SOIL, Seattle’s oldest artist-run nonprofit gallery, announced today that it has received an unusual and unexpected gift that could be its biggest donation ever: a cache of 26 maritime oil paintings it can put up for sale at auction.
The paintings, given to SOIL from Safeco Insurance’s collection, will be sold through the auction house of Bonham’s & Butterfield’s, said SOIL member artist Randy Wood. They were appraised, he said, at $100,000. While that may or may not be indicative of what they’d bring at auction, of course, SOIL’s operating budget for an entire year is around $40,000, so “either way, it’s a big deal for us,” Wood said. The gallery, financed by an auction, donations, and artist dues, plans to use the money for an endowment that will simply help the doors to stay open, he said.
Jackie Kosak, Safeco art curator, was unavailable for comment this afternoon. In a press statement, she wrote, “With our move to a new headquarters located in downtown Seattle, we took the opportunity to evaluate our art collection in light of our mission to collect the work of emerging and mid-career contemporary artists. … As we considered where to make the donation, we looked for organizations that could store the pieces safely, effectively organize them for auction, and use the proceeds to enrich the Northwest arts scene.”
The gift was a pleasant surprise to SOIL, Wood said: “I guess one of the curators over there was just hip to SOIL. It was pretty crazy.”
The artists, many British, include Edwin Hayes (1819-1904), Frederick James Aldridge (1850-1933), Hugh Boycott-Brown (1909-1990), John Brett (1831-1902), Gustave de Breanski (1856-1898), and W. Ayerst Ingram (1855-1913). Other artists are John DeLacy, Jenny Guo, George E. Hering, D.H. McLean, Arthur J. Meadows, Thomas R. Miles, Ernest Roe, G. Rogers, Clarkson Stanfield, Theodore Weber, William Wilcox, and William H. Williamson. (I’ll admit to never having heard of any of these artists, but several have auction records online.) The press release did not disclose when the paintings came into the Safeco collection, whether all at once or as part of a long-time collecting pattern. Maybe it was a strategy of taking in waterside art for a waterside city?
I can’t help but be reminded by this of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, which is selling off some of its oldest works because of its focus on modern and contemporary art. That decision has raised a firestorm in Buffalo and beyond, and a group of Buffalonians even tried to stop the museum from putting the works up for auction, but they lost. The museum prevailed, and is selling its treasures in order to help pay to support newer art and artists. (A level-headed summary of the action there is here.)
When art disappears from public walls and passes into private living rooms, protests are understandable. And the trend of selling art to protect art institutions seems backwards, if not perverse. But in this case, Safeco is sending privately held, little-if-ever-seen pieces possibly to equally obscure locations—but benefiting, along the way, a public Seattle gallery where living Seattle artists get to experiment in a non-commercial venue. Sorry, Hugh Boycott-Brown, but that sounds like a worthwhile exchange to me.
Frederick James Aldridge’s Crabbers Returning in a Squall will be up for sale to benefit SOIL.