Paul M. Hollister Collection, The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass
Transcribed by Bard Graduate Center
Title: Paul Parkman and Elmerina Parkman Lecture, 1988 (Rakow title: Paul and Elmerina Parkman interview [sound recording] / with Paul Hollister, BIB ID: 167959).
Recorded by Paul Hollister
Elmerina Parkman, Lecturer
Paul Parkman, Lecturer
Location: Heller Gallery, New York, New York [according to Douglas Heller, Heller Gallery was on 71 Greene Street at this time]
Colleen Terrell, Transcriber
Barb Elam, Editor
Lauren Drapala, Summary
Duration: 32:13
Length: 9 pages

Note: This transcript is based upon an audiotaped recording that has been digitally converted. The recording is part of the Paul M. Hollister Collection at The Rakow Research Library at The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York, and was transcribed at Bard Graduate Center, New York, New York, for the digital exhibition and archive Voices in Studio Glass History: Art and Craft, Maker and Place, and the Critical Writings and Photography of Paul Hollister. Usage requests for all or part of this transcript must be obtained from The Rakow Research Library at The Corning Museum of Glass. 

Paul Hollister often made audio recordings for research purposes in preparation for writing, including interviews with artists and curators, and lectures. The reader should bear in mind that transcriptions of these recordings reflect spoken, rather than written, prose. While every effort was made to be as accurate as possible, the sound quality of the recordings in the Paul Hollister Collection varies greatly. Transcripts have been edited for readability and occasionally condensed. They should serve as a best-effort guide to the original only and not be considered verbatim.

Dr. Paul Parkman (1932– ) and Elmerina Parkman (1932– ), residents of Kensington, Maryland, began collecting American studio glass in 1971, together with archival material related to the studio glass movement. The Parkmans have actively supported craft and glass art through their involvement in numerous organizations, among them the James Renwick Alliance, which they helped found in 1982. The couple have donated glass pieces to the permanent collections of several museums, including The Corning Museum of Glass and the Smithsonian Institution’s Renwick Gallery, and they have given their archives and many books to the Smithsonian Archives of American Art and the Smithsonian Art Museum Library.

Summary: This recording documents a slide lecture at Heller Gallery wherein Paul and Elmerina Parkman detail their personal relationships with collecting American studio glass and their involvement at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery. Their discussion includes their early interest in collecting, the galleries through which they were introduced to contemporary artists, and their personal initiatives in publicizing both contemporary glass artists and the institutions housing their collections.

Mentioned: Joseph Alsop, American Craft Council, American Craft Museum [formerly Museum of Contemporary Crafts, later Museum of Arts and Design], Appalachian Spring Gallery, Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass and the Literary Alliance, David Brook, Wendell Castle, Dale Chihuly, collecting, Cooper Hewitt Museum, The Corning Museum of Glass, Eason Eige, Fendrick Gallery, Glass Art Society, Glass Gallery, Greenwood Gallery, James Harmon, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Heller Gallery, Lloyd Herman, Sheila Hicks, Huntington Galleries [later Huntington Museum of Art], Margie Jervis, Susie Krasnican, Dominick Labino, Marvin Lipofsky, Maurine Littleton Gallery, David McFadden, Michael Monroe, National Endowment for the Arts, New York Experimental Glass Workshop [later UrbanGlass], patronage, Mark Peiser, Penland School of Craft [later Penland School of Craft], James Renwick Alliance, James Renwick, Renwick Gallery, Dorothy Saxe, George Saxe, Seraph Gallery, Smithsonian American Museum of Art, Hilbert Sosin, Jean Sosin, Third Spring Gallery, Peter Voulkos

[Sound of applause. Indistinct voices]

Paul Hollister [PH]: Can we do that in the middle, or is that going to be in your way?

Elmerina Parkman (EP): No.

Paul Parkman (PP): No, that’s fine.

[unidentified sound]

PH: It’s going.

PP: Okay.

PH: Yeah.

EP: Is it going?

[unidentified voice]: Yeah.

