Here’s what Toledo Museum’s Belonging and Community Engagement Director Rhonda Sewell said, in regard to the museum’s politically motivated DEAI plan, “What it’s saying is that now we are not only going to look at maybe one ethnicity or one race or one region for art history’s sake in our collection.”
The new museum administrators paint our museum as having been racist. Perhaps that is to justify the radical changes they are making, from the narrowing of the museum’s community focus, to the selling of our famous French Impressionist paintings, and now they report the reinstallation the American gallery in the narrow gallery at the back of the museum, moved from the large elegant American galleries of the west wing (that were endowed by the Barbers.) It seems that the museum founded by the Libbeys for all citizens of Toledo is being dismantled and transformed into something entirely different. My letter to Michael Bauer, CEO of Libbey, Inc. who is new this year to the Board of Directors of the Toledo Museum of Art.
March 21, 2023
Dear Mr. Bauer,
As a new board member of the Toledo Museum of Art, I thought you would be interested in my editorial about the Museum that was published in The Blade on Saturday. I’ve attached a clipping for your convenience.
I’ve written to all of the board members several times during last year, but my concerns have never been addressed. I have a website that is pretty detailed about the issues written about in my editorial. artistsoftoledo.com
It’s a shame that these issues need to be brought up. We used to have a wonderful museum that was beyond reproach. It served the entire community, not just a two-mile radius. The Libbeys would not have wanted that, and Mr. Libbey wouldn’t have wanted the paintings sold, diminishing the Museum’s great Impressionist collection to replace his endowment with a new endowment of equal amount, which circumvents the rules he set down for the use of the money and removes him from the picture. The money should have been used to buy art, or it should have been put back into the Libbey Endowment for new purchases of art as soon as possible. The art bought with that money should credit Libbey, not a new endowment.
Our museum had always been for everybody. But today, Adam Levine and Rhonda Sewell have made our museum divisive, using diversity as the excuse.
Rhonda Sewell was quoted in The Blade on October 1, 2022 in regard to the museum’s politically motivated DEAI plan, “What it’s saying is that now we are not only going to look at maybe one ethnicity or one race or one region for art history’s sake in our collection,” yet that is a blatant misrepresentation of the Museum, which has always been one of the most progressive community oriented museums in the country. Funny that the painting they use for promoting their American Art installation, which is by the black artist, Henry Ossawa Tanner, was acquired by the Museum in 1913. But they are quick to erase the Museum’s legacy to paint a false narrative that our Museum has never been diverse.
In response to a survey of museums made by Artnet titled the 2022 Burns Halperin Report, in which the Toledo Museum took part, I made my own survey of the art bought by just the Toledo Museum from 2017 to 2022. My survey is here, The Artists of Toledo Report. It shows an uncanny balance of the percentages of art acquired of American artists by race and sex relative to population percentages of race and sex. In my research of historic Toledo artists, almost all of whom have had a close relationship with the Museum, it shows a good percentage of notable black artists throughout the history of notable local artists, from Frederick Douglass Allen, born in 1886, an early art student of the Museum’s once-great art school who participated in eight Toledo Area Artists Exhibitions including the first one, to Carroll Simms and LeMaxie Glover in the 1940’s and 50’s who got their start at the Museum School of Design and were given scholarships to study at Cranbrook Academy of Art by a wealthy museum patron, Mrs. McKelvy (who donated her French Impressionist paintings in a specially female-curated collection she gave to the citizens of Toledo via the Museum, from which her Renoir was plucked and sold – so much for honoring women), to the “Black Artists of Toledo” exhibitions that the Museum had in the 1970s and 80’s, to the first black board member of the Museum in the 1990s. And that’s not to mention all of the diverse art collected by the Museum throughout the past century including the African collection that was started in the 1950’s, and especially all of the art acquired in the past 20 years, including art bought for the museum by the Apollo Society. I don’t see how anyone can fault our museum for not being diverse.
To now frame the Museum as having been white art only, and then to disenfranchise the community outside of a two-mile radius is terrible. The Museum should be expanding its reach, not shrinking it. Whereas the Museum for many decades educated 2,500 children from all over the city in a Saturday Class program for children who really wanted it, Adam Levine exploits our communal memory of that program by saying he is bursting “out of the walls” building art making stations for 18,000 residents of low-income housing developments and equipping them with art teachers. People still believe that the Museum has that wonderful Saturday children’s classes program, but today it is a mere sliver of what it once was. The Museum is living on a reputation that it can no longer live up to. The Museum’s school should have grown, not shrunk. Here’s my proposal for how the Museum can start to rebuild the school — and do outreach at the same time.
If you think it’s fair to the citizens of Toledo to have taken that away from the general public and funnel most of the Museum’s educational efforts into a government housing project, I’d really like to know your reasoning. If the children’s Saturday class program had not been available to me growing up, I would not be the artist I am today, and that goes for a lot of Toledo artists. I lived five miles away from the Museum and attended Toledo public schools. I went to the Saturday classes for all the years that it was open for me. It helped me have a successful artistic career in New York. I have work in the Art Institute of Chicago, and I have the Toledo Museum to thank. But now that opportunity has been taken away from most of the youth of Toledo.
Thank you for your time. I’d love to hear back from you.
Marcy Kaptur is right. This country is run by wealthy people on the East Coast and West Coast, and they don’t relate to the vast working-class people of the Midwest. Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo, who holds the record for being the longest-serving woman in Congressional history, said the floor of Congress had always been lively with debates on the issues, but now it’s just a theater playing to the media.
You might think Ms. Kaptur was talking about the Toledo Museum of Art.
The 2022 Burns Halperin Report
The 2022 Burns Halperin Report is a survey which illustrates an extreme lack of diversity among 31 American museums, specifically, art made by Black Americans and women. The Toledo Museum participated in the survey. The survey mentioned only a couple of East Coast and West Coast museums doing a good job adding diversity to their new collections. Although the Toledo Museum of Art has a good record, it was not mentioned.
The Artists of Toledo Report
The Artists of Toledo Report is a survey of the artists whose art was acquired by the Toledo Museum of Art between 2017 and 2022. The survey shows that the Toledo Museum of Art has been almost completely balanced regarding the diversity of the artists whose work was collected during the past six years, except for a 30% imbalance between non-American women and non-American men.
Just passing through…
Mr. Levine has laid out a road map for the museum to become what he calls the “model museum in the United States,” one whose collection reflects the demographic makeup of the country, and where people feel “a sense of comfort and psychological safety in every interaction with the institution’s brand on-site and off-site,” as he put it. Itʼs About Time.ʼ Museums Make Bids for Their Communities. New York Times, May 21, 2021
The Toledo Museum has never had to try so hard to be a “model museum,” the museum has democratically served the entire community since 1901. However, certain new museum directors passing through on their upwardly mobile path in the museum world have stripped our museum of its democracy. The current director, Adam Levine, is from New York. He plays to the East Coast and West Coast media with disingenuous rhetoric, seeking publicity by exploiting the diversity issue.
Never mind that the museum’s revered public art education program and local artist shows that went on for nearly 100 years have been eliminated.
The Big Middle
The Toledo Museum of Art is in Marcy Kaptur’s district. Like Marcy Kaptur, the museum has a solid progressive democratic foundation that serves the working-class. The Toledo Museum of Art used to have a formidable public art education program. It had a local artist exhibition tradition unlike any other museum in the country. The educational program and the local art shows served multiple generations of Toledoans. These are the roots of the museum, through which the collecting of diverse art has evolved naturally.
Frederick Douglass Allen, born in 1886, is the earliest recognized black artist in Toledo. He was one of the first students of the museum’s public art classes. He showed in the first annual Toledo Area Artists Exhibition, and seven subsequent annual shows at the Toledo Museum of Art. I spoke to the Warren AME Church, where Frederick Douglass Allen was a member, about any history they knew of blacks and the Toledo artist community. I learned that the early black community had more urgent priorities to deal with when they migrated to Toledo, so the artist Frederick Douglass Allen was ahead of his time.
As for women, Nina Spalding Stevens, wife of the 1903–1926 museum director, George W. Stevens, served as the associate director of the museum. She also created the educational program. If there has ever been a bias against blacks and women at the museum, it would be difficult to find. The art classes and shows provided a level playing field for a diverse community of artists. Many scholarship recipients were blacks and women. The local solo shows have always been diverse. In the 1970’s the museum hosted two group shows for the “Black Artists of Toledo.”
In the 1990’s, with the first black Trustee appointed to the Toledo Museum of Art Board of Directors, an initiative was begun to add more diversity to the collection. To understand the museum’s collection of “diverse art,” one must first understand that “diverse art” is made by contemporary artists, and the Toledo Museum of Art barely collected contemporary art until the 1960’s. Today the museum board itself is quite diverse, with a track record for adding diversity to the museum’s acquisitions.
