The Kaufman Collection: The pursuit of excellence and a gift to the nation

Photography by Gavin Ashworth | from The Magazine ANTIQUES, May/June 2012 |

In my catalogue of friends, mentors, scholars, and collectors, Linda H. and the late George M. Kaufman fill all the roles. From my earliest acquaintance with them in 1974, I have been in awe of their collection and of their indefatigable focus on beauty and excellence in their Norfolk, Virginia, home. I cannot count the number of times I heard George exclaim, "isn't that the greatest"- whether it was an extraordinary tulip or rose, an exceptional Massachusetts marble-top table, or his very own homemade brownies. As generous donors and supporters of American arts and scholarship, the Kaufmans have left an indelible mark on this field.

From their early years of collecting in the late 1950s, they focused on acquisitions of the highest quality, learning from curators, professors, and dealers-among them Charles F. Montgomery, Morrison H. Heckscher, Patricia E. Kane, and Harold and Albert Sack. They first met Montgomery at Winterthur and later, when he was at Yale, he became a friend and mentor. George was a founding chairman of the Friends of American Arts at Yale, and Linda fondly recalls how much they learned during Montgomery's workshops there. He fostered their interest in furniture, and inspired George's love of English brass, which resulted in a stellar collection of rare forms. The Kaufmans' passion for American arts has involved them with many institutions, to which they have given generously of their collection, as well as of their time and talents, serving on innumerable boards and committees. In 1977 they established the Kaufman Americana Foundation, which has supported collection catalogues, special exhibition publications, acquisitions, and scholarly research at numerous museums. Their generosity has not been limited to the arts, for in 1997-following George's successful heart transplant in 1995-they founded and endowed the Kaufman Center for Heart Failure at the Cleveland Clinic.

In 1986, after almost three decades of extraordinary collecting, an exhibition of the Kaufmans' American furniture was presented at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., accompanied by a superb publication that won an Award of Distinction in the 1987 American Association of Museums Publications Competition.1  The Kaufmans became aware that the nation's capital offered little opportunity for those interested in American decorative arts to experience and learn about eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century American furniture-except through special tours at the Diplomatic Reception Rooms and the White House. Certainly, none of the museums in Washington had a collection equal to theirs. Inspired by the success of the 1986 exhibition, they embraced the idea of giving the collection to the nation. Though George died in November 2001, he would be thrilled that this longtime desire will come to fruition on October 7, 2012, when more than 120 pieces of exceptional American furniture and related arts from the Kaufman Collection will go on permanent view at the National Gallery of Art.and mentor. George was a founding chairman of the Friends of American Arts at Yale, and Linda fondly recalls how much they learned during Montgomery's workshops there. He fostered their interest in furniture, and inspired George's love of English brass, which resulted in a stellar collection of rare forms. The Kaufmans' passion for American arts has involved them with many institutions, to which they have given generously of their time and talents, serving on innumerable boards and committees. In 1977 they established the Kaufman Americana Foundation, which has supported collection catalogues, special exhibition publications, acquisitions, and scholarly research at numerous museums. Their generosity has not been limited to the arts, for in 1997 - following George's successful heart transplant in 1995- they founded and endowed the Kaufman Center for Heart Failure at the Cleveland Clinic.

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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