PP: Okay. Thank you, Doug [Heller]. Ladies and gentlemen. Okay. I’m gonna put this slide in here to show we really are collectors. I [laughs] we aren’t gonna show you any work, but I thought I’d put this in just to—documentation of the fact that we do collect glass. We thought of a number of titles we might use for this talk as an alternative to the one Doug has in the program. The one I liked best was the ‘Beyond Mindless Acquisitions,’ or ‘What to Do Besides Worry about the Health of the Secondary Market.’ [laughter] But we finally decided on the more staid one that is on the program. Since we collect together we thought we would share our ideas with you this afternoon as a team, and thus share the stage. Elmerina will begin because, as seems only appropriate, she is the one who took the first step that started us off on this road to collecting about 20 years ago. And we’re gonna try to explain to you how our interest and involvement has developed beyond collecting.

EP: [inaudible]

[Pauses and unidentified sounds. Recording apparatus appears to have been stopped and restarted, as recording begins again mid-sentence]

EP: —Intense period of interest in Victorian and early twentieth-century glass, and these Tiffany pieces are examples. But after being exposed to contemporary work, we moved rather quickly into American studio glass. The first studio glass piece that we saw was the [Dominick] Labino paperweight vase shown here. And by 1971 we focused almost entirely on this new movement. From the very beginning we were inclined to be interested in the interactions that occur in collecting beyond acquisition of the object. And one of the first places that we looked for studio glass was Appalachian Spring, a gallery in Georgetown. [Washington, D.C.] David Brooks, the owner, showed us some clear bowls with applied black handles and told us that Billy Bernstein, who made them, said they were for blueberries and cream. So that may not seem like much of a statement, but it was significant for us, because we had been geared to collecting the glass of makers and designers who were no longer around to comment on their work. We realized that now one could be involved in a different and larger way. That you could know about the artist through the dealer, or even know the artist directly. Our curiosity had been stimulated, and we were eager to learn. Next slide. In 1971, we drove to Penland, North Carolina, and as you can see this is the post office there. I think that’s the center of town also. [indistinct voices and laughter from the audience] And also went to visit the Penland School [Penland School of Craft, Penland, North Carolina]. And there we met Mark Peiser, who was their resident glass artist. This is in Mark’s studio and, as I said, this was way back in ’71. George Thiewes who had just arrived to be artist in residence, and the next slide is of Dick Marquis, who is laying out canes. He was there teaching a session, and he’s laying out the canes for this cup, which we purchased from him. A few months later, we visited the Labinos, the first of several visits. We began to attend any lecture that was available to learn more about glass, and then later our interests extended to all media. And through the Master Craftsman Lecture Series at the Renwick [Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian American Museum of Art, Washington, D.C.], we heard Peter Voulkos—this is the Renwick, obviously—talk about his work in clay, Sheila Hicks in fiber, and Wendell Castle in wood, just to name a few. Our faithful attendance at these events made us familiar to the museum staff, and as a result we became friends with Lloyd Herman, who was director of the Renwick Gallery. That’s Lloyd on the right, and David McFadden, curator at the Cooper Hewitt [Smithsonian Design Museum, New York, New York] on the left. It was not many steps from here to the later realization that something important was happening in this new movement, and that we might, through our interests and organizational skills, have an impact in other ways.

PP: Do you want to run the slides? Next one. [inaudible] Joseph Alsop had published a book in 1982 called The Rare Art Traditions: The History of Art Collecting and Its Linked Phenomena [Joseph Alsop, The Rare Art Traditions: The History of Art Collecting and Its Linked Phenomena Wherever These Have Appeared (New York: Harper & Row, 1982)], and I recommend that book for people who are interested in collecting. He says that the art system is divided—is made up of a number of parts. And the parts he identified that kind of apply to glass are art collecting, first; second, the art market, which goes obviously hand in hand with art collecting; third is art history; and fourth is art museums. He also identifies a number of other elements which are not yet part of the studio glass scene but are part of, say, paintings and sculpture. For example, art faking; re-evaluation, that is deciding that things were very popular at one time are no longer so important; antiques—of course we’re not old enough in studio glass to be antique; and super-prices, the Jackson Pollock phenomenon. But we don’t have to worry about those last things for a little while yet. But the collecting and the market and art history and the museums are important elements that we became interested in. And tried to do things that would help promote these various facets of the art system. I thought we could talk about them a little bit this afternoon and those of you who are so inclined might become interested and involved in these areas and perhaps build on the ideas that came to us.