Beauty without bias
“The superpower that an art museum has is when something goes up on the wall, it’s considered good. We set the canon.” Adam Levine quoted in Forbes, ‘Beauty Without Bias’ At The Toledo Museum Of Art, Feb. 28, 2022
In his arrogance, Adam Levine claims that museums are in the unique position to put anything on their walls and call it art, and because it’s in a museum it is considered good. How odd for the Toledo Museum director to suggest that collecting art at our fine museum could be turned into a political anthropology experiment. The connoisseurship of our curators is what has grown our collection. Our museum is about great art — not politics. It’s about skilled curation, and then letting people decide for themselves what they like. That Adam Levine brought in a Branding Department to redefine our museum, after ripping out the democratic soul of the local community from the museum, using diversity to attract the attention of other museums (and grant foundations), is such a conceit. How ironic that, with such a record for collecting diverse art in the past six years, our museum didn’t get even as much as a peep in the 2022 Burns Halperin Report. But then we are in the Big Middle, and nothing can take the museum out of it, so Adam Levine might as well be content with making our museum functional again for our own large Midwest community, as unexciting for him as that might be.
Cannibalizing our museum
The biggest hoax on the community was Adam Levine selling our historic French Impressionist paintings while quoting Edward Drummond Libbey, “let the multitudinous array of the mediocre be relegated to the past and in its place be found the highest quality, the best examples and the recognition of only those thoughts which will stand for all time,” as if Libbey would approve of the selling of our major Cezanne, Matisse and Renoir paintings. Adam Levine claimed that the sale was for “diversity,” when over the past six years, the museum has meticulously added an equitable ratio of Black Americans to Women to Other American artists acquired by the museum. He lied about data. He betrayed a peer museum in Chicago by reneging on a loan of our Cezanne painting for their show. He lied about the quality of the paintings being sold, and the intentions of the museum. Two paintings were sold to the same buyer for $59 million! Eight months later the Toledo Museum of Art does not have one artwork purchased with that money to show for it.
Impressionism speaking for our community
It is sad to see the museum’s French Impressionist paintings commercialized at the brand-new Lucas County Glass City Convention Center — including our only remaining Cezanne, Avenue at Chantilly,which is featured as anonymous wallpaper framing a multi-level staircase. This is the painting that was promised to the Chicago Cezanne Exhibition. Obviously, the museum and the Lucas County government believe that Impressionism speaks for our community. They are also using an uncredited Van Gogh for their two-story escalator alcove and a uncredited Monet on a large vinyl mural to decorate the second floor hallway. According to The Blade’s news story on the new Public Art, the convention center is “showcasing the museum’s collection.” Yet just eight months ago, the museum sold three original paintings from their small and valuable Impressionist collection that people came from near and far to see. That Adam Levine chose these paintings for the convention center, out of 30,000 possible choices, right after the unpopular and controversial deaccession of the Impressionist paintings, shows a frightening lack of honesty, integrity, vision, sensitivity and leadership.
Pass the remote, please
Recently, a new communications manager was hired at the museum who lives in Lansing Michigan. Her message to the people of Toledo was that Toledoans want to see themselves on the walls. The irony of an out-of-towner telling Toledoans what they want to see at the museum! The museum has a new department — Branding — and the director of the Branding department lives in Colorado. The Curator of Antiquities, Carlos Picon, is an art dealer in New York. (no kidding!) The African Art Curator, Lenisa Kitchiner, is the Chief of African and Middle Eastern Division at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. Why is our museum director turning the controls over to the East Coast and the West?
We can be thankful to Marcy Kaptur for working so devotedly for our Midwest community for the past 41 years. We are extremely lucky to have her fighting for us in Congress for all these decades. The Toledo Museum of Art has had seven directors during those 41 years. (If only we could have cloned Otto Wittmann, the museum’s fourth director, who grew the museum for 30 years.)
Marcy Kaptur is the real deal. With Marcy Kaptur, as with the Toledo Museum of Art, you won’t know what you are missing until it is gone.
Another “real deal” is Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones, mayor of Toledo 1897-1904, whose house stood where the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle stands today, and who inspired Marcy Kaptur so much that she wrote her college thesis on him. See my post from 2021 to put into perspective the progressive beginnings and democratic legacy of the Toledo Museum of Art: Whitlock, Jones and June Boyd
Remember when The Toledo Museum of Art sold our three famous French Impressionist paintings for 67 million dollars – Adam Levine claiming it was to buy diverse art, because their data showed a lack of diversity? “A collections audit indicated the greatest imbalances exist across gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, nationality and geography, and material/medium.” Remember when Adam Levine told us that the museum never meant to have multiple works by any one artist, and that our Cezanne, Renoir and Matisse paintings were no good? Quoting Edward Drummond Libbey, he said, “Let the multitudinous array of the mediocre be relegated to the past and in its place be found the highest quality, the best examples and the recognition of only those thoughts which will stand for all time.”
I thought it was BS then, but last week it really hit home, when the 2022 Burns Halperin Report was published, which highlighted an extreme lack of diversity among museums as a result of a survey of 31 American art museums. The Toledo Museum of Art was one of them.
The stats revealed by the 2022 Burns Halperin Report were stunning and shocking, but it just didn’t ring true in regard to our museum, so over the weekend, I did my own little survey, with data that I collected from the Toledo Museum of Art’s public online collections database.
The purpose of my survey is to compare our percentages to the percentages of the survey of the Burns Halperin Report, because The Toledo Museum of Art took part in the survey as one of the 31 American art museums whose art acquisition data was examined.
The Artists of Toledo Report:
A breakdown of the race and sex and nationality of the artists whose works were acquired by The Toledo Museum of Art during the years 2017–2022 in the categories of painting, photography, ceramics, glass, sculpture, prints, drawings, metals and textiles, a total of 204 artists.
The Artists of Toledo Report Findings:
37.5% Women 62.5% Men
57% American 43% Rest of World
28% American Women 30% American Men
14% Black American 4% Native American 40% Other Americans
For comparison, the 2022 Burns Halperin Report:
These are the basic differences between the methodology of the 2022 Burns Halperin Report and the Artists of Toledo Report:
The Burns Halperin Report surveyed each of the 339,969 works acquired by 31 museums from 2008 to 2020, whereas, for simplicity, I surveyed the 204 artists themselves who had work acquired between 2017 through 2022, at only one of the surveyed museums – The Toledo Museum of Art.
The Toledo Museum of Art added one or more works made by the 204 artists between 2017 and 2022. I counted the artists, I did not count the number of works added. (Perhaps there were 300 to 500 works, as there were multiple works from some of the 204 artists. It is easily verified on the online database and in museum annual reports. I thought it was the artists themselves who were important for my report.)
The 2022 Burns Halperin Report differentiated Black Americans from all artists.
I differentiated Americans from the Rest of World artists and compared Black Americans to the out-group “Other Americans” (Caucasian, Japanese-American, Chinese-American, Vietnamese-American, Iraqi American, etc.) I added Native Americans in consideration of this under-represented group that is doing better. Not having a breakdown for rest of the world group, for which Toledo consisted of 43% of all artists, may have skewed the perceived U.S. population race ratios of the Burns Halperin Report, but even so, how different the two reports look! Black Americans compared to Other Americans appear to be well-represented at the Toledo Museum of Art, where it is gender equity that appears to be needed the most.
The fact is, The Toledo Museum of Art is racially diverse,
but lacks gender equity.
The Toledo Museum of Art still has nothing to show for the sale of our Matisse, Renoir and Cezanne paintings. What happened to that money, and what financial institutions are profiting from it? That money should have gone back into the Libbey Endowment to be used for art. What deals were made to motivate our museum to renege on Toledo’s commitment to the Cezanne Exhibition in Chicago, that made Adam Levine sell our Cezanne the very week of the opening of the Cezanne show? Our painting was supposed to be in that show – it appears full-page in the Exhibition catalog! Our museum, seven months later, has added no new artwork with the proceeds of that urgent sale.
So many lies to the community. The Toledo Museum of Art took advantage of the politics, and pulled the wool over the people who live in Toledo. Not cool.
The rise and fall of a once-great museum
As for women, the museum has hurt the women of the community by taking away the two things that gave women equality – adult art classes and local artist shows at the museum. There is no disconnect between “local art” and “museum art” — I found that one artist of Toledo (Jack Schmidt) and one artist from Toledo (Joseph Kosuth) had been collected by the museum during the past six years. They are both men, but if we were to go back a few years, we would find Toledo women among the Toledo Museum of Art’s new acquisitions. Among them are Edith Franklin and Leslie Adams, both with multiple works in the museum’s collection.
Each one of these Toledo artists owes their beginnings to the late, great programs of the Toledo Museum of Art. Jack Schmidt, glass artist, was born in Toledo and learned his craft from Dominick Labino. If it had not been for the Toledo Museum of Art School of Design, there would not have been the historic Studio Glass Workshop in 1962, during which Dominick Labino formulated a way for individual artists to work in glass. Imagine that. Today, glass is the largest category of art collected by the museum, complete with its own world-class building.
Edith Franklin, born 100 years ago, who I wrote about this month, is a prime example of an artist who benefited from the museum’s classes (from age 10 to age 65) and the vibrant local art shows the museum has since done away with. But at least we have Edith’s work in the museum to remember that by.
Leslie Adams is also a product of the museum classes and local art shows. She was in multiple Toledo Area Artist Exhibitions before they were eliminated, culminating in her own one-person show at the Toledo Museum of Art in 2013.
