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

How did a young couple, natives of Norfolk, come to assemble such an extraordinary collection?  Certainly, it sprang in part from Linda's having grown up with American furniture, superb Worcester porcelain, and seventeenth- and eighteenth-century maps of the new world collected by her parents, Elise and Henry Clay Hofheimer II. With amusement she recalls that her family wanted to visit Winterthur shortly after it opened in 1951: she was barely a teenager and children were not admitted then, so her mother dressed her in stockings, high heels, lipstick, and earrings, and Linda tottered around the museum for her first lesson in American antiques. In 1952 she and her two sisters accompanied their parents to the first ever exhibition of southern furniture, held at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. So it is not surprising that when the Kaufmans married in 1958 they acquired a few American antiques. Their first purchase was a Massachusetts Queen Anne high chest that George bought at Israel Sack when he stepped into the shop to get out of the rain. By the early 1970s they were focused on acquiring objects of great quality and beauty, and they delighted in living with, learning from, and sharing their collection with others. The circa 1915 house they bought soon after their marriage has been enlarged twice; first, about 1962, to accommodate their family of two active children, Claire and Ted, and again in 1991 to create more space, especially an extraordinary light-filled gallery, for their collection.

Their interest in collecting Dutch paintings began in the early 1980s when Ted took a course called "Rembrandt and his Friends" in college, and the family traveled to Europe to study the Old Masters. About the same time they became intensely interested in gardens, focusing first on the numerous varieties of daffodils and tulips (large boxes of which George would FedEx to friends in the North), and eventually creating a landscape with seasonal gardens, so that there is almost always something in bloom. They always had an interest in orchids as well; Linda grew the ones in the photographs shown here.

Their delight in the quest for the important and the beautiful was summed up by Linda in January 2002 on accepting the tenth Henry Francis du Pont Award for Decorative Arts and Architecture:  "Collecting was such fun for us. We never played golf or tennis, never had a boat, rarely traveled except to New York for auctions-we just loved chasing old wood."2 In 2008 when she received the Collector of the Year award from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, she further noted, "we bought things because we thought that they were beautiful- and most often it was love at first sight. We made quick decisions often-but always out of passion!"

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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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