The debut of Evolution of a Shared Vision: The David and Barbara Stahl Collection at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire (September 26 to January 3, 2010) reminds me of the Temple Beth-El art shows in Portland, Maine, in the 1960s. Before there was a contemporary art scene in Portland there were the Temple shows, bringing modern art to Maine in the form of fine and affordable prints.
The first real works of art I owned were prints by Leonard Baskin and Ben Shahn. Frankly, given the strong black and white bite of the Stahl Collection, I’m kind of amazed that neither Baskin nor Shahn are represented in the Currier show, the first museum exhibition of a private print collection assembled over a lifetime of collecting.
David Stahl, a retired Manchester dentist, and his late wife Barbara, who was a much revered biology professor at St. Anselm College for close to 50 years, began purchasing prints in the 1950s, influenced initially by Charles Buckley, director of the Currier from 1955 to 1966, who, in Dr. Stahl’s words, “encouraged us to look at art as more than just decoration.” As simple as that sounds, it is profound. Most serious collectors begin just so, seduced by the connection that owning art makes between the artist and the collector.
In the 32-page Evolution of a Shared Vision catalogue, Dr. Stahl writes of being struck by “two wonderful Matisse lithographs” he saw in the home of friends in Boston.
“Those two prints,” he writes, “were a stunning entry into a world we had barely glimpsed. We were captivated.”
Inspired, the Stahls made their first purchase in 1956 – “two Georges Rouault circus performers, prints from the artist’s series of aquatint etchings titled Le Cirque (The Circus).” In 2006, David Stahl purchased the eighth and last aquatint in Rouault’s circus series.
The Stahl Collection on view in Manchester features close to 100 works on paper, most black on white etchings, lithographs, and woodcuts, many with a strong social content befitting the Stahls’ progressive political views. The earliest work in the collection is Albrecht D