Joseph Kosuth benefited from the museum’s free Saturday children’s art classes. Then, after studying at the Cleveland Institute College of Art, he left Ohio and never came back. His work has been acquired by top museums including the the Museum of Modern Art very early-on in his career. The Toledo Museum is lucky to finally own two works by Joseph Kosuth, acquired in 2018 and 2019.
I myself have benefited greatly by being able to take the museum classes, which I took from age 10 through my third year of college. I went on to have a successful photography career in New York. I have work in the Chicago Institute of Art and other museums. I helped Adam Weinberg (who is now director of the Whitney Museum of American Art) set up the first photography darkroom underneath the Peristyle when he was a Fellow at the Toledo Museum in the late 1970’s, and I was the first photography teacher of the free Saturday museum classes in 1979. Without the educational opportunities I had at the museum, I know my life would have been profoundly different.
Perhaps it was the democratic enrichments that the museum gave to the community in the past that have made the Artists of Toledo pie chart look more balanced than the Burns Halperin Report. So, most museums are not like the Toledo Museum of Art? We knew that. But it is odd now, that the Toledo museum has inwardly stripped the community of these great resources, while outwardly, striving for diversity as a “brand.” Fairness came so naturally to the Toledo Museum of Art in the past. But now, with the school gone, and the shows gone, within that vacuum they have hired a large staff to oversee diversity. I can only assume there must be a lot of grant money for that.
The Toledo Museum of Art was apparently a very unique museum. It did indeed have such a great reputation that in 1946, it attracted the great Otto Wittmann, who came to Toledo and became its director because it had such a great education department and community involvement. He grew the museum’s collection for 30 years, all that time with the classes and the local art shows going strong.
The Toledo Museum of Art should bring back classes for adults and children and reinstate the local artist shows. This would help with gender equity, both within the Toledo community and within the larger world. It would help artists in our community reach their potential, if anyone cares.
We’d like to have adult and children’s art classes back.
I hope this proposal helps.
Hire four teachers full-time. They teach one or two adult art classes four days a week at the Toledo Museum of Art School of Design. The adult classes are ceramics, metals, painting, printmaking, and life drawing. In the afternoons, the teachers go out in the field to the assigned remote art stations that the museum has set up for Owens Corning and Promedica in the federally funded housing projects for the “Art Out of School” program, part of the DEAI plan. The teachers have Monday off, but work a full day on Saturday for the Free Children’s Saturday Classes that the museum brings back.
The salary for the teachers would start out at $52,000, plus the full package of benefits that the museum administrators and special employees receive — 25 Days of Paid Time Off Annually, Birthday Paid Day Off, Medical, Dental, & Vision Insurance, 403b Retirement Savings Plan, Short-Term Disability, Long-Term Disability, Term Life and AD&D Insurance Plans (especially important for teachers working in the field), Paid Parental Leave, Pet Insurance, Employee Assistance Plan, Museum Family Membership, Employee Discounts in the Museum Store, Café, Studio Art Classes, & of course the unspoken preferential opportunities for exhibiting their own art at the museum.
All recipients of museum fellowships are required to teach a class. Just one class that includes the entire community’s involvement, since the museum strives to include the community. Which is exactly how it was done before the original Toledo Museum of Art School of Design classes were eliminated. If it was good enough for Adam Weinberg, who is now the director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, who in the late 1970’s was a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow at the Toledo Museum of Art, and who set up the children’s photo classes, it’s good enough for the Toledo Museum of Art fellowship grant recipients today.
Perhaps the full cost would be $500,000 annually to administer, considering the extra guards and maintenance workers needed, to augment the modest tuition that could be charged.
The restored Toledo Museum of Art School of Design would be supported by Owens Corning, Promedica, Key Bank, The Andersons, Fifth Third Bank, Dana Corporation, Libbey Glass, Hickory Farms, Mercy Health, Ernst & Young, Toledo Trust, Buckeye CableSystem, National Endowment for the Arts, Ohio Arts Council, The Greater Toledo Community Foundation, as well as the Libbey Endowment and other endowment funds.
It would be a way for the troubled Toledo Museum of Art to get back to its roots, to recapture our culture, and give back to the community. The museum has always been inclusive and fair to everyone – it should not discriminate against anyone today. It should spend its money on education that is fair for everyone, and stop spending money on relentless data-analyzing and profiling our community.
It doesn’t make Owens Corning and Promedica look good, who are the benefactors of the Art Out of School program, when the teachers are expected to work freelance, at near minimum wage, without benefits, outside the museum walls in federally funded housing projects. The teachers are expected to work for practically nothing. They are expected to put their lives at risk, while the other museum employees get all sorts of benefits and are surrounded by museum guards. Restoring the Toledo Museum of Art School of Design would take care of that, and make it fair for everyone.
“Art Out of School brings world-class programming from the Toledo Museum of Art to people in surrounding areas. Programs such as this align with Owens Corning Foundation’s aim to empower people in the community,” said Don Rettig, president of the Owens Corning Foundation.
That’s wonderful to help this small community, but not at the disenfranchisement of rest of the community. Children and adults outside of this very specific group of people are not included. What is worse is that the public art programs that formed the fiber of our large, democratic community have been eliminated, such as the free children’s Saturday classes that were for children from all walks of life, along with a robust adult art class program, and the very special century-old May Show that brought together the entire Toledo area art community, a local art show encompassing 17 counties.
The museum’s way of inclusion in 2022 is to alienate their beloved larger community by selling famous French Impressionist paintings, as if subtracting great art makes them more diverse. They do this after greatly reducing classes and killing the community art shows (which fairly represented women and men.) Then they raise the museum parking fee by over 40%, and this is to help with inclusion?
The museum is erasing the past and rewriting history. The public is supposed to believe that the Toledo Museum of Art has not been fair to minorities. Two highly paid administrators are hired to oversee the issue. Their focus is on racial equity, not gender equity. Yet the female half of the population has been marginalized by the art world, and most recently and quite vividly by the Toledo Museum of Art with the elimination of classes and shows that offered women fair and equal opportunities. Amidst the museum’s hypocrisy, countless Museum Fellows are added to the “diversity” mission. A new “Branding” department is created with an extensive P.R. staff, fully employed with extensive benefits. They focus their education efforts on a small minority in public housing projects and expect teachers (mostly women) to work freelance without health insurance! This is how the museum “helps” the community instead of buying art and reinstating its legacy art education program for the benefit of the entire community.
Our progressive founders, Edward Drummond Libbey and Florence Scott Libbey, would want their money back.
The following are pages from the Toledo Museum of Art’s archives regarding the museum’s free children’s Saturday art classes that benefited 2,500 children every Saturday during the school year for nearly a century:
Remembering Edith Franklin on the 100th anniversary
of her birth, December 2, 2022.
Can you feel it – Edith Franklin is in the air. No wonder, it’s her Centennial.
I met Edith early on when I was building this website about the historical artists of Toledo. At the age of 87, she was majorly downsizing, selling her house and her collections. She asked me to help organize her papers to give to the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections at the Carlson Library of the University of Toledo. We worked on it for almost a year. Here she is donating her papers, shown with the Canaday’s archivist and director, Barbara Floyd (incidentally, who is also the author of The Glass City):
Edith Franklin was quite active. On any given night, she’d be out. She maintained that lifestyle until the week before she died in hospice, three months short of her 90th birthday.
Brian Kennedy, the ninth director of the Toledo Museum of Art, gave a eulogy at Edith Franklin’s Memorial Service on September 2, 2012. He described her as a “delightful chirpy smiling diminutive lady with big eyeglasses and a beautiful necklace who never missed a party.”
“As Director of the museum she loved, where she had studied and taught, which she visited so often, and where in 1962 she participated in the historic first Toledo Glass Workshop, Edith cared deeply that Toledo has a great art museum. After all, Edith had been the very first female artist to receive a solo show at the museum, back in 1958.”
Edith and the Museum
Director Kennedy’s description of Edith in his eulogy was colorful, and she did care very much that Toledo had a great museum, but Edith Franklin was not the first female artist to receive a solo show at the Toledo Museum of Art – not by a long shot. Born in 1922, Edith was a third-generation artist of the once-flourishing and inclusive museum artist community. Seventy women before Edith received local artist solo shows at the museum, starting with Isabel Kuhlman in 1933. (All the local artist shows – 540 local artists from all walks of life – are a thing of the past. See a complete list of the local artist museum solo shows here along with the current museum director’s unfulfilled promise to bring them back.)
Growing up in Toledo and benefiting from the Toledo Museum of Art free children’s Saturday Classes, Edith’s love of clay developed at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School during WWII in 1943-44. That’s not all that developed in Boston, as she returned to Toledo in 1945 with her new husband who had served in the Navy. By 1947, they had two children.
Edith took pottery classes at the Toledo Museum of Art School of Design for 41 years, from 1945 to 1986. These classes, at a world-renown museum, connected her to the world of pottery, where she got to know the greats. (She couldn’t do that today! Pottery classes for adults have been eliminated. The adult artist community is no longer welcome at the museum – which is quite ironic, since the museum has a new so-called community “Belonging” department with a special director.)
