The Booth Western Art Museum's association with the now closed Leanin' Tree Museum and Sculpture Garden has resulted in three new works for the Cartersville venue's permanent collection. The Booth acquired the two paintings and sculpture prior to the Leanin' Tree Museum Collection auction — conducted by Scottsdale Art Auction — in January.
"[Leanin' Tree Founder Ed Trumble] is now [in his 90s], and he wanted to have his collection be dispersed while he was still alive to see it and not leave it to his kids to have them do that," Booth Executive Director Seth Hopkins told attendees at the museum's Art for Lunch program Aug. 1. "The majority of the works were owned by the company. Some were owned by him personally and other entities.
"But when you've got a several million dollar art collection owned by a company that is in a business that is somewhat shrinking — the greeting card business is not what it used to be with the Internet greeting cards and things taking over, … he really thought [that] he needed to liquidate the art collection and put the money back into the company. So that's what they did in January. They had an auction of 700 pieces. Every single piece sold. That never happens. It was a combination [of] they had realistic estimates and reserves on the pieces, and people who are just fans of the company."
He continued. "… We were consulted to help them with the business side of liquidating the collection and to give them a little advice. We've had a close relationship with them for many years, such that they gave us the opportunity to buy three pieces before the auction. The deal was we couldn't buy any of the Top 20 in value because that was the core of the auction, and we didn't want to pull that out from under them or the auction company. So the next 20, we got to pick three that we really wanted, and they made us a real racehorse deal on these three pieces. We are very pleased to have these."
Among the three works that the Booth acquired is one painted sculpture titled "Cosmos" by Harry Jackson. Situated in the Great Hall on the venue's main level, the piece is an abstract depiction of a stampede.
The other Leanin' Tree Museum works are a pair of paintings: Gary Ernest Smith's "Oregon Pioneers," now displayed in the Modern West Gallery; and Bill Hughes' "Canyon Passages," which highlights a cowboy journeying near a waterfall, in the Landscape and Wildlife Gallery.
Showcased at the Leanin' Tree Museum for more than 25 years, "Oregon Pioneers" highlights a man and woman — whose faces are devoid of detail — viewing the prairie landscape. The oil painting was created to be incorporated into a poster to celebrate the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center's opening in 1992.
"Gary Ernest Smith is one of the great contemporary artists when it comes to figures, but he usually doesn't do faces," Hopkins said. "So that lets you put yourself in that place or somebody else you know. Again, kind of back to the storytelling element. He leaves it unresolved in who these people are. They could be anybody."
After establishing the Leanin' Tree greeting card company in 1949, Trumble started buying some of the artists' creations that graced the cards' covers.
"It eventually grew to be quite a museum," Hopkins said, referring to the Leanin' Tree Museum and Sculpture Garden in Boulder, Colorado that closed in August 2017 after more than 40 years. "As the company grew more successful, Ed's artistic tastes got better and better. He started buying significant works of art that were for his own enjoyment [and] for the public's enjoyment. It [had] nothing to do with the greeting card business at that point, other than the museum and the greeting card store were in the same building."
Unable to attend the auction in person, Trumble was there in spirit, penning a letter in the auction booklet.
"Western art has been my life's passion and mission," Trumble stated. "The roots of my interest in the West were planted early and deep, in a young boy's fertile imagination, as my family scrabbled for survival on a ... drought-battered Nebraska farm. Riding my cow pony Sunny, with ol' Buster my dog darting to and fro alongside pulled by every elusive scent, we — well, I — dreamt of leading great cattle drives, fightin' off determined varmints and rustlers, and pushing deep into steep, blue valleys in pursuit of beaver, gold, wealth, fame — the collective dreams of youth.
"The Good Lord has been gracious in allowing me 93 winters, but I'd by lying if I said I don't feel those years. After all, it's not like I'm 92 anymore. My life has been blessed by God and dumb Irish luck. But even the benevolent St. Patrick can't stop the ceaseless march of time. For several years, a decision has been looming, haunting, inescapable. What to do with my art collection? My dear wife, best friend, confidant and cocurator, Lynn Marie, has traveled this path with me through many exciting and fruitful years, as we built the collection and fulfilled our vision of the museum and sculpture garden, culminating in my 2008 book, 'The Story of Leanin' Tree.' We have shared an unbelievably wonderful journey.
"It was never my expectation that my family would maintain my art museum indefinitely. They have their own lives to lead, their own dreams to fulfill — plus a great business to run. I have always cared deeply about ensuring that my family can remain dedicated to their proud work of creating and selling Leanin' Tree's national popular greeting cards. So now the time has come. We all made the emotionally difficult decision to sell the art collection and close the museum."