EP: To help the artists, obviously, the main objective is to be a patron. Collectors supply this element of the system by the fact that they are collectors, which in turn plays a role in creating an art market. One can be a patron by purchasing work through galleries—I think you recognize this gallery [laughter]—or directly from the artist. Contact with the artist is an activity which most collectors mention as one of their prime secondary gratifications. This shows Dale Chihuly signing a piece that was in his show at the Renwick in 1979. For most of us, having the work come to our areas so that we can see and evaluate it in the flesh, so to speak, is a necessity in supporting purchasing from the galleries, allows them to survive and continue to perform this important function for us.

PP: Okay. Where am I?

EP: [inaudible]

PP: Oh, here we are. Sorry. We go to lots of galleries and museum shows and attend as many openings as we can. The next few slides show some of these events—they’re kind of historical, I thought. This is a show at the Third Spring, which was a gallery in Georgetown. And this is 1972. They had a group show with Mark Peiser, who has that large vase with the tulips on it. Dick Huss is the piece down below. Marvin Lipofsky had pieces in the show, and there were a number of others. Here we are in 1979 with an unidentified gallery owner. [laughter] This is the gallery known as Seraph [Seraph Gallery, Washington, D.C.] in 1979. They had a show there for Jim Harmon. Some of these galleries got off to kind of a funny start. [laughter] There. You see, you have to read the fine print to—finally get down to the bottom and it says, ‘And studio glass gallery,’ but they later on came out of the closet. And here it is the same gallery of Sally Hansen’s [Sarah “Sally” Hansen] now called the Glass Gallery [originally Bethesda, Maryland, later Friendship Heights, Maryland]. This is the late Branch Gallery in Tiffanee Tree, which was in Georgetown. They had a show of Steve Weinberg; that was in 1980. This is the Greenwood Gallery, which was a very spiffy, high-class gallery that flourished for about a year near in Washington [Greenwood Gallery, Washington, D.C.]. And all of these had glass; some of them had other crafts. And I think it’s important that the people who were interested in craft as art look at other media as well. And we we became acquainted with what was going on in ceramics and fiber and metal and wood, and also kept in contact with some galleries that had flat art as well and traditional sculptural material. Sculptural material like Barbara Fendrick’s gallery in Georgetown [Fendrick Gallery, Georgetown, Washington, D.C.]. It’s mainly painting and sculpture, but she carries Albert Paley and Wendell Castle and Tom Patti. These are some pictures that were taken at Maurine Littleton’s who has a gallery in Georgetown now [Maurine Littleton Gallery, Georgetown, Washington, D.C.] That’s obviously Marvin, looking very happy there [laughter]. And Dale Chihuly talking to Lloyd Herman also at his show this past February. Now, there are other positive features of going to all of these events. I think you can see [laughter], and the only thing you have to watch out for is a health hazard induced by too much white wine, which is traditionally served at gallery and opening events.