Edith showed her work in nearly every annual Toledo Area Artists Exhibition from 1952 to 1982, and won the Purchase Award in 1982. (Not to digress again, but what a shallow new museum director Brian Kennedy was, to have known Edith so well, and to have seen how her history with the museum so perfectly exemplified the beneficial symbiotic relationship between the museum and the local art community, but then to have killed the nearly 100-year old Toledo Area Artists Exhibition just two years after Edith was gone.)
Edith incorporated text into her work. Her grandson said that what he learned from her was to take risks, to not fear failing, and to speak truth to power. “Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?”
Many of Edith Franklin’s works revolve around the word “Love.”
Edith Franklin was experimental and influenced by what was going on. In a 2000 interview, Edith said,
The artwork since 1948 keeps getting better, it is growing. A lot of that is due to people like Harvey Littleton, who taught at the museum, as well as Hal Lotterman, Dan Woodward, and Hal Hasselschwert. They helped break us out of the ‘red barn’ and ‘sailboat’ mold. People like Harvey talked about ideas that questioned the essence of art and what we were supposed to do with it. The fifties were marked by mentors like these.
In this photo, taken at her 1958 solo show at the Toledo Museum of Art, (on the walls are paintings by Clay Walker), Edith sits next to her double-spouted vessel. It looks like the paintings. Perhaps she was influenced by the work of Toshiko Takaezu, an abstract-expressionist ceramic artist from Hawaii who was Edith’s exact same age. Ms. Takaezu, in the 1950’s, was a teaching assistant at Cranbrook, the esteemed art academy north of Detroit with close peer connections to the artists in Toledo, including Harvey Littleton, Carroll Sims, Clyde Burt and LeMaxie Glover, all clay artists. Edith’s piece, titled Patio Pot, acquired by the Toledo Museum of Art in 2016, could have been inspired by the double-spouted vases Toshiko Takaezu was making at the time. Or perhaps it was the other way around.
Edith and some of her distinctive work, photographed in 2010:
Edith and the 1962 Toledo studio Glass Workshop
The birth of the studio glass movement
Edith’s glass pieces from the first glass workshop in March 1962, acquired by the Toledo Museum of Art in 2011:
Edith and the 577 Foundation
One of Edith’s favorite stories was how she got her first job at the age of 65. Here is the long and the short of it, as she tells it, first to Barbara Floyd, and then at her 88th birthday party and launch of her new scholarship fund:
Edith at her 88th birthday party and fundraiser event to kick off the new Edith Franklin Youth Scholarship Fund. 150 friends and art supporters were present, including Herral Long, Marty Reichenthal and Joyce Perrin shown in these two photos. What an arty gang! R.I.P., arty gang.
Edith built her own kiln
brick by brick, rivet by rivet
She wanted to give back – and so she has.
Edith was a great potter who attributed her success to having luck. She was in the right place at the right time, and she seized the day.
Good luck to all of the Edith Franklin Scholarship recipients. I hope they find a supportive, engaging community to live in so that they can be lucky, too. It’s not so great in Toledo anymore, I’m sorry to say – because all the valuable opportunities local artists once had have been taken away. No free museum classes for public school children, no solo shows for local artists, no annual art exhibitions for the community of artists, no adult classes in a museum-centered school where monumental artistic advancements can be developed, such as the birth of the studio glass movement in 1962, which helped the Toledo Museum of Art just as much as it helped the participants and glass artists. The soul of the community has been swept out of the museum, and with it, all of the potential greatness.
Those who happen to live in federally funded housing projects within two miles of the museum are in luck, however. The museum got millions of dollars from Owens Corning and Promedica for installing on-site art-making studios, complete with on-site classes taught by art museum instructors, in ten housing projects. They tout that it serves 18,000 people. I wonder how many are artists. I’m happy for the few artists who qualify, but unfortunately for most of Toledo’s children and adults, since 94% of the population of Toledo does not live in federally funded housing projects, 94% percent of the community is out of luck. If it had not been for the museum classes and shows that were available to the entire Toledo area community throughout the twentieth century, the opportunity for Edith, who lived in Ottawa Hills, to give back with her Edith Franklin Youth Scholarship Fund would have been lost.
I guess that’s why they call it the Greatest Generation – it was before the museum cut us off. Here’s to Edith Franklin, born 100 years ago today. Keep her in your memory, there is much to learn from her.
Toledo Museum’s new culture of belonging does not mean they can keep looted belongings of another culture.
For a museum that vies to be a forward-thinking museum desiring to set an example for all other museums to follow, why hasn’t the Toledo Museum of Art returned the stolen Benin Bronze to Nigeria yet? It was stolen in 1897, so they’ve had plenty of time! If they want to set the example then they’ve missed the boat, since Benin Bronzes are already being returned by U.S. museums, including the Smithsonian, The Met and Boston.
It was stolen by British colonial troops who invaded Benin City in 1897. It was then sold to General Pitt Rivers, a collector, who started a museum with his new collection of looted art.
For an overview on looted art, see Hyperallergic’s October 4, 2022 story, John Oliver Roasts Western Museums in Episode on Looted Artregarding “subjects like hesitant repatriation, antiquities looting, and the shady acquisition practices of auction … citing grisly colonial histories and contemporary looting schemes.” View the highly entertaining youtube link where you can watch the entire 30-minute episodehere.
Toledo’s Benin Bronze came from the Pitt-Rivers Museum in 1958, right before the museum closed. This museum was General Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt-River’s personal museum at Farnham, Dorset, England bearing the same name as the museum started at Oxford University with his earlier bequeathed collection.
Toledo’s Benin Bronze was featured in multiple African Art catalogs published by the Toledo museum in 1959, 1973 and 1998. But it’s not on display. Why not? Is it because it is so shameful to have this object, but Adam Levine can’t “pull the trigger” (as he so colorfully described his divestment of the museum’s three great French Impressionist paintings last spring for $54 million) to shoot this object back to Africa?
With Lenisa Kitchiner as the Toledo Museum of Art’s African art consulting curator, who also works full-time for the Smithsonian, an institution that is sending theirs back, it seems odd that Toledo’s Benin Bronze is in limbo — it’s not on display, but it’s not on a plane going back.
The museum says one thing but does another.
Just this summer, in the Blade’s 7-26-22 Toledo Museum of Art helps bring stolen antiquities back to owners, in regard to four objects looted from Italy in the museum’s collection, the museum told us that “the process of sending artwork to its home country and leaving the museum’s collection, or repatriation and deaccessioning, is integral to what the museum stands for.”
“The museum has a long history of helping in repatriation processes like these, including an Etruscan water jug caught up in an international trafficking scheme that was returned to Italian authorities in 2013 and a scientific instrument called an astrolabium, determined to have been stolen from Germany during World War II, that was returned to the German government in 2015.”
The 2013 repatriation of the Italian water jug
The Etruscan water jug, or kalpis, was sold to the museum for $90,000 in 1982 by Gianfranco and Rosie Becchina, who got it from the infamous Giacomo Medici. You can read about Becchina and Medici in the book, Chasing Aphrodite, an exposé of the antiquity looting at The Getty written by the journalists who had reported on it for the L.A. Times. In fact, this book describes the finding of Medici’s polaroids in 1995, one of which shows this very kalpis still covered in dirt from a recent illicit excavation. It wasn’t until 2012, the day that USA v. One Etruscan Black-Figured Kalpis, circa 510-500 BC, case No. 3:12-cv-1582 appeared online, that the Toledo Museum decided to do what they “stand for,” and send the looted antiquity back to Italy.*
Denying any other looted art in the museum besides the Nereid Sweetmeat Stand which was stolen from the Dresden museum during World War II, bought by the Toledo museum in 1956, and returned to Dresden in 2011, Director Brian Kennedy questioned, should there be an end-date to repatriations? It was his second, but he would oversee a lot more between 2015 and 2019. One was another 1982 acquisition of an Italian drinking vessel obtained from the same looters of this kalpis, Becchina and Medici.*
About the Subhash Kapoor-looted Asian antiquities
The Ganesh was stolen from the Sivan Temple in Tamil Nadu India in late 2005 or early 2006. It was then sold to Toledo Museum in 2006, who returned it to India in 2014, two years after the Manhattan antiquities dealer, Subhash Kapoor, who sold it to them, was extradited to India to await trial for illegally taking antiquities out of the country. Kapoor had also given 48 free objects that the Toledo Museum listed in their 2007-2008 Annual Report as being recent additions to their collection. In this same publication, the museum thanked Kapoor on the donor page for his donation valued at more than $100,000.
This Subhash Kapoor episode is well-documented on the blog, Chasing Aphrodite, which is written by one of the authors of the book of the same name, mentioned above. Quote from the blog:
The Toledo Museum of Art told the New York Times that it had received a gift of 44 terracotta antiquities from Kapoor in 2007. The only object that appears in a search of the museum’s online collection is a terracotta vessel purchased in 2008. The museum published the object in 2009 in a book of the museum’s masterworks, but offers no ownership history other than saying it was created in Chandraketugarh, an archaeological site north-east of Kolkata. Where was it before Toledo? What are the ownership histories for the other 43 objects acquired from Kapoor? –– Chasing Aphrodite
The museum replied to Chasing Aphrodite’s July 2013 inquiry with this:
“Our policy is to respond to requests about objects in the TMA collections made by official authorities such as museums, law enforcement agencies, foreign governments and those making legal claims to ownership,” spokeswoman Kelly Garrow** told me. “There have been no such inquiries to date in regard to the objects referred to in your email.” In other words, in Toledo’s view the public has no right to know the ownership history of objects in the museum’s collection, even when serious legal questions have been raised.
