Cameos of Historic American Art Collections
The Reba and Dave Williams Collection of Prints
Reba and Dave Williams' collection of American prints numbers over 5,000, includes over 2,000 artists, and is thought to be the largest of its type in private ownership.
The collection emphasizes prints made by American artists between the World Wars, with particular concentration on work by artists employed by the U.S. Federal Government work relief programs of the 1930s-40s, such as the Works Progress Administration, the WPA. The collection also includes a large number of works by contemporary artists, for example, Jasper Johns, Frank Stella and Robert Rauschenberg. 19th Century prints are also represented, by artists such as Winslow Homer and members of clubs associated with the 1880s-90s "etching revival."
Special segments of the collection include a large group of color screenprints, a print-making technique that originated in the U.S. in the 1930s. A selection of screenprints from the Williams' collections toured museums throughout the world from 1987 to 1993. The Williams did extensive research into the origins and development of screenprinting. They authored two articles on this topic for Print Quarterly, the scholarly magazine of print study; these articles were the source for the catalogue they authored accompanying their "American Screenprints" exhibition.
Another selection of prints from their collection was circulated to museums by the American Federation of Arts. Called "Graphic Excursions, American Prints in Black and White, 1900-1950," this exhibit numbered 110 prints. And yet another group of prints from their collection has just completed a four year national tour, again organized by the American Federation of Arts. This exhibition was titled "Alone in a Crowd, Prints of the 1930s-40s by African-American Artists." "Alone in a Crowd" comprised 125 prints, many by artists who had received little or no public attention for 50 years. Other touring exhibits drawn from the Williams' collection have included prints with images of New York City, American sporting prints, and prints by Mexican artists.
The most distinguishing characteristic of the Williams' collection is its emphasis on breadth. All styles and movements of American art are reflected: Realism, Impressionism, "American Scene" - both the optimistic Regionalists of the Midwest and the socially-concerned and generally pessimistic urban artists - Surrealism, Expressionism, Abstraction, Abstract Expressionism (including prints by Jackson Pollock -- again, the Williams published their research on Pollock in Print Quarterly: "The Prints of Jackson Pollock," and the variety of styles pursued by today's artist printmakers. The collection is also an over one-hundred year visual American social history. It begins with the Civil War, reflects Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, early urbanization, the first World War, the Jazz Age and 1920s boom, the Depression, World War II - and the 1940s-50s change in American art that reflected more of the artist's own emotions and less of the outside world. There are many examples by recognized American master printmakers, such as John Sloan, George Bellows, Edward Hopper, Charles Sheeler, and Reginald Marsh. But the emphasis is on breadth: many different artists, much of whose work has dropped from critical and public attention. Through their collecting and exhibiting the work of these "lost" artists, the Williams have revived interest in and the reputations of many 1930s-40s American artists.
A new exhibition in preparation, scheduled to be shown at The New-York Historical Society starting in October, 1998, will be of 19th Century American prints. It, too, will feature little-known or remembered, "lost" artists of that period, as well as rare works by well-known artists, such as Edward Moran's Mountain of the Holy Cross and Winslow Homer's The Signal of Distress, perhaps the only extant copy of this print. The exhibit will also contain reproductive etchings-those made as copies of paintings, and a section dealing with New York City artists and print publishers.
Reba and Dave Williams are not content with merely acquiring and exhibiting prints. They are avid art history researchers and article writers. Reba White Williams, a Harvard M.B.A. and former securities analyst, attained her Ph.D. in Art History from City University of New York. Her dissertation was on the subject of New York City`s Weyhe Gallery, which was instrumental in promoting and publishing prints by American artists in the 1920s-30s. Ms. Williams has published numerous articles on American art and prints. She also serves as President of the New York City Art Commission and on the New York State Council on the Arts.
Most of the Williams' print collection is displayed on the office walls of Alliance Capital Management, an investment management firm of which Dave Williams is Chairman. Over 2,500 prints fill seven large office floors, in mid-town New York, making the Alliance Capital offices the largest "print museum" - in terms of the number of works on permanent display -- in America. Scholars and museums and other art-interested groups are regular visitors to the Alliance Capital offices for viewing and studying the Williams' print collection.
March 1998 - Courtesy of Georgia Museum of Art
For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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