Twenty-five contemporary glass works from the Collection of Herbert and Jane Rozoff were recently given to Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass. The gift represents the largest contemporary glass gift to the museum at one time by a single donor.
Most museums do not have sufficient funds to purchase objects for their collections and rely on gifts to the collections by generous donors. Herb’s connection with this Wisconsin museum affords him an opportunity to visit his home state. He was born and raised in Milwaukee suburbs. For the past 20 years he has also sponsored scholarships for students enrolled in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communications, where Herb received his own degree following service in the Korean War.
Large donations founded the collections at Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass, particularly the paperweight domain, the Germanic Glass and the Art Glass collection that includes the Tiffany Glass owned by Evangeline Bergstrom.
The Collection of Herbert and Jane Rozoff contains works by many of today’s highly respected artists who work in glass: Dale Chihuly, Therman Statom, Stephen Rolfe Powell, Keke Cribbs, Toots Zynsky, Rick Beck, Danny Perkins, Jose Chardiet, Robin Grebe, Jay Musler, John Lewis and Richard Jolley, among others. Together, they tell a rich visual story of a life of travel, friendships, meeting artists, commissioning major work, and filling a home with a documented history of a life together.
This acquisition came to the museum as a surprise. It was through the suggestion of long-time museum friend, Louise Abrahams. Louise is also a major glass collector, who with her late husband Richard, accumulated a significant collection that was donated to the University of Michigan at Dearborn. Louise and Richard had been friends of Herbert and Jane for many years, and that friendship led to Louise connecting Herbert to Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass. Visits to see the collection that Louise and Richard built were often part of the selection process for museum exhibitions. Louise had generously lent many of her glass pieces to Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass. She visited the museum exhibitions or attended museum events many times over the years with the collecting group MCGAG (Midwest Contemporary Glass Art Group) with which she had long been associated.
It was this long association with Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass that brought Louise to suggest the museum as a potential recipient for this collection, as Herb was seeking a place to donate the entire group. He did not want to place the burden of finding a place for the glass on his children down the road. (Jane Rozoff passed away in 2016) The resulting decision is on view. Herb made the decision that his collection was going to a good home, based on the value Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass places on community educational programming and providing free access. The museum’s programming in glass, particularly for under-served audiences, and its willingness to take on contemporary issues that help the local community, reinforced his decision. The museum makes art accessible. For a person who spent his life in public relations, he felt that a small museum in a small community, taking on big issues was a tremendous asset with the potential for a tremendous story that needed telling. He would tell it through his gift.
On a trip out east, they made their first purchase of a work by Dale Chihuly that Jane liked very much. It was close enough to her birthday to make it a meaningful gift. Through glass art related travel and annual visits to SOFA Chicago, their association with glass, the friendships this cultivates and the excitement of sharing their stories further fueled their passion for glass collecting. They became familiar with the work of Therman Statom and found the bench they own by Statom while visiting Maureen Littleton’s Gallery exhibit at SOFA Chicago. Therman and Maureen came to Chicago to install the bench, and they all celebrated with champagne.
For museums, relationships like these with the collecting community form the meaningful connections that often fuel significant gifts in both object and financial form. These provide growth for the institutions not only for their collections, but the opportunity to expose broader audiences to new exciting work by artists they might not access on their own. Such is the case with the current museum exhibit, This Just In!
Such critical relationships have resulted in other recent acquisitions for Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass that are also part of the current works on view in the gallery.
Many glass collectors, and art collectors currently, are checking with family members for interest, while assessing their living situations to downsize. Bruce and Judy Bendoff have donated several glass pieces to Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass as a result of downsizing and the museum has benefited significantly. Bud and Libby Hoffman visited the museum to inquire about our collecting profile before they lent to an exhibition and as a result, gifted the works they lent. Chickee and Steve Rosen are new to this situation and have made a recent gift. Artist David Huchthausen has added work, as well. Gordon Park has been a paperweight and glass collector a significant friend to the museum for several years. He lent contemporary glass objects, and has gifted important paperweights annually from those already on view as a promised gift. A substantial paperweight gift from Les and Angie Smith was just accessioned this year and will be placed on view in fall.
Others have made long term plans, as well, that provide museums like Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass reliability for their future. Gary and Marge McClanahan have already made their decisions known to the museum through gifts of objects and substantial financial support.
Bonnie Marx, has been making some strategic decisions regarding her collection and has offered several objects to the museum over the years, with many more identified as promised gifts. Barry and Donna Rice decided to gift a few pieces to the museum this year, asked their children to select specific pieces, and have determined the rest should come to Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass.
This Just In! is the direct result of this phenomenon and the next phase following a direct appeal through the previous exhibition and symposium. In fall of 2017, Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass opened Searching for Excellence, an exhibition of 70 contemporary glass works lent by private collectors, who were asked about their long term plans for their collections. This was formed to bring to the surface these conversations that had been private, casual and exploratory. It opened with a two day symposium exploring the issue that would bring this conversation to the surface. The conversation was hosted by curatorial staff, collectors, gallery owners, and artists, as well as legal and financial advisors. Over 80 collectors attended and the conversation continues. The symposium was documented on video and editing is almost complete.
As other collectors grapple with the same decisions, significant works of art will be transferred to museums. The direction this takes, the choices made by collectors regarding their gifts and the ability of museums to handle the gifts sent their way are all part of this intriguing unfolding story.
Some collectors seek a prominent institution with a pedigree, while others have broadened their search.
Some have come to realize it is as important for the objects, as well as their legacy, for the object to be loved and seen, rather than in the holdings of a prominent institution that may or may never exhibit it.
These choices are forming the research of savvy collectors, and broadening the opportunities for smaller museums who are more likely to provide access if they can manage to store and care for an incoming collection. Collectors are also finding they have choices in making their gifts, and in some cases, define parameters for the institutions to consider.
These scenarios have yet to play out, as some museums might be willing to change their acquisition guidelines to accommodate a significant gift, and others will continue to be concerned about placing restrictions on retaining objects in the holdings or on display indefinitely, that might impeded future decisions for the institution and its next generation of leadership.
These are interesting times, and they present many opportunities for discussion and thought, as well as the possibility of the transfer of tremendous art to the public domain. This presents the best opportunity overall, for if the museum makes a decision to accept a gift, it is not usually a decision made lightly and the intention to keep, as well as care for the object over time is an important part of the consideration. The long term care is beginning to move into the discussion, as well as the costs that accompany care: staffing, research, storage, furniture, conservation, interpretation, etc. are significant expenses for museums to maintain that are often not understood. They are the silent expenses museums face that do not have the same cache as the gift of the object. Donors are beginning to recognize this need in order to protect their legacy, make the gift more appealing to the institution, as well as bearable. Museums exist for the public good and the expenses to uphold them continue beyond the donation of the object.
As is evident in this exploration in two exhibitions, the topic is broad and complex. Yet, it is a discussion surfacing around the country on every level, not just in the artistic circles, as a generation of those who accumulated things ages. For those who collected art and supported artists it is a time for reviewing the status of their collection with their heirs whose lifestyles are different, and accumulation of objects also fleeting. While these parents established meaningful relationships, attached sentiment, stories, and champagne toasts; or supported grateful artists trying to make a living; their children do not have those attachments to the objects they are in a position to inherit. It is sometimes a painful parting.
Museums stand to become the grateful recipients, demonstrated for Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass in This Just In!