The museum came clean about their dealings with Kapoor in March 2014, attributing their decision to the information given to them by Chasing Aphrodite, even though the museum stonewalled their inquiries for two years and told them that they don’t have to answer to the public.
Subhash Kapoor gave a lot of free gifts to various museums, including The Met. The Met has several of these freebies listed as 20th Century. They are replicas – fakes. Kapoor would smuggle into the U.S. the real stuff packed in boxes of replicas, and the boxes would be marked, “replicas.” [see this Paul Barford blog link for that detail.]
The true meaning of Belonging
And now we have a young new museum director with a major in anthropology, art history, and mathematics and social sciences, who did his graduate work at Oxford University – home of the Pitt Rivers Museum, albeit the first Pitt Rivers, which itself houses 327 Benin Bronzes according to Wikipedia. Our director, Adam Levine, seems to want to “contribute to the eradication of the illicit market for ancient artifacts.” He wants all museums in America to follow his good example. He’s leading a “Belonging” campaign where he endeavors to make the museum more welcoming by displaying a specially balanced world history in order that everyone will see themselves in the galleries. But this important Benin Bronze historical sculpture from Africa is not being shown in any gallery. Nor has it been returned to Nigeria. And not a peep about it.
The museum’s Belonging Plan states, “it is important to acknowledge the prior inhabitants of the land on which the Museum stands” and “The Toledo Museum of Art created a Land Acknowledgment both to honor the Indigenous peoples who resided on the land before the founding of the physical campus in the early 1900s and to demonstrate support for Indigenous communities of Ohio, celebrate their cultures, and recognize their forced removal from their lands in previous centuries.”
Since the sculpture was stolen by English colonialists in arguably the earliest episode of modern-day looting, in 1897, an ambush that captured an entire cultural heritage in artwork, shouldn’t the Toledo Museum of Art be returning this object as fast as they can – (they sure could sell three French Impressionist paintings at lightning speed) – considering the new branding and what the new 2022 Toledo Museum stands for, and to meet the museum’s goals for being totally authentic by 2026.
The Toledo Museum needs to do a survey of all of its works of art and research to find out if any had been purchased from looters or money launderers of stolen artwork, and they need to put online a database of the entire provenance of each work for the public to freely access. They need to do it with the same determination that they gave to the recent audit of their artworks, which showed that “the greatest imbalances exist across gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, nationality and geography, and material/medium.”
The museum should rethink that recent survey – what is the relevance of any of that, and specifically, of the nationality and geography of an object, when so much of that relies on an illicit market, when the museum should not be stealing from other cultures. The museum is, after all, into belonging, and Nigeria should own back their heritage that was stolen by the English colonialists, because it rightly belongs to them.
And while they are at it, the Toledo Museum of Art should stop looting the local Toledo community of its cultural traditions. They should reinstate the museum’s long tradition of children’s Saturday art classes that had always been for ANY and ALL children in Toledo (2,500 children every week), instead of just a discriminatory few children (25 at the most?) at a specific grant-written outreach after-school childcare program at a library. Return to our Toledo community the century-old Toledo Area Artists Exhibition, that the museum stole from us in 2014 under a cloud of corruption, and give us that Robert and Sue Savage Community Gallery for local artists promised to us in June 2021. The Toledo Museum of Art got Robert and Sue Savage to donate a lot of money to renovate a gallery space for one-person local artist shows 17 months ago, so where is it?
*Museum Ethics and the Toledo Museum of Art, Christos Tsirogiannis, artcrimeresearch.org Christos Tsirogiannis is a forensic archaeologist who wrote about the kalpis and brought to light the looted Hephaistos drinking vessel in 2017, which the museum did not deal with until 2019.
**Regarding Kelly Garrow, the museum’s former Director of Communications who wrote the 2013 email to Chasing Aphrodite saying that they owed no answers to the public in regard to looted art in their collection, see this interesting 2014 message to this very artistsoftoledo.com blog (scroll down to the comments), where she was inspired to write 10 paragraphs about how the museum did not “fix” the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition of 2014 to add their own employees, and more.
Cezanne Exhibition, Art Institute of Chicago
May 15 – September 5, 2022
While the Toledo Museum of Art does nothing — there has been no Art Matters quarterly member magazine since January, no Robert and Sue Savage Community Gallery as promised to us in May 2021, no blockbuster shows in the Canaday or Levis exhibition galleries that mostly have been empty, except for a couple of uninteresting shows —the Art Institute of Chicago is having its third blockbuster exhibition since the pandemic began in 2020 — El Greco, Monet, and now the most important Cezanne retrospective in 16 years.
We saw it. It was great. It gave me a renewed understanding as to why Cezanne is called a painter’s painter, why he is considered the father of modern art, and why he is so highly regarded, even among the new generation of artists.
Wondering if the curators had asked to borrow one of our Cezannes for the show, we found the answer in the published catalog – a beautiful definitive book aptly titled Cezanne. There in the book on page 154, reproduced on a full page, was our Avenue at Chantilly, Catalog #83 listed for the Chicago show. On the acknowledgement page, among 70 other museums, the Toledo Museum of Art is thanked for making their work available for display in the exhibition.
But for the past several months since this show has been up, Avenue at Chantilly has been hanging in Gallery 35 at the Toledo Museum of Art, and not in the Art Institute of Chicago’s Cezanne Exhibition! Wondering if I had somehow missed our painting at the Chicago Cezanne show, I called the Toledo Museum of Art to check to see if it is on display in Toledo, and I was assured that it is indeed on display, in Gallery 35.
I wonder if the reason why it is not in Chicago is because the Toledo Museum of Art made an abrupt decision to deaccession our other Cezanne painting, The Glade, after the museum committed our only other Cezanne to the Chicago’s Cezanne retrospective. Weren’t we assured that deaccessioning was a thoughtful, long process? Apparently not in this case, as the book went to press in 2022 (or very late 2021, as the book was dedicated to one of the curators who died in November 2021. )
It seems that our museum felt so much guilt about their rash decision to deaccession the painting that they broke their commitment to their peer museum and pulled it from the exhibition after the book went to press. As Director Adam Levine informed Toledoans on April 8 when he announced the shocking deaccessions of not only their only other Cezanne painting, but of their other Matisse painting and a Renoir bather, the museum’s only other Cezanne painting and Renoir painting and Matisse painting would always be on display on the walls of the Toledo Museum of Art.
What would make the Toledo Museum of Art break a promise to important colleagues and peer institutions — the other museums in the United States that they so much want to make an impression on in their 5-year plan, to be a great example of a museum that all other museums would look towards as an example of how all museums should be?
Quotes from the Toledo Museum of Art’s 5-year plan —
The Toledo Museum of Art will become the model art museum in the United States for its commitment to quality and its culture of belonging.
By authentically connecting quality with belonging, TMA can become one of the museums in this country from which others learn.
TMA’s transformation will be heralded by the press and will set the bar for museum peers.
How does that make Toledo trustworthy or how can they ever expect to be a good example to other museums? Will other museums be willing to loan paintings to Toledo in the future after this, if Toledo ever has the wherewithal to put together a traveling show?
World-class exhibitions that speak to 21st century issues will draw Northwest Ohioans and out-of-towners alike, with tourists shocked and delighted to be welcomed by a diverse and empowered staff so clearly loving what they do and the institution they serve. TMA’s exhibitions will depart Toledo to traverse the globe, providing the Museum and its hometown the visibility it once enjoyed.
In Christopher Knight’s May 6, 2022 COMMENTARY: AN OHIO MUSEUM IS HOLDING THE BIGGEST SALE OF ARTWORK YET.IT’S UNCONSCIONABLE, he interviewed Director Adam Levine, who told him that market realities made the difference in pulling the trigger right now on the deaccession of the paintings.What would the market realities be, I wonder, that would make the Toledo Museum of Art renege on a commitment as important as lending Avenue at Chantilly to Chicago’s seminal exhibition on Cezanne?
Strangely, two of the paintings that were suddenly deaccessioned – the most valuable ones – were bought by the same buyer at the auction on May 17, as reported in Barron’s the evening of the auction. Could it be that there was a collector who told the museum they would buy the paintings, now or never, and the museum didn’t care about anyone – the public or their peers?
It is a gross thought that Toledo Museum of Art might be cannibalizing itself. They have tarnished their reputation among peers by reneging on a promise while lying to the public about the reason for the deaccessions. Edward Drummond Libbey did not advocate that the museum have only one example of a great artist’s paintings. The paintings were not “mediocre.” Adam Levine invoked a Libbey quote to support the sale: “Let the multitudinous array of the mediocre be relegated to the past and in its place be found the highest quality, the best examples and the recognition of only those thoughts which will stand for all time.”
