Collecting Artists

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As the year comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on what 2013 has brought and what 2014 will bring. There's much to be thankful for and much to look forward too. There were also some sad times; the loss of two good friends who were not only wonderful people, but also important members of the art community.

A few months back I used this forum to pay tribute to Ed Funk, the owner of Dolphin Paper, who died earlier this year. He was an artist I truly admired. Then, on Nov. 30th another good friend and artist, Jim Kemp, passed away quite unexpectedly. Jim was a University of Indianapolis grad and enjoyed a successful 32-year career as a full-time professional potter. He made and sold his work here in Indy and was a regular at the annual Broad Ripple Art Fair. But he also traveled the country selling at many of the finest art fairs. He was a husband, father and dedicated artist who left his mark on the art world.

Jim Kemp. Wall platter, 23" diameter, 2013.  Chosen as part of the State Museum collection.
  • Jim Kemp. Wall platter, 23" diameter, 2013. Chosen as part of the State Museum collection.

As the Indiana State Museum curator, I'm constantly looking at the careers of artists and analyzing their achievements and contributions, specifically as they relate to this state. It is pretty much standard practice before the museum acquires a work of art for the collection, or includes someone in a museum exhibition. More often than not, I'm researching historical records, gallery websites or the Internet to uncover information about someone I've never met. The task can often be somewhat formulaic and impersonal, but it's necessary to make an informed decision.

Ed and Jim were two artists I'd been interested in collecting for the museum for some time. They met all the criteria for inclusion -- strong connections to Indiana, quality work and compelling story lines. Recently, I'd gone to both of their studios and asked each what I typically ask an artist during such visits: If you had one piece that you'd like to represent you in the museum collection, what would it be? Both provided an answer; unfortunately, neither survived to see the results of our conversations.(Rest assured, their families have been very supportive and will honor their wishes).

Given my personal relationships with Ed and Jim, this occasion gave me reason to pause and think about how I do my job as a curator and the importance of one person's contributions to the community.

My friendship with these two artists didn't influence my decision to collect their work for the museum, but it did remind me that behind every piece is a person; a person that has a story. The State Museum collection is filled with amazing contributions by artists that influenced countless individuals and helped shape our view of the world, and the way the world views us. Jim Kemp and Ed Funk will soon be part of that collection, and we'll all be better off because of it.

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