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

The first time I met George and Linda Kaufman--examiining the mate to their Seymour card table at a Sotheby's preview--I was struck by their natural warmth.  Several years later, I cam to know it first hand.

In July 2001, newly ensconced at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and responsible for overseeing early American ceramics, I was asked by my colleague Luke Beckerdite to document that Philadelphia merchant John Cadwalader had used a crest with the coat of arms of his wife, Elizabeth Lloyd, and the cipher "JEC."  I verified several instances in my thesis research on the Lloyd family-and was thrilled when Luke told me that the heraldry was emblazoned on two pickle stands made in December 1770 at Bonnin and Morris's American China Manufactory in Philadelphia. 

George and Linda had become aware of the pickle stands in the 1980s. For almost twenty years, they had gently reminded the owner of their abiding interest in the charming 5 ½-inch-high ceramic dishes. And finally, in July 2001, he agreed to sell them. Linda flew to New York and Luke and dealers Gary and Diana Stradling went with her to authenticate them. She brought them home to a delighted George.

That October, while on a Decorative Arts Trust trip to Norfolk with Jenifer Kindig, Linda sought us out while we were visiting the Chrysler Museum. She invited us to join her and George and a small group at the house that evening. At the house George beamed. He listened as we all oooh-ed and aaah-ed, and he spoke about each work of art in his collection as knowledgeably as the best curator and as proudly as he did about his children and grandchildren. At one point I was asked if I had to use the powder room. I politely declined, but was promptly told, no, I did have to use the powder room! I dutifully scurried off. There on the vanity stood the Cadwaladers' pickle stands. The Kaufmans always acknowledged my part in verifying the decoration, and my private interlude with those rarefied treasures was their "thank you" to me. Less than a week later, George passed away. He never let on how sick he was that evening. He was a pillar in our field as a collector and as a supporter of students, museum collections, and scholarly pursuits, and Linda continues his legacy. The gift of their collection to the National Gallery of Art puts American furniture and ceramics at center stage for the millions of people that all of us in American decorative arts aspire to reach.

 

Alexandra Alevizatos Kirtley

Montgomery-Garvan Associate
Curator of American Decorative Arts, Philadelphia Museum of Art

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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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