That so-called mediocre painting brought $41.7 million at the auction proving its greatness. What’s more, our Toledo museum did not need the money! Chicago owns 9 Cezanne oil paintings, Detroit owns 5 Cezanne oil paintings, Cleveland owns 3 Cezanne oil paintings, now we own only 1, and that painting was supposed to have been in Chicago’s Cezanne Exhibition, but it wasn’t, after it was promised and after that promise was memorialized in a book. Our museum let down a national community from seeing it! The museum let Toledo down, because Toledoans would have felt proud to see our painting hanging in the show, but instead this makes us feel shame and embarrassment for living in Toledo.
Just another lie when Toledo gets credit in the book for being in the show.
Perhaps Adam Levine doesn’t mind breaking promises – he certainly doesn’t mind lying to us – when our museum still gets credit in an important Cezanne book for being in the show – why not pull it out of the show — it was too late to make corrections — the opportunity of selling our other Cezanne painting— was it to a demanding secret buyer who just couldn’t wait four months until the show was over, was that the “market reality” that was just too good to pass up?One can only speculate, but an investigation needs to be conducted to find out the truth.
Adam Levine had a fiduciary duty to preserve our valuable collection for the future, and he should never have reneged on a commitment to lending our Avenue at Chantilly to an important public show. The Art Institute of Chicago is the true example of what all museums strive for — this show is the third blockbuster they have put on since the pandemic. Our museum, under Adam Levine’s leadership has done nothing but sell off our great French Impressionist paintings, creep out most of Toledo with their burnt American flag acquisition, and make our city a laughing stock of the art world.
We should save our museum and save our city’s reputation by changing course now with new leadership at the museum.
Selling off Paul Cezanne’s Clairière (The Glade); Henri Matisse’s Fleurs ou Fleurs devant un portrait; and Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Nu s’essuyant simply makes no sense. These and other proven lasting works draw people to the museum from near and far.
Every museum director retains the right to pursue their own paths as Adam Levine is doing. Yet the museum is an integral part of Toledo’s art culture. The museum is not in a vacuum. While privately maintained, the museum does represent Toledo to the outside world.
A lot of brave Americans fought and died under the American flag…Toledo is Jeep country, after all. Have some respect.
Open Letter to the Board of Directors of The Toledo Museum of Art:
For the museum to buy a burnt flag to hang on the museum’s wall, telling us they are collecting art that reflects our community, is disgusting.
Here is my blog post about how deeply offensive this acquisition is, and about the deceased donors from whom the funds were pulled to purchase it, whose memory it deeply dishonors: Marvin and Lenore Kobacker, Mr. and Mrs. Robert J. Barber, Mrs. George W. Stevens, and Florence Scott Libbey and her father, Maurice A. Scott — Why a burnt flag painting is wrong.
Additional issues I wish to address:
What about the remote stewards (workers) of our museum? Since when are the people who run the Toledo museum too good to live here? Along with the spokesman about the sale of the French Impressionist paintings, John Stanley, a retired temporary consultant without an art degree who came from New York who I am pretty sure does not live in Toledo, I’m referring to the Communications Manager who lives in Lansing, the Brand Director who lives in Boulder, the consulting curator of African Art, Lanisa Kitchiner, who works full time for the Library of Congress in Washington DC (who doesn’t have an art history degree), and the consulting curator of Ancient Art, Carlos Picón, who is the director of the Colnaghi art gallery in New York and an ancient art dealer. I wrote a blog post about it, about our authentic story, and about the museum’s treatment of the local artist community. The Remote Control of Our Museum Culture.
What about the $54 million from the Cézanne and Matisse deaccessions that had been purchased with the Edward Drummond Libbey Endowment Fund? Shouldn’t that have gone back to the Edward Drummond Libbey fund to be used on new acquisitions? Where did that money go? Is it in a new endowment as stated by Adam Levine in his April 8 announcement of the deaccessioning of the three French Impressionist paintings? If so, what is the name of the fund? And if so, why is it not back in the Libbey fund, and what financial institution handles that fund?
Will the museum and/or board members be making an investigation into the sale of the Cézanne and Matisse paintings that sold at auction collectively for $59 million to the SAME buyer, as reported in Barron’s Magazine (but not in The Blade for some reason)? What are the odds? Since this puts a cloud of corruption hanging over the museum in regard to the possibility that the sale was prearranged with the buyer, the museum and board should investigate and make public the buyer to clear the museum’s reputation, if that would be the case, since our museum should be beyond reproach. What valuable paintings will be the next to hit the auction block? These outrageous deaccessions of valuable historic paintings that were literally taken off the museum walls and sent to the auction house, an action rationalized by the museum director’s lies to the public, and the huge amount of money made by the sale – that for us not to know who bought the paintings, or whether or not the sale was prearranged, is unacceptable. Is our collection being used as a catalog for future collectors? It’s a good way to hide backroom deals. It’s a good way for our museum to be robbed of its great artworks.
Why has the radius of the museum’s community outreach and interest shrunk to only 2 miles, when the area that the museum serves is vastly larger? In 2014, the museum claimed that their reach was a 150-mile radius, when they increased the area of the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition to reach out to the major cities such as Detroit, Cleveland and Columbus. Before that, our community was defined by the 95-year old annual show as being 17 counties in Northwest Ohio and two counties in Southeast Michigan. The two-mile outreach defined now is not even 1/6th of the city of Toledo, not to mention the other many counties surrounding Toledo. Why isn’t the community equally represented on the Belonging Committee? In the museum’s latest manifesto about plans for community “belonging” there is nothing at all about the new local artists gallery that was heralded in The Blade in June 2021, for which Robert and Sue Savage donated $200,000 to renovate a gallery space that would have their name on it. A photo was taken with the mayor, director, and Robert and Sue Savage to memorialize the commitment. The Robert and Sue Savage Gallery for Local Artists.Are artists not a fundamental part of the art museum? Why aren’t local artists invited to “Belong?” Museum Shows for Local Artists.
In summary, there should be a special oversight looking over our museum right now. Our museum does not belong to outsiders, nor to just a fraction of the community, it belongs to ALL of us, the entire Toledo community. The people who run the museum ought to live here! That people who run the museum are “too good” to live here robs our city of culture, progress and money. Our museum is not a vehicle for outsiders to mold into something for their own personal benefits and gains. They are ripping us off! Conflicts of interest should be disclosed on every level, from the purchase to the sale of artworks, to the business relationships of the board members with the museum; from communications involving the museum and the press, to the curation of our community stories. There must be full disclosure for every move the museum makes. The people who run the museum have a fiduciary responsibility to our Toledo institution, and lying to the public is a breach of their fiduciary duty.
Thank you for your time. I hope you are having a good summer.
Why a burnt American flag is all wrong for the Toledo Museum of Art
Beauty without bias?
Quality does not discriminate?
In what universe does a burnt American flag qualify as quality? How does it not discriminate? in whose eyes is it beautiful? Is it not biased against our country and most of the citizens?
My letter to the editor of The Blade
Re: Toledo Museum of Art announces 27 new acquisitions
Concerning your article about the museum’s new acquisitions – the museum recently sold our magnificent three French Impressionist paintings from our esteemed collection for 57 million dollars to buy new diverse art, and one of the first paintings that they bought is a portrait that has a burnt American flag as a background.
There are a lot of people in the Toledo area who are patriotic and love our country, including many veterans who fought in wars defending our country, including the Civil War, who would not like to see a painting of a burnt American flag in our great Toledo Museum of Art. My great great grandfather was a French immigrant who joined the Union Army and fought and was wounded in the Civil War because he wanted to do his part to help free the slaves.
If the museum thinks that a burnt flag painting is going to enhance The Toledo Museum’s new “sense of belonging” and “tell the story of the Toledo community” and enhance our “sense of inclusion,” they have sadly only achieved offending most of the Toledo community.
If this new burnt flag painting is the TMA’s idea of telling the Toledo story, in their “new transformative Toledo Museum,” that supposedly strives to be a reflection of our community, they are wrong and can count me and a lot of Toledoans out.
About my great great grandfather
who fought in the Civil War
and the meaning of the American flag
Toledo Museum of Art – how about a little gratitude for the 360,222+ including 36,000 black Union soldiers who gave their lives in the Civil War to free the slaves? My great great grandfather’s life was forever after consumed by the horror of the Civil War that he fought in. It became a part of him. Hence, it is a genetic part of me. I can’t help but be offended by the image of a burnt American flag. It is the opposite of beautiful. I can’t accept that my Toledo Museum of Art is advocating the destruction of my country, which my immigrant ancestor came to with so much hope, fighting for this country while not even being a citizen, and starting the Gentieu family here.
Pierre Gentieu was interviewed about the Civil War at age 87 in 1929:
In 1929, a reunion proposed for Union and Confederate soldiers was dismissed by the Grand Army of the Republic, because Union soldiers did not like it that the veteran Confederates still used their old flag in public ceremonies, whereas the Union veterans thought that the flag should be abolished.
“Put the rebel flag in a museum,” said my great great grandfather Pierre Gentieu, the Commander of the Smyth Post No. 1, Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Delaware.
