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Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) Announces Acquisition of Over 160 Decorative Arts Objects

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), announced the acquisition through gift and purchase of more than 160 works from the exceptional private decorative arts collection of Leatrice and Melvin Eagle, collectors based in Potomac, Maryland.

The Eagle Collection represents artwork from the 1940s to today with strength in ceramics by West Coast artists, but also encompasses fiber art, furniture, glass, jewelry, metalwork, sculpture, and works on paper. While the collection is primarily American in scope, artists from Western Europe, Japan, and Latin America are also included.

“Lee and Mel Eagle have been strong advocates of decorative arts and craft for decades and have been generously giving artwork to the museum for the past three years, now culminating with their gift of the collection itself,” said MFAH director Dr. Peter C. Marzio. “Their collection is notable for its high level of quality, progressive aesthetic, and focus on the leading practitioners in the field. The museum and its trustees are grateful for this bighearted gift that will further our ability to provide a comprehensive look at contemporary craft.”

“The addition of the Eagle Collection builds on existing strengths of the MFAH´s ceramics holdings and fills some important gaps, including our holdings of works by seminal West Coast American artists and pioneering British potters of the 1940s to 1960s,” said Cindi Strauss, MFAH curator of modern and contemporary decorative arts and design. “In addition, the Eagle´s fiber art, studio furniture, jewelry, and other media make this a truly comprehensive collection and one which will have a great impact on future MFAH installations and special exhibitions.”

The Eagles have been acquiring decorative arts since the 1960s and the concentration of their collection is in ceramics—principally, works made by California-based artists who revolutionized the field by advocating a sculptural and abstract aesthetic rather than the functional forms that had previously dominated the field. Extensive holdings of first generation California ceramists such as Robert Arneson, Viola Frey, David Gilhooly, John Mason, Ron Nagle, Ken Price, and Peter Voulkos are part of this group. The artists that later picked up their mantle and further cemented California´s reputation as an innovator in the field, including Ralph Bacerra and Adrian Saxe, are also represented in depth. The funk and assemblage works of the West Coast ceramists, in particular, will be phenomenal additions to the museum´s collection, as the museum previously had a small group of objects that address this important period in American post-war art.

In addition to ceramics, the Eagles have collected artwork in other media. Furniture by Wendell Castle and Sam Maloof, two of the most renowned American studio craft furniture-makers, are represented in the collection by early works from the 1960s and 1970s. Major wall-hangings by the Colombian artist Olga de Amaral and the American artists John Garrett, John McQueen, and Cynthia Schira comprise the fiber art. Jewelry and metalwork by Albert Paley, Robert Ebendorf, William Harper, Joyce Scott, and Earl Pardon offer a view into the work of pioneering American artists of the mid-to-late twentieth century. Works on paper in the collection include major examples by Frank Stella. Objects by these artists and others from the Eagle Collection have been lent to retrospective and themed exhibitions throughout the United States.

The Eagles have been strong supporters of the decorative arts—craft in particular— working with national organizations on collection development and educational initiatives. They have served together on the boards of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C. and the Mint Museum of Craft and Design in Charlotte, North Carolina. Lee Eagle was the former chairperson of the board of the American Craft Council and she currently serves on the Fine Art Advisory Panel of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Board of Directors of Anderson Ranch.

Image: Torque Vessel, 1986. John Mason, American, born 1927. Stoneware. The Leatrice S. and Melvin B. Eagle Collection, gift of Leatrice and Melvin Eagle. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. © John Mason

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