Patricia Bailey, executive director, treasurer and a founding trustee of the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation, talks with Brenau University President Ed Schrader during the opening of John Heliker 'The Order of Things' where Bailey spoke about her time spent with John Heliker and his work. Brenau and the foundation recently concluded an agreement to transfer about $3 million in artwork and property in exchange for a Brenau commitment to establish an art institute.

Brenau Acquires $3 Million in Maine Island Property and Artwork in Agreement with Heliker-LaHotan Foundation

Jul. 20, 2017
David Morrison

Dimond Leslie looks at the paintings ‘Man at a Table’ by Robert LaHotan, left, and ‘Self Portrait’ by John Heliker, right, on display on April 13, 2016. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau/University)

Brenau University and the New York-based Heliker-LaHotan Foundation recently concluded a formal agreement for the foundation to donate to the university substantially all of its assets, including its archive of more than 2,000 art works, buildings and land on Great Cranberry Island in Maine, with an estimated valuation of about $3 million. In exchange Brenau commits to establish the Heliker-LaHotan Institute of Art at Brenau University.

The agreement is subject to approval by the office of the New York State Attorney General, which oversees charitable and nonprofit organizations based in that state and distribution of their assets.

As part of the agreement, Brenau will continue with the mission of the foundation – created by the late artists and life partners John Heliker and Robert LaHotan – to use the assets to provide a residency program for mid-career professional practicing painters and other visual artists and to provide a new home for the foundation’s art collection.

To that end, the university plans to create and incorporate into its academic mission The Heliker-LaHotan Institute of Art at Brenau University, which will preserve the foundation’s artworks and seek to continue its established Artists Residency Program in Maine. However, as sole owner, the university also would be empowered to use formerly undeveloped portions of the Maine property for other academic activities, including, for example, field ecological or biological research projects on the island.

The foundation’s archive, located mostly in a storage facility in New Jersey, includes scores of paintings, drawings and sketchbooks by both artists, as well as correspondence, photographs and assorted papers. The archive also stores works by colleagues and friends of the artists and photographs taken on Great Cranberry Island by the late Walker Evans on two trips to Cranberry in the 1960s. The archive is a repository that provides an intimate glimpse of mid-20th-century contemporary art and avant garde music from the 1930s to 2000.

“The artwork we will receive under this agreement beautifully complements the university’s permanent collection, which now has more than 6,000 paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures and other pieces,” said Brenau President Ed Schrader. “It is also a significant compliment to our university that the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation entrusts us to carry on with its vision.”

Patricia Bailey, executive director, treasurer and a founding trustee of the New York and Maine-based Heliker-LaHotan Foundation, said that the agreement came about first of all through Schrader’s “artistic appreciation for John Heliker’s work and his imaginative vision for Brenau.”

“In 2015, Dr. Schrader brought a show of Heliker’s work to the Gainesville campus, where it was beautifully mounted in Brenau’s Sellars Gallery by the Brenau Galleries Director Nichole Rawlings,” Bailey said. “The subsequently warm reception to the exhibition at Brenau and the wonderful educational programming planned by Rawlings made an impression upon the foundation’s leadership.”

“Brenau has a strong tradition and experience in the arts and a growing collection of contemporary American art, as well as a successful track record with several remote campuses – all things we hold in high regard.”

Bailey ran the graduate painting program at Parson’s School of Design in New York during the decade when John Heliker was on the faculty there. She subsequently became a close friend of both Heliker and LaHotan, and she became founding director of the foundation’s residency program on Great Cranberry Island in Maine after both artists died early in this century.

“The residency program was really Robert LaHotan’s dream,” she said. “He left their estates – artworks, homes and studios – to continue to be used to inspire and sustain other artists. Since its inception, the program in Maine has awarded more than 140 artist residency fellowships. I feel both artists would be pleased that an institution of Brenau’s caliber will carry on this vision.”

Bailey said the envisioned Heliker-LaHotan Institute of Art at Brenau holds wonderful potential.

“Under the agreement, a portion of the artists’ works will become part of Brenau’s increasingly important permanent art collection, and Brenau will undertake a catalogue raisonné of Heliker’s work,” Bailey said. “Other works may be sold to help fund the activities of the institute, its residency program and other activities in accordance with Brenau’s mission, including the possibility of expanded educational offerings on Great Cranberry Island, something Bob and Jack – as we knew them – would have understood as giving back to the place that inspired so many paintings and drawings and to the community of which they were historically part.”

Heliker, a prominent painter and professor at Columbia University and Parsons School of Design in New York, died in 2000 at age 91. He had been an influential figure in the New York City art world since the 1930s, the subject of the first retrospective exhibition in the Whitney Museum’s new Breuer building, now Met Breuer, in 1968. LaHotan, Heliker’s former student at Columbia who remained his life companion for 48 years, also was a gifted teacher and painter. He died in 2002.

The two split their time between New York and their summer home in Maine where many of their late paintings were created. As Schrader explained, many of the artists already represented in the university’s permanent collection were their friends and acquaintances. Some of their work is on permanent display at Brenau’s Manhattan Gallery in the University’s Downtown Center in Gainesville.

In the 1950s, Heliker acquired the 22-acre Great Cranberry Island property on a sheltered tidal pool that had been the historic home and business locale for Captain Enoch B. Stanley, a prominent shipbuilder in the 19th century. The property includes a residence and several outbuildings that have been converted to artist studios. The island, in close proximity to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, is located about 50 miles southeast of Bangor. Of the hundreds of islands along the coast of Maine, it is one of 14 with year-round residents that remain “unbridged,” meaning it is accessible only by boat or the daily ferries that operate from nearby Mt. Desert Island.

Schrader said that Robert Shippey, senior director of development at Brenau, will assume responsibilities as executive director of the Heliker-LaHotan Institute of Art at Brenau once the agreement receives final approval. He will work closely with Rawlings, who oversees management of the permanent collection of art. As artistic director of the Heliker-LaHotan Institute of Art at Brenau, she will be responsible for development of arts-related academic programs stemming from the agreement.

Brenau University Master Artist Dennis Campay predicted that the agreement will provide a surprising introduction of Brenau and its impressive art collection to art museums, galleries and patrons in the Northeast. It will also enable the university to introduce the work of Heliker and LaHotan to broader audiences, particularly around Brenau’s home turf in the South.

“But I am really excited that this new Heliker-LaHotan Institute of Art at Brenau University will provide an opportunity for mid-career artists with a proven record of visual art accomplishments to experience and benefit from the Maine summer residency program,” he said. “It will be even more valuable to them because it will be part of the academic programs of a highly regarded university.”

For more information contact Robert Shippey at 770-297-5954 or rshippey@brenau.edu.

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