Pierre said that all veterans, North and South, are brothers. “A good many are bitter against the reunion but I am not. We are all for the Union now – we are all brothers, and must consider our relationship in this light. It is of no use to fight now, and we must forget the bitterness of the past.”
“You must actually fight under a flag to learn to love it and respect it. You don’t know what it means to see it waving in the smoke of battle, representing the ideal for which you fight. Why, it is the soul of the regiment. I will never forget it.”
“I remember one particularly bitter battle to which we were advancing as reinforcements. We had been marching steady for a long time and were rather tired. And suddenly we came upon the scene. Not far away the battle was in full progress… people were killing each other mercilessly… and suddenly, through the thick smoke… just over the hill… we saw the flag! We knew that we were supposed to plunge right in and fight – with death, and yet, we forgot all about that and with a cry we were right in the midst of everything!”
“I don’t blame the Grays a bit for wanting to preserve their flags, and I believe in a reunion with them. But their flag should not be used in public. I’m absolutely opposed to that! The rebel flag should be preserved in a museum as a relic of the old days. That is the only place for it.”
My message to the new Curator of American Art at the Toledo Museum of Art
Dear Erin Corrales-Diaz,
A burnt American flag is not a good addition to the Toledo Museum of Art. How could you let that painting through? Didn’t you write your dissertation on the Civil War, and all wounded soldiers in it, and the art that came from that? Don’t you know that the subjects of your dissertation had blood pumping through them? They were fighting under that flag — the American flag. Unless your main focus was the injured soldiers of the Confederacy –– how can you be supportive and approve the acquisition of the painting of the smirking cartoon-like black portrait pasted on a burnt American flag?
We sell our Cézanne, Matisse and Renoir so that you, as the Curator of American Art, along with the other curators/art committee/director/board of directors, all so very collaboratively can have a field day collecting really offensive, junky art!
You don’t know our community. I can tell you that this painting does NOT reflect our community. Do you live in Toledo?
Museum diversity today
Toledoans are told that the museum wants to better reflect our community and they are buying art so that the community can see themselves on the walls.
Kerry James Marshall is a great artist who makes beautiful large paintings that would speak to our community, but this painting, unlike any other of his paintings, says the wrong thing. It’s totally off-brand.
Toledo is experiencing a record-breaking spike in gun murders and violence, and much of it is gang related. This painting exploits negative stereotypes of African Americans. The purchase of it for the walls of our great museum flames the fire of destruction, exploiting our community even further. The museum plans to use it for programming – the museum will run programs around it?
Our museum is known for having only the best examples of an artist’s work — we were told they sold our Cézanne, Renoir and Matisse because they had another painting of each artist that was voted by the board to be better. What a shame that our museum bought this painting to represent this artist instead of a painting that the artist intended to be on a museum wall – it’s not like the museum didn’t have the money – they cleared $57 million from the impressionist paintings to be spent on new art. – But they have yet to spend any of that money.
What did the museum pay?
The burnt flag painting was advertised on an Artsy catalog page for Lusenhop Fine Art at this year’s EXPO Chicago 2022, along with other works of Kerry James Marshall on the gallery’s EXPO Chicago 2022 page, and the highest price shown for any of them (except for two sold, which were not marked) is $55,000. According to the news story, the museum bought it from Phillip Gant, “a prominent Chicago-based collector.” He is the father of Kimberli Gant, the new Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum of Art . (The Brooklyn Museum does not have a Kerry James Marshall painting in their collection, and I can only assume that they passed on this one.)
The Toledo Museum of Art must have paid a fortune, because the museum drew from four art acquisition funds to purchase it:
Jamar Art Fund of Marvin and Lenore Kobacker In 1970, Marvin and Lenore paid for a 17th-century furnished room from a French chateau, which was installed in the museum. The room was deinstalled around 2017. The money from the Kobacker art fund was then used for a Larry Poons painting, a glass and mixed media piece by Amber Cowan, and this burnt American flag. I’m not sure the Kobackers would like that. Before they were married, they both served their country under the American flag during World War II, which was a war that fought global superpowers on two fronts. We helped defeat the Nazis. Lenore Kobacker was in the WAVES and Marvin Kobacker was a lieutenant in the Navy. Lenore died in 1991 and Marvin died in 1993.
Mr. and Mrs. Robert J. Barber Art Fund Mr. Barber served in the Amy Air Corps during World War II fighting against Nazi takeover. He was the president of the Perrysburg Township Republican Club in the 1960’s, and the Wood County Republican Party chairman. He spearheaded the reconstruction of Fort Meigs, a United States stronghold during the War of 1812. He was a great supporter of Delbert Latta, who was the representative for the 5th congressional district for 30 years, and the father of the current 5th congressional district representative. The Barbers endowed the Early American Gallery at the Toledo Museum of Art. Mrs. Barber died in 1994 and Mr. Barber died in 1999.
Mrs. George W. Stevens FundNina Spalding Stevens, along with her husband, George Stevens, ran the museum from 1902 until he died in 1926. She died in Paris in 1959.
Florence Scott Libbey Bequest in Memory of her Father, Maurice A. ScottFlorence Libbey was one of the founding benefactors of the museum, and this endowment, second in size only to Edward Drummond Libbey’s endowment fund, pays for perhaps $400,000 worth of new art every year. in 1931 early in the Depression she put many Toledoans to work building the additional wings to the museum, including the Peristyle. Her father, Maurice Scott, once owned the land upon which the museum sits. Florence died in 1938, Edward died in 1925 and Maurice died in 1905.
A memorial service was held in the Peristyle for Mary Wolfe, a major donor to the Toledo Museum of Art, on November 30, 2014. The front several rows in the audience were filled with Toledo philanthropists. Mary Wolfe looked out at us from the screen.
I wonder how the dead donors would feel, and how their descendants feel, to see their philanthropy used to buy a burnt American flag for the Toledo Museum of Art. This painting is an extremely dishonorable way to remember them by. Three of the donors served their country – our country, in World War II that defeated the Nazis. Can you imagine how the world would be today if we didn’t win? If burnt American flags were all the rage? If loving your country was declasse? The other two donors were founders of our great museum.
What happened to Toledoans running their own museum? Why are we letting outsiders take control and treat us like a political anthropology project? Is it the beginning of the end for our great Toledo Museum of Art? Should we picket outside the museum to save the museum?
“The superpower that an art museum has is when something goes up on the wall, it’s considered good. We set the canon,” Levine said. “By displaying these artworks, we not only center them in the narrative of American art history and art history in general, but by acquiring them, we demonstrate that they are of superlative quality, on par with everything else in this museum. This is an opportunity for us to recognize the value of artists who haven’t been given the opportunity historically to be showcased at institutions like ours.” – Adam Levine, ‘Beauty Without Bias’ At The Toledo Museum Of Art, Forbes, February 28, 2022
How much did our museum pay for this painting that they plan to build programs around?
What other anti-American, radical attention-getting antics will the Toledo Museum of Art pull at the expense of our community?
Who was the secret buyer of our Cézanne and Matisse? Was the sale pre-arranged? Why didn’t that money go back in the Libbey Endowment Fund or else why wasn’t it spent on new art? More questions…
Culture and Community by Government Remote Control
I am interested in The Toledo Museum of Art’s use of the 57 million dollar profit from the three recently deaccessioned French Impressionist/early modern paintings which they sold to raise money for the purchase of “diverse art.”
The Toledo Museum of Art recently hired a Consulting Curator, Lenisa Kitchiner, for the museum’s African collection. Although the museum doesn’t mention it in their news release, she is the Chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., with an educational background in literature, African studies and politics, not art history.
She will “steward a growing collection of African art at an innovative institution in the heart of the Midwest,” while “creating a collecting strategy that represents the entire community,” and “sharing untold stories and fostering widespread community belonging.” From the June 28, 2022 Toledo Museum of Art press release:
Kitchiner eagerly anticipates joining TMA at such a pivotal time as the Museum endeavors to advance a collecting strategy that represents the entire community. “The opportunity to steward a growing collection of African art at an innovative institution in the heart of the Midwest is extraordinary,” Kitchiner stated. “The Toledo Museum of Art’s commitment to sharing untold stories and fostering widespread community belonging—coupled with its impressive curatorial staff and its unmistakable impact—make it the right place through which to share my passion for the visual arts of Africa.”
I googled Lenisa Kitchiner, the new steward of African art for The Toledo Museum of Art, and discovered that she is the Chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. (It’s a mystery as to why the museum’s press release did not mention that.) Will she be working remotely?
I was struck by her description of her favorite children’s book, which inadvertently connected me to a heretofore untold story that has deep roots in Toledo culture. I share in the spirit of contributing to an ambitious museum’s endearing transition to endeavoring the enduring, relentless sea change of advancing engagement and authentic widespread community belonging, in order to foster pivotal, vibrant, Midwest, ready-to-be-told, it’s-about-time, yes-we-did, storytelling.
