Mint Museum Uptown will present the exhibition Beyond Craft: Decorative Arts from the Leatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle Collection, organized by The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), from September 6, 2014 through February 22, 2015. The exhibition celebrates a remarkable group of 170 works of art — ceramics, fiber work, furniture, glass, jewelry, and works on paper — acquired by the MFAH in 2010. It will showcase 85 objects by 50 artists—including Olga de Amaral, Robert Arneson, Viola Frey, Sam Maloof, Richard Marquis, Albert Paley, Ken Price, Peter Voulkos, and Toshiko Takaezu—and highlight important studio objects made from the mid-1960s to the 2000s with a focus on the 1960s – 1980s, the collection’s great strength.
“The Mint’s world-renowned collection of contemporary craft is strong in late 20th-century work, and the Eagle collection provides an excellent survey of American studio craft from the preceding decades, providing our audience with the historical perspective,” said Dr. Kathleen V. Jameson, President & CEO of the Mint. “Moreover, Lee and Mel are inextricably tied to the advancement of craft and design at the Mint. They were early advocates of the Mint Museum of Craft + Design, and were instrumental in the creation of The Founders’ Circle, its national affiliate group. Passionate collectors and generous friends, they continue to support the museum’s collection development. We applaud the Eagles for their contributions to both the Mint and the MFAH.”
Works donated by the Eagles to the Mint in the past include an important group of seven ceramic vessels, c. 1900, by George E. Ohr, gifted as part of The Founders’ Circle inaugural gift to the Mint. “Ceramics are the heart and soul of Lee and Mel’s collecting, and their affinity for clay blurs boundaries of ‘fine’ and ‘decorative’ art. Across media, they have been trailblazers in recognizing the genius of makers such as Olga de Amaral, Ron Nagle, Bob Ebendorf, and Michael Cardew. And they continue to collect at the highest level, selectively, intentionally, inspiring us all,” said Annie Carlano, the Mint’s Senior Curator of Craft, Design, & Fashion.
The Eagles continue to help the Mint build a major collection of contemporary decorative arts. Most recently they gifted to the Mint a group of mid-20th century utilitarian forms by British potter Michael Cardew (1901-1983). “One of these is an extraordinary stoneware stool with incised abstract designs, and pulled straps, based on traditional Nigerian seating furniture. But it was made when Cardew was in the U.S. working with American studio potter Don Reitz, acclaimed artist and dear friend of the Eagles. Cardew is highly regarded – along with Bernard Leach and Hamada Shoji he helped revive British slipware traditions. For the Mint, and for North Carolina, Cardew is inextricably tied to our own ceramics history,” Carlano said, noting he was a teacher of Mark Hewitt, a potter who has been featured in the annual Potters Market Invitational events held at Mint Museum Randolph and will be again this year.
Special opening weekend activities and upcoming programs
As with previous special traveling exhibitions that have visited the Mint, special exhibition fees will be required to see Beyond Craft for non-members of the museum. Admission to Beyond Craft is always FREE to members of the Mint, and for adult non-members is $24 (which includes general admission to the permanent collections at both locations of the Mint). Holders of a Levine Center of the Arts pass, valid for general admission to all three Levine Center for the Arts museums, must pay an additional $12 fee to visit Beyond Craft. Admission fees include state sales tax. Members of the museum are invited to special members-only hours during opening weekend before the museum is open to the public: 10-11 a.m. on Saturday, September 6; and noon-1 p.m. on Sunday, September 7. For more information on becoming a museum member, visit mintmuseum.org/join or call 704.337.2034.
Beyond Craft opens on the same day as a 10-year tradition for ceramics enthusiasts at The Mint Museum, Potters Market Invitational (PMI), happening from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at Mint Museum Randolph on September 6. Presented by the Delhom Service League, the ceramics affiliate of the Mint, the event brings 50 North Carolina potters to sell their wares from a gigantic tent on the Randolph Road lawn, accompanied by demonstrations, food, live music, and more. Tickets to Potters Market Invitational are $10 and available for purchase at the door or at mintmuseum.org/happenings. And as a special value for Potters Market ticket holders this year, PMI attendees will also receive complimentary special exhibition admission during Beyond Craft’s opening weekend. Admission passes to Beyond Craft, valid for Saturday and Sunday September 6-7, will be distributed at the door during Potters Market Invitational.