EP: We also felt that what was happening was important enough to be documented—the art history part of the system. Who was to do this? Certainly there was little in the way of critical writing, or writing of any sort going on in the sixties and early seventies, and precious little even today. So we started our own archive to fill this gap. I began to collect exhibition catalogues and was able to obtain the Toledo Glass National catalogues from 1966, ’67, and ’68. And this shows my shelves with some of our catalogues and books. I’ve written around the world in pursuit of elusive publications and have struck up corresponding acquaintances with all kinds of people. Anyone who will respond and, in some instances, even some who don’t. The next sl—everything related is fair game for the archive. Show invitations, for example I have every invitation sent to us from the Heller Gallery [New York, New York]. Reviews, whenever they happen; publications dealing with glass and other media, including books, from Objects USA [Lee Nordness, Objects USA: Works by Artist-Craftsmen in Ceramic, Enamel, Glass, Metal, Plastic, Mosaic, Wood and Fiber (New York: Viking Press, 1970)] to the beautiful new book published just last fall called The Eloquent Object [Marcia Manhart and Tom Manhart, eds., The Eloquent Object: The Evolution of American Art in Craft Media since 1945 (Tulsa, Ok.: Philbrook Museum of Art, 1987]. Magazines, Craft Horizons, which became American Craft magazine, Glass and Glass Studio, which don’t seem to exist anymore, New Work, Neues Glas, and many others. Posters, of course, and the files containing my voluminous correspondence. And now almost twenty years later I realize even more the importance of our archives as a resource since several glass artists have passed away, and many publications are no longer available. We joined the Glass Art Society first to receive its annual journal, and later on to attend meetings in Corning, Huntington, Tucson, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and we hope to go to Kent State in June. We also belong to the newly formed Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass and the Literary Alliance, which is a project coming out of New Work which comes out of the New York Experimental Glass Workshop [now Urban Glass, New York, New York]. We also belong to NCECA [National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts], which is the clay society, and SNAG [Society of North American Goldsmiths], which is the metal society. And we’re members of many local and several other national craft organizations and many museums, particularly in Washington [Washington, D.C.] but also a few that are scattered throughout the United States, such as Corning [The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York.], of course, and the Huntington Museum of Art [Huntington, West Virginia], primarily because of Eason Eige’s [G. Eason Eige] efforts to exhibit and collect studio glass for the museum. Eason was supposed to be on the program this afternoon and couldn’t make it because of the snowstorm, but he’s their chief curator, and he has mounted a number of exhibitions in addition to collecting for the museum. All of this, I think, qualifies us as world-class networkers, and we enjoy spreading the word about art and craft media. This next slide shows journals. Now these are—in 1979 Paul started a journal of our activities dealing with arty events. He’s now up to volume 11. And these are filled with facts and trivia that have seemed important to him over the years. These next two slides are examples of pages from the journal. You can see that that’s a visit to our home by Mary Van Cline on the left, Jim Harmon, Susie Krasnican, and the next slide shows our visit to Michael Glancy at his studio in Rhode Island. Some of these journals include museum and gallery invitations, and many include photographs. All are painstakingly written in an italic hand.

PP: Oh yeah, and my slides. I am rarely seen without my camera. I have the world’s largest assemblance of terrible slides. [laughter] And I’ll show them to you at the slightest provocation [laughter] until your jaw goes slack and your eyes cross. As a matter of fact, I have provided photography services to such disparate organizations as the Glass Art Society, and for numerous Renwick and collectors—James Renwick Alliance events, mainly I think cause my price is right. It’s free for those people, and while Elmerina goes on, I think I’ll probably take a picture right now. [laughter]

EP: All these things, however, do not make us unique. Many collectors enjoy showing off their collections, keep catalogues, and document their collections. Some, like the Saxes [Dorothy and George Saxe.] and the Sosins [Jean and Hilbert Sosin] have in addition supported publications documenting their approach and illustrating glass from their collections. We all like to loan pieces to museum exhibitions, allowing us to share the work with a larger audience. And almost all collectors belong to organizations and participate in their activities. But it seemed clear to us, despite all this, there were areas in the art system, as it applied to glass and other media, that these personal efforts did not address, and perhaps we could help to fill the gap. And that it might be fun to work on filling these gaps. It’s important to say that the pleasure derived from making a lasting contribution to a personal area of interest is one of the most satisfying outcomes that can be realized. What we found out, though, is that it also means a lot of hard work. The first area was in providing information to museum professionals about what was happening artistically in the glass art world and to encourage museums to add contemporary work in glass and other media to their collections.

