Behold the “Sleeping Bulldog.”
This charming, red crayon study is one of 130 works in an exhibit, “An Eye for the Unexpected,” that opens June 20 at the Ackland Art Museum.
“One of the things about this exhibition is that not only will you see works by artists that you probably have never heard of before, but you will see something by an artist that you know for a particular kind of work, and, this is not that kind of work, “ said Timothy Riggs, the Ackland’s curator of collections.
The bulldog, by British artist Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956), is a fun example of this.
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“Brangwyn is best known for big, muscular scenes of buildings and people, sometimes people who are builders,” said Riggs, who was intrigued by the very human expression on the dog’s face and also by the sketches of the bulldog’s face on the same paper. “Each is more human than the last.”
Riggs, who has a grand passion for prints, works of art on paper, chose the pieces in the exhibit from a collection of 450 works donated to the Ackland by Joseph F. McCrindle (1923-2008).
McCrindle was born into a wealthy family and as an adult lived in New York and London. He was a literary agent and in 1959 he founded the Transatlantic Review. “His homes gradually filled up with works of art,” Riggs explained. “He bought all kinds of things and was not concerned particularly with names. He bought what looked good. He had a good eye. He bought Picasso and David Hockney prints, but you will see names you have never heard of. But they are worth looking at.”
McCrindle was generous while he was alive in his support of charitable organizations and created a foundation to disperse his vast art and book collection when he died. “He decided to have it divided to museums all across the country, including the National Gallery and the Morgan Library and a lot of museums, especially smaller ones,” Riggs said.
The Ackland knew it was to receive a couple of McCrindle’s paintings but when his executor, John Rowe, came to visit the Ackland, a couple of works turned into several hundred.
“He saw that I was interested in prints, that we had a big collection, and that we did a lot with it,” Riggs said. “He told me that he thought McCrindle’s entire print collection should come to the Ackland.” And so it did.
Riggs eschewed working at a large institution where he would have been able to specialize as a print curator. “The great thing about working at a small museum is that you will be working one day on African carvings and a week later, on Chinese ceramics,” Riggs said. “The interesting thing, and this is why I stayed, is that what you become is a specialist in the Ackland Art Museum,” Riggs said. “I think I know the collection probably better than anybody in the world.
When the last label is removed from the museum walls on August 31, though, it will signal the exhibit’s end as well as the end of an era. Riggs retires August 1.
“Timothy has been the best, most generous colleague I could ever hope to have,” said Lyn Koehnline, conservator at the Ackland who has worked with Riggs since 1988. “Timothy’s scholarship is in the history of European print making, and my area of specialization is in the conservation of works on papers, so my work has been greatly enriched by his deep knowledge. He has a brilliant eye, and it seems he never forgets a work of art.”
“Tim is definitely another order of being,” said Marjorie B. Cohn, the Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Curator of Prints, Emerita at Harvard’s Fogg Museum. “Tim certainly does have an exceptional breadth of knowledge but what I love most about him is more human than just his brain. His two most amazing qualities are his sweet temper and his loyalty.”
Riggs, who is also an adjunct faculty member in UNC’s art history department, said that he will miss putting together exhibitions.
“It is one of the most exciting things you can do because it gives a curator that chance to be an artist,” Riggs said. “The curator’s art is putting together other people’s art and of course, making that art, including the arrangement of that art, comprehensive to the person who walks in the door.”