Collecting On The Edge Of Art History
Exhibition and Publication Description
Over the last thirty years, the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art (NEHMA) has developed
one of most compelling collections of twentieth-century art created in the American
West to be found in any institutional setting. Following its unique collecting criteria,
NEHMA seeks out works representing movements that have been ignored by art history,
pieces by artists now forgotten or never given their due, and exceptional examples
of work by acknowledged twentieth-century masters.
A generous and timely gift by Nora Eccles Treadwell Harrison allowed the museum’s building to be constructed in 1982, and various members of the Eccles family have supported the growth of Utah State University since the late nineteenth century. Their multigenerational commitment to higher education and bringing culture to the region has made a significant impact. As a result, the NEHMA collection is composed of several different bodies of work with family names attached, including the Marie Eccles Caine Collection, the Kathryn C. Wanlass Collection, and the Nora Eccles Treadwell Harrison Ceramics Collection. However, it is George Wanlass, the nephew of Nora Eccles Treadwell Harrison, who has primarily guided and shaped museum acquisitions over the last thirty years. Such longevity and persistence of vision stands in stark contrast to the random development of most museum collections. Subject to tight acquisition budgets, the ebb and flow of gifts, and changing staff, trustees, and institutional direction, the typical collection lacks strategic continuity over time.
George Wanlass, a fourth-generation family member to support Utah State University and NEHMA, has vigorously pursued an approach to collecting based on a profound understanding of art and a savvy appreciation of market opportunities. Wanlass’s keen intelligence and curiosity often steer him toward what he doesn’t know or what has fallen by the wayside of art history. He approaches the art market with an understanding that the significance of a work is not tied to its immediate monetary value, but rather to its quality and the context in which it was created.
Trained in the history of modern Europe, with a resulting understanding of the evolution of culture, Wanlass acquires what he judges to be important, on the fringe of disappearing, or soon to be too expensive. An avid researcher, he loves to travel and enjoys meeting artists, their heirs and collectors, and others interested in their work. In essence, he has followed his curatorial vision more or less unimpeded for the last thirty years, chasing art at the boundaries of art history and acquiring it for the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art.
Brass and lacquer on wood, 54” x 54” x 8” (depth)
Marie Eccles Caine Foundation Gift
NEHMA organizes collection-based exhibitions on a regular basis, often assembling shows that challenge mainstream perceptions of twentieth-century American art in general and broaden our understanding of art made in the west, while serving as an educational resource for Utah State University. Associated programming also brings artists, curators, and scholars to Logan, Utah, for lectures, panels, and workshops. Work from the collection is consistently lent to museums throughout the United States and around the world. Deep holdings of regionalism, early modernism, transcendentalism, abstract expressionism, surrealism/postsurrealism, Dynaton, assemblage, funk, beat, abstract classicism, pop, realism, conceptualism, feminism, pattern & decoration, kinetic/sound, and isionary art define a significant portion of the 5,100 works in the collection.
The proposed Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art general survey exhibition and publication will feature one hundred and sixty of the most important works in the permanent collection. The 400-page catalog, containing essays by prominent scholars in the field, will be the first scholarly examination of the museum’s holdings. The exhibition and its accompanying publication are scheduled for the fall of 2017.
Untitled (S. 304), 1967
Hand-woven copper and brass wire, 253” x 36” x 116.125” (circumference)
Kathryn Caine Wanlass Foundation Gift