PP: As we mentioned earlier, we became acquainted with—had become acquainted with Lloyd Herman, who was the director of the Renwick, and he was trying to accumulate funds to buy some pieces from a show that he had curated called American Porcelain: New Expressions in an Ancient Art. And he asked us offhand one evening after we were leaving an opening if we might be interested in donating a piece, and we thought about it for a while and thought, ‘Well, gee, that might not be such a bad idea.’ So we went back and looked at the show again and eventually settled on this piece by Adrian Saxe that’s called Untitled Covered Jar with Base. Most collectors, porcelain collectors, call them antelope jars for I think reasons that are obvious. We joined three other collectors to purchase later on a sculptural bowl by Margie Jervis and Susie Krasnican, glass artists from our area called Pink Gesture. And it wasn’t very far from here before wen—Lloyd and ourselves and some other people—began to think about the idea of a permanent support group to help the Renwick for their permanent collection. And it was from this idea then that sprang the James Renwick Alliance. So this is the bust of our sort of founding father, James Renwick, which is in the grand salon of that building. Renwick is an interesting guy. He was an architect, the first American architect of great note. He designed the Renwick Gallery. He designed the Smithsonian Castle building on the mall [Smithsonian Institution Building, nicknamed ‘The Castle,’ Washington, D.C.]. He was a collector. He collected oriental porcelain, and—anyway, I digress. Back to the story, the Alliance had its main purpose then to support acquisitions for any museum interested in craft media, actually. And during the early years in New York City, the American Craft Museum [American Craft Museum, now the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, New York.], we bought a piece of Diane Itter’s. But more recently, over the past several years, we’ve focused on the Renwick almost exclusively, for a couple of reasons. We felt that we could make more of an impact by focusing our efforts, and second, the Smithsonian, in turn, seemed to become more interested in the program of art in craft media.

EP: How did we proceed to provide this encouragement and support to the museum? With our knowledge of the Washington crafts scene, we were able to put together a group of interested collectors to form the James Renwick Alliance. And here we show some of the first members were Anne and Ron Abramson, Eleanor and Sam Rosenfeld, and us. This slide shows Sam, in the striped shirt, and Ron Abramson next to him at an opening for Andries Copier. Both Ron and Sam are trustees of the American Craft Council. And Charlie Gailis—Charlie and Anne Gailis. Charlie has long been involved with Haystack [Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Deer Isle, Maine] and was a former president of their board. Our seed money for our new organization was provided by the board members and then enlarged through membership. Additional funds were raised by offering craft study tours and educational seminars co-sponsored with the Smithsonian Resident Associate program. In 1985, the Alliance received a recognition grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Additional grants were received in 1986, ’87, and we just received word that we received a grant for this year.

PP: Okay. In those early days, the Alliance board members did everything for the organization. If any of you are interested, I’d be happy to give you lessons on the fastest techniques for stuffing, stamping, and sealing 2,000 envelopes. [laughter] And so it was quite a bit of work, but it was not all eating grass. I mean, we did have some good times. This is an Alliance board meeting and shows that we did have some fun along the way.

EP: After careful attention to our membership and continued mailings to people who might be interested, we had broadened our base of support. And this support last year enabled the Alliance to help fund for the Renwick the purchase of Rudy Autio’s Listening to the East Wind, currently on view at the Renwick, and Tom Patti’s Bi-Axial Tubated Green Riser. Previous Alliance acquisitions were Richard Mawdsley’s Feast Bracelet, which is now on a two-year tour with The Eloquent Object exhibition. And this is Margret Craver’s Muffineer. The next slide shows Mary Lee Hu’s Choker [Choker (#38)] and Cynthia Schira’s Reflections, which is a large, four-panel fiber piece. There’s an exhibition of Cynthia’s new work at the Renwick now through February 14th. Other acquisitions in process are Fred [Frederick A.] Miller’s Beverage Pitcher, Bill [William] Daley’s Oval Chamber, and this is Lenore Tawney’s fiber piece called Dove, and that’s Lenore sitting there, and I’m not sure whether she comes with the piece or not. [laughter] All these acquisitions are top-quality, major works by important artists. The Alliance seminar this spring, in April, will focus on clay in conjunction with two clay exhibitions at the Renwick. Joan Mondale, Adrian Saxe, Ruth Kohler, Michael McTwigan, and Valerie Halper [probably Vicki Halper, who was the curator of the 1988 “Clay Revisions” exhibition at the Renwick] will be speakers. Also if any you are interested, I brought the Renwick’s new brochure, with a Rudy Autio piece on the cover, the January calendar of Events from the National Museum of American Art [National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution; now the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.], Alliance brochures which tell about the organization, the Fellowship flyer, which I’ll talk about in a few minutes, and a few copies with the current Renwick Quarterly.

