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Over Life's Waters - The Coastal Art Collection of Charles and Irene Hamm

January 31 - April 12, 2015

For the past several decades, Charles and Irene Hamm have dedicated their time and resources to developing a renowned art collection focused on American coastal art. This winter, the Hamm's labor of love will be displayed at the New Britain Museum of American Art in the exhibition Over Life's Waters - The Coastal Art Collection of Charles and Irene Hamm on view from January 31 to April 12, 2015.

The exhibition consists of approximately 92 artistic works in a variety of media, spanning two centuries of American coastal art and featuring such noted artists as Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975), William J. Bradford (1823-1892), William Partridge Burpee (1846-1940), Sears Gallagher (1869-1955), Rockwell Kent (1882-1971), and Paul Pollaro (b. 1971). Visitors may recognize some familiar scenes, as the exhibition highlights several of the most inspirational destinations for artists, notably Monhegan and Mount Desert Islands in Maine and Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Each work in the collection and exhibition has been handpicked by Charles and Irene Hamm. When forming their coastal art collection, the couple decided they would collect works by American painters, alive or dead, in any medium, of any time, which attracted their eyes and emotions. Unlike most collectors who decide to focus on specific periods or styles, the Hamm's have embraced painters working from the early 19th century right through to the present day in an exceptionally wide variety of media and manners.

To state that the Hamm's have been passionate about the sea would be both accurate and revelatory. Charles was born in Brooklyn Heights, a stone's throw from New York's East River. Irene's life as a native Floridian was shaped by her proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. In his youth, Charles studied art, and one of his own paintings, Sunset at Home, 2006, appears in the exhibition. Together, the Hamm's have sailed along several continents and enjoyed owning a series of both sail and power boats. Their Connecticut residence on the Long Island Sound was designed to display their coastal art collection and maximize their views and feeling of connection to the water.

Over Life's Waters - The Coastal Art Collection of Charles and Irene Hamm at the Museum highlights the essence of the ocean and allows visitors to grasp the fundamental significance of coastal waters and how the Atlantic has shaped America. The Hamm's have generously gifted to the Museum their entire coastal art collection, consisting of 165 paintings and $1 million dollars to the Museum's Capital Campaign fund. The Charles and Irene Hamm Gallery will be constructed in a new 17,346 sq. ft. wing, set to open in the fall of 2015. Paintings from the Hamm Collection will also be installed throughout the galleries.

Museum Director, Douglas Hyland states, "We are honored that Charles and Irene Hamm are donating this collection because not only is it a comprehensive examination of coastal subjects, but the individual examples by some of the most accomplished artists of the 19th and 20th century are of exceptional quality." The Museum is extremely thankful to Charles and Irene Hamm for their generosity and thoughtfulness.

Collectors' Statement

We all know that "art" is in the eye of the beholder. For us, forming an art collection has also been demanding, opportunistic, and exciting. Irene and I decided our paintings would be by American painters, alive or dead, of American-related subjects, in any medium, of any time, and which of course attracted our eye and emotion. We chose works in which we believe there is a fine art regardless of whether the artist is generally considered first class. All artists make better and less good art. We have found that lesser-known artists can turn out great art and we love to include the work in our collection. We choose to think of our collection as American Coastal Art. Usually when the term "marine art" is used, it seems to lead to thinking of classical Luminists, historically significant subjects, ships and boat portraits, and "accurate" depictions of historical harbors. We hope to be about art first and foremost. It is all about beauty. We want each painting to add to the breadth of emotion, the sense of experiential being, of the collection. We have passed up excellent paintings when we felt that they represented too much duplication within our collection. As we age, it is nice to feel that this growing body of work continues to take us on a great cruise.
- Charles J. and Irene Hamm

Introductory Statement by Douglas Hyland

Charles and Irene Hamm were motivated to collect coastal subjects because of their deep appreciation for all aspects of life along our seashores. Charles was born in Brooklyn Heights, a stone's throw from the East River, and Irene's life as a native Floridian was influenced by her proximity to the Atlantic. Together, they have sailed several continents and have enjoyed owning a series of both sail and power boats on which they have cruised the New England and Northwest coasts for decades.
Beginning in the 1980s, the Hamms began to collect seriously and regularly visited museums, art galleries, artists, and auction houses. They came to appreciate a broad spectrum of artists from such iconic figures of nineteenth-century American art as Thomas Birch, Fitz Henry Lane, William J. Bradford, Rockwell Kent, and William Trost Richards to the commanding maritime artists of our day, Donald Demers, Christopher Blossom, Joseph McGurl, and Cindy House. While most are representative, the Hamms eclectic tastes run to such innovators as Paul Pollaro and Victor Elmaleh. There is even a charming illustration of Noah's Ark by Kinuko Y. Craft and a colorful sunset by Charles Hamm. Among my favorites, and each visitor will have his or her own, is Thomas Hart Benton's South Beach, Martha's Vineyard, c. 1920-21, which is an early, brilliant tribute to the island where he spent each summer. Of particular note is the homage to Cézanne in the form of a still life on the reverse.
But their collection is much more than a personal testament to their fondness for sailing and the water. It affords an opportunity to grasp the fundamental significance of coastal waters and also reveals the myriad ways in which the Atlantic Ocean has helped to shape our destiny as a country.
The New Britain Museum of American Art is most grateful for the gift of 157 paintings by 92 artists, which now will inspire our visitors for generations to come.
I urge you to visit the Museum's website and learn more about the programs in conjunction with this exhibition.
- Douglas Hyland, Director, New Britain Museum of American Art

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