Other special events will include free or reduced admission fees to Beyond Craft. On Wednesday, October 15, from 5-9 p.m., community access will be completely free during the Mint’s recurring monthly ArtFusion program which also features free educational offerings. And on Sunday, October 19 from 1-4 p.m., adult non-members pay $6 and everyone under 18 is admitted free to Beyond Craft as part of the recurring Sunday Fun Day series, which includes hands-on art activities.
On January 15, 2015, Wendell Castle, who is also represented in the Mint’s collection, will present a talk as part of the museum’s lecture series, CAD (Contemporary Architecture + Design). And on the weekend of February 6 – 8, 2015, the museum will host a panel discussion with the Eagles as well as artists represented in their collection, as part of a weekend-long celebration of the Eagles with support from The Founders’ Circle. See details of these and other events at mintmuseum.org /happenings.
Members of the media are invited to preview the exhibition at 10 a.m. on Thursday, September 4 at Mint Museum Uptown. Light breakfast will be served and interviews with curators will be available. RSVP to email@example.com by Wednesday, September 3 to attend. Media photography will be permitted and high-resolution images are available on request.
The Eagles’ Lifelong Commitment to Collecting
Leatrice and Melvin Eagle began by collecting works of clay in 1960 and the medium remains at the heart of their collection to this day. Lee’s early training as a ceramist led to a lifetime devotion to clay, a passion that Mel has shared with her over the years. As the couple became sophisticated observers of the field and their preferences took shape, they successfully assembled a museum-quality collection of ceramics, fiber art, furniture, jewelry and prints, paintings, and drawings. Their passion grew beyond living with objects to encompass a deep respect for art and artists, as well as a lifelong commitment to promoting and supporting their work through institutional and personal involvement.
Beginning with the 1973 establishment of Eagle Ceramics — a business that provided the resources to make and teach ceramics — the Eagles immersed themselves in the art community and began forming relationships with many prominent artists. From 1979 to 1983, Montgomery College, Eagle Ceramics, and the American Hand Gallery in Washington, D.C., collaborated to present a series of workshops, lectures, and exhibitions called “Making It in Clay.” These events enabled the Eagles to meet prominent artists and the couple started collecting their works in depth. Ralph Bacerra, Don Reitz, Adrian Saxe, and Michael Cardew have remained touchstones for the Eagles and lasting friendships with the artists resulted from these initial meetings. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the Eagles were inspired to acquire collection subsets in jewelry, fiber, and furniture and expand their significant holdings in West Coast ceramics, particularly those made in the 1960s and 1970s during the heyday of the Funk movement.
The heart of the Eagle Collection is ceramics, particularly works made by California-based artists, such as Peter Voulkos and his students John Mason, Ken Price, Paul Soldner, and Stephen de Staebler, who revolutionized the field by advocating a sculptural and abstract aesthetic rather than the functional forms that had previously predominated contemporary clay. The Funk Movement of the mid 1960s and 1970s is amply represented by important clay works by Robert Arneson, Clayton Bailey, Viola Frey, Michael Frimkess, David Gilhooly, Howard Kottler, and Marilyn Levine. Second-generation ceramic artists that further cemented California’s reputation as an incubator for innovation in the field, including Ralph Bacerra, Michael Lucero, Ron Nagle, and Adrian Saxe, are also featured. In addition, clay art by ceramists such as Rudy Autio, Jack Earl, Edward Eberle, Ken Ferguson, Wayne Higby, Don Reitz, Toshiko Takaezu, Robert Turner, and Betty Woodman provide an introduction to functional, narrative, and sculptural trends that were developed in other regions of America in the post-World War II period.