The untold Midwest story of Jan Wahl and Maurice Sendak
In the September/October 2021 Library of Congress Magazine article, Lenisa Kitchiner was interviewed for being the new Chief of the African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress. She describes her favorite book as a child, Where the Wild Things Are:
I am a lifelong learner, a lover of literature and a consummate traveler. I like to blame it on Maurice Sendak’s children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are,” which indelibly influenced my imagination when I first read it at age 5. The book tells the remarkable story of a little boy who dreams of traveling to a faraway place, encountering monstrous creatures and winning their favor by performing a special magic trick that forces the creatures to suspend fear of the unknown long enough to see the boy as friend instead of foe. I did not have the words to articulate it as a child, but it was that sense of creating new connections, of overcoming fear, of embracing the unknown and of having meaningful impact that I fell in love with when I first read the book. These aspirations continue to influence my engagement in the field.
I was immediately reminded of my old friend Jan Wahl and Artist of Toledo who died in 2019 at the age of 87. A flood of new understanding of Jan Wahl’s life came over me! Looking back at his life, I can now see that, in a nutshell, Jan Wahl was that boy in the book! He traveled to far-away places, he encountered monsters, and he won them over with his creativity. I never really thought of him before as the little boy in Where the Wild Things Are.
As a child living in the Westmoreland neighborhood of Central Toledo, Jan would write to famous people and collect silent films and art prints. In college, his teacher was Vladimir Nabokov. On a Fulbright Scholarship in Denmark, he worked with the Danish director, Carl Dreyer on the making of Ordet (The Word). He then worked for the writer of African tales, Isak Dinesen, whom he didn’t like at all. “She fired me over two misspelled words, after four months of work!”
Jan Wahl was a renowned children’s book author, having published about 130 books. He wrote from the perspective of “a child trying to grasp the unfathomable adult world.” He also wrote memoirs of his silent film experience, including Dear Stinkpot: Letters from Louise Brooks; Through a Lens Darkly, and Carl Theodor Dreyer and Ordet: My Summer with the Danish Filmmaker. He collected fantastic early 16mm art films.
Jan Wahl had some wild stories – such as one about Maurice Sendak taking his idea for a book and making it into Where the Wild Things Are. Maurice Sendak was a mentor and collaborator when Jan Wahl started out.Jan had similar stories involving puppet makers, film directors, gallery owners, etc. Jan Wahl was not confrontational; he would simply write another book, 130 in total.
Making self-deprecating jokes about these experiences was how Jan Wahl would vent. It had to have hurt, for his friend and mentor to take his story and make it his own, while leading him on, eventually throwing him a bone. I wonder if Jan had a sense that the story prophesied his life. Ironically the book became Maurice Sendak’s main legacy.
When Maurice Sendak died in 2012, Jan auctioned off his letters from 1962-1964. Maurice Sendak illustrated Jan Wahl’s first book, Pleasant Field Mouse, published in 1964, after Where the Wild Things Are was published in 1963. A mouse and a monster-tamer, at least young Jan Wahl ended up with a book. Thus, he began his life as a children’s book author, successful although not rich, considering his prolific output. “I began at the top. It didn’t stay that way. But I did have a lovely, lovely beginning with a very fine artist,” was his quote in his Blade obit, taken from a 2006 Blade interview.
During the summer of 2013, not long after Jan Wahl’s special book came out, Carl Theodor Dreyer and Ordet: My Summer with the Danish Filmmaker, The Toledo Museum of Art put on a Dreyer film series. The first one was The Passion of Joan of Arc, and my husband and I went to it. We were surprised that Jan was not a part of it. So I wrote to the museum’s Public and Glass Programs Coordinator to tell her about Jan Wahl and his book, what a great film historian he was, and how he puts on film programs, and I gave her his phone number. She replied that she knew all about Jan Wahl, he did programs with the museum in the past, and that “he was actually part of the inspiration for the series. Unfortunately special guests are not always free of charge.”
It was hard to believe that the museum couldn’t scrape together a modest honorarium for Jan Wahl, a great local author and film historian, one who actually worked with Carl Dreyer on Ordet, in order to bring him into the event that his own newly-published book had inspired. Jan Wahl would have been happy to do it for merely a ride to the museum. How bad it was for them to take his work as the inspiration for the Dreyer film series, but not include him in the program.It was nice to see that the Dreyer films in the series thereafter, including the next film shown, Ordet, were introduced by Jan Wahl.
Wahl + Museum in 2019
Thereafter, the museum did more things with Jan. The final collaboration was for the launch of his new children’s book, Hedy and Her Amazing Invention, scheduled for March 2, 2019. Unfortunately, Jan Wahl died on January 29, five weeks before the event. In his obituary on February 1, the Blade quoted the museum manager of Programs and Audience Engagement saying that the program would continue, but would become a celebration of his writing, and especially his new book. “We want to celebrate what he has given to the world.”
Two weeks later, the museum had not changed their website to pay respect to the author of the book who was the principal element of the upcoming book-signing and book-reading event, who was unfortunately dead! I felt compelled to write another letter, this time to the director, Dr. Brian Kennedy in an email which I cc’d to the CEO of the Museum Board and the Director of Education and Engagement. I received an immediate reply, not from any of them, but from the Director of Communications, thanking me for bringing it to her attention that the information was out of date. The website was promptly updated to add a mention that the event would celebrate the author’s life and his new book, along with an art demonstration, and a parade.
No doubt this last episode with the museum gave Jan Wahl great material for a new story to tell up in heaven.
Treatment of local artists
and the shift to the culture of un-belonging
Toledo Area Artists Exhibition, the 96-year old tradition
We are the hometown artists, and we’d like some respect. The museum’s new manager of communications touts the line: “We want the community to see themselves on the walls of the museum.” Artists of Toledo would like to see ourselves on the walls of the museum, too. We’d like to feel that sense of belonging again, that was taken away from us eight years ago under a cloud of corruption.
In 2014, it meant nothing to the Toledo Museum of Art to kill the 96-year old tradition of the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition by use of “curating” it themselves instead of impartial judging of the entries. They stuffed the show with insiders such as museum workers, Federation presidents and past presidents, and friends, with only two women from Toledo, while excluding people of color.
I curated a show in protest with like-minded local artists called Artists of Toledo at the Paula Brown Gallery.
The Toledo Area Artists Exhibition had been jointly presented by the Federation of Toledo Art Societies and the Toledo Museum of Art until 2011, when the museum told the Federation that they would take it over so they could do even more for Toledo artists. But in 2014, they took Toledo artists out of the show and put in their own employees, friends and previous Federation presidents, with only two local women artists, in a show of 27 artists (which had usually been 80 or more local artists, usually over half being women.) Even though local artists entered the competition as they had for 96 years, this show did not have impartial judges, as had all the shows after 1921 (when the museum caused an uproar by jurying it themselves and giving the prize to a 14-year old), instead it was “curated” by the museum’s own staff. The museum quietly stopped the Toledo Area Artists annual show, and it was okay with the Federation of Toledo Art Societies since they got a big payoff. But they should have fixed it. See, my blog post, Toledo Museum of Art: Repair the Damage.
So it’s weird that today they are using “community belonging” after kicking out the local artists eight years ago. When they so want to tell our untold stories of the community, but isn’t the art that comes from the community the most authentic community story for an art museum to tell? The museum turned its back on local artists – where is the promised local art gallery for local artist shows? Promised 15 months ago! So much indecision and procrastination – they don’t know what to do, because they don’t really want to do it — they don’t like their local artists.
Narrowing the transmission
This year, the museum endeavors to engage the community by reducing the area it serves to a 2-mile radius. When they say community, they do not mean the entire Toledo area, and they certainly don’t mean the artists. They are reaching out to nearby neighborhoods who have not utilized the museum in the past. Must be the winning grant theme of the era. They are setting up “art-making stations” in federally-funded low-income housing, and they will feature these new local artists that they inspire and create, in a community gallery that they promised 15 months ago to Toledo’s local artists. They are emphasizing belonging (a membership drive, that is) by raising the parking fee to discourage visits to the museum by anyone who is not a member. Transportation for low-income housing within the 2-mile radius is provided by the museum for free.
The relentless focus
the world we live in?
In 2014, Erin the President of the Toledo Federation of Art Societies accepted the corruption of the rigged Toledo Area Artists Exhibition by saying, “I tell my students, it’s the world we live in.”
In 2022, John Stanley told the Blade in regard to the deaccessioning of the three French Impressionist paintings, “It’s the world we live in.”
Diversity – the perfect cover for selling off the good art… nobody gets to know who it is sold to! And what will be next?
Connecting with the government for political power and personal upward mobility?
Is this what it has come to?
Outsiders are telling our story, remotely, when they don’t know us.
The museum only does what looks good on the current grant application.
A museum run by remote control is bad for Toledo.
Jan Wahl’s great children’s story was appropriated, and he never forgot it. The current stewards of the great Toledo Museum of Art are deliberately erasing the real story of this community as they sell off our great art! Cézanne, Matisse and Renoir, and what is next? Rembrandt? We should not accept what is happening to the museum as if we can’t do anything about it, because we can!
Artists of Toledo
What a bunch of B.S. – telling our story! We want our museum back!
To tell the authentic story, see how the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition did it for 96 years. What’s more authentic to the community, than art that is made by community artists? There is no better way to help local artists, thus helping the community, than to bring back the annual Toledo Area Artists Exhibition at the Toledo Museum of Art.