The Eagles collected selectively in other decorative arts media, homing in on artists whose innovations, aesthetics, and techniques established studio craft as a relevant and dynamic art form. Highlights include furniture by Wendell Castle and Sam Maloof, two of the most renowned American studio furniture-makers who are represented in the exhibition by early works from the 1960s and 1970s. Major abstract wall-hangings by the Colombian artist Olga de Amaral and American artists John McQueen and Cynthia Schira make up the fiber art in the collection. Jewelry and metalwork by Glenda Arentzen, William Harper, Eleanor Moty, Albert Paley, Earl Pardon, and Joyce J. Scott offer a view into the diverse work of pioneering American jewelry artists.
An aspect that sets the Eagle Collection and this exhibition apart from others is the presence of paintings on paper and prints by many of the artists, including Robert Arneson, Rudy Autio, Viola Frey, Richard Shaw, and Peter Voulkos. Adding this facet of these artists’ careers to the exhibition broadens the understanding of their aesthetic and creativity.
Beyond Craft is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue that includes a full list of the entire 170-piece collection. It features an essay by the distinguished scholar Janet Koplos on prevalent issues in the craft field during the 1960s-1980s and their intersection with contemporary art of that time as well as their relevance and legacy today. A general discussion of the Eagle Collection and its formation is authored by Cindi Strauss, curator of Modern and Contemporary Decorative Arts and Design, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Approximately 45 featured works from the collection have in-depth entries written by Susie J. Silbert and Cindi Strauss.
Beyond Craft: Decorative Arts from the Leatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle Collection is organized by The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and presented at The Mint Museum.
ABOUT THE MINT MUSEUM
The Mint Museum is a leading innovative museum of international art and design committed to engaging and inspiring all members of our global community. The Mint Museum opened in 1936 as the first art museum in North Carolina. Today, the Mint comprises two facilities, the historic Mint Museum Randolph and Mint Museum Uptown. The museum’s holdings are regarded as one of the premier collections in the nation, with approximately 35,000 objects. Opened in 2010, Mint Museum Uptown houses the internationally known craft and design collections, as well as outstanding collections of American and contemporary art. In addition, Mint Museum Uptown has over 10,000 square feet of special exhibition galleries. Highlights from the Mint’s Craft and Design Collection are installed in a series of galleries totaling over 5,000 square feet and organized by medium. These constitute a significant proportion of the museum’s programmatic focus. The Mint’s strengths include the Jane and Arthur Mason Collection of wood art; the Bresler Collection of American Quilts; two major collections of ceramics, the Marc and Diane Grainer Collection and the Allan Chasanoff Collection; a renowned collection of Czech glass; and a nationally-recognized collection of North Carolina pottery.
Located in the heart of Charlotte's burgeoning center city, Mint Museum Uptown is an integral part of the Levine Center for the Arts, a cultural campus that includes the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture, the Knight Theater, and the Duke Energy Center. Mint Museum Uptown also features a wide range of visitor amenities, including the 240-seat James B. Duke Auditorium, the Lewis Family Gallery, art studios, a restaurant, and a museum shop.
Located in what was the original branch of the United States Mint, Mint Museum Randolph opened in 1936 in Charlotte’s Eastover neighborhood. Today, in a beautiful park setting, intimate galleries invite visitors to engage with Art of the Ancient Americas, Decorative Arts, North Carolina Pottery, Fashion, European Art, and African Art, among other collections. Resources include a reference library with over 18,000 volumes, a theater featuring lectures and performances, and a museum shop offering merchandise that complements both the permanent collection and special exhibitions. For more information, visit mintmuseum.org.
ABOUT THE MFAH
Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is among the 10 largest art museums in the United States. Located in the heart of Houston’s Museum District, the MFAH comprises two gallery buildings, a sculpture garden, theater, two art schools, and two libraries, with two house museums, for American and European decorative arts, nearby. The encyclopedic collection of the MFAH numbers some 65,000 works and spans the art of antiquity to the present. For more information, visit www.mfah.org.
Olga de Amaral (Colombian, b. 1932). Tierra y Oro #2, 1986, fiber with gold leaf. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Leatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle Collection, gift of Leatrice and Melvin Eagle. 2012.520. © Olga de Amaral. Image © MFAH