PP: It hasn’t always gone smoothly. As with any organization, we went through some trying times. In 1984, Elmerina took over as president, the presidency of the alliance, and established a firm foundation for the organization. At one point a year and a half ago, it wasn’t clear whether the Smithsonian was at all interested in contemporary craft. Lloyd Herman, the director, had left the Renwick; there were rumors floating about that the Renwick might only be open on an as-needed basis for musical events or for exhibiting European decorative arts. And the Alliance, of course, we called out the Alliance cavalry. Doug, if we could have a little William Tell music in the background that would be good at this point [laughter], and we started a write-in campaign and kind of a lobbying campaign, which clearly announced to the Smithsonian management that there was a constituency for art and craft medium, and it was a fairly noisy one at that. And we tried to speak for the interests of this segment of the art community with the Smithsonian management. I work for the government when I’m not messing around with this kind of thing, and it’s been my experience that the government is reasonably responsive to noisy constituency groups at times. And I would say that I think we had a very positive and seem to have been influential in bringing about our desired effect. At least a lot of the crazy ideas have disappeared. The powers that be at the Smithsonian—this is the parent museum, the National Museum of American Art, of which the Renwick Gallery is part—the management here seems clearly committed and fully supportive of the idea that the Renwick should be the Smithsonian’s exhibition space for twentieth-century American craft. There are actions; they have spoken very clearly. The idea of the Renwick as a focus for craft at the Smithsonian has been reborn. And as solid evidence there’s a new sign that’s now appeared on the Renwick Gallery’s fence that says ‘Renwick Gallery, the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American Craft.’ They have appointed Michael Monroe on the right, who was formerly curator, as a director of the gallery with the title of curator in charge. This is Michael with Lee Eagle at Lee’s place; Lee’s the Treasurer of the Alliance currently. And so I think that we are back on a nice even keel. The latest expression of the Smithsonian’s intent is that now for the first time the Renwick, as with other Smithsonian museums, is participating in the collections acquisition program. And what that means is money for the purchase of objects for the permanent collection. The fund is $750,000 over five years, half of which must be matched from outside sources, and our organization is going to have to try very hard over the next five years to raise matching money to take advantage of this particular generosity, and to encourage the Smithsonian to believe that this is an important area of the art world that deserves their continuing attention and support.

EP: The last Alliance project that I’ll mention is related to art history, and this has been my project. These efforts have been devoted to developing a scholarship which would support an art historical approach to the phenomenon of contemporary American craft. No fellowships for scholarly research in contemporary craft have been available. And in fact we were aware that graduate students were unable to pursue this line of research because interested and knowledgeable faculty and financial support were unavailable. We felt there was a need to provide for this. If contemporary work is ever to be taken seriously as art, it requires the critical attention that painting and sculpture enjoy, and to garner this attention, there has to be a means for focusing scholars in the area where there have been from too few to none. The press releases went out in August, and flyers announcing the first Renwick Alliance fellowship were mailed in October. 170 requests for application forms have been received from throughout the United States and abroad, from artists, museum professionals, writers, college and university faculty, and art administrators. Proposals postmarked by January 15th are due to the Smithsonian’s Office of Fellowships and Grants. This Alliance-funded fellowship will start in June of this year. And the best part is the Smithsonian believes this is such a good idea, that they plan to pick up the funding for the future years, allowing our organization to focus on raising money for acquisitions.

PP: As we were getting ready for this thing, and going back over the things that we had tried to do, and it’s really kind of surprising, actually, as we were involved, but it even surprises us. It didn’t seem kind of possible when we started off, but the answer is, of course, that we didn’t do it all ourselves, and the board didn’t do it all, but we had a lot of support from many people such as yourselves, who—many have joined the organization and have contributed to it in a whole variety of ways. The board members and ourselves have worked very hard as volunteers to accomplish what Elmerina and I have talked about this afternoon. On a personal level, all of this has brought to us a great deal of satisfaction. As much as maybe actually collecting the things. The idea of making these things available permanently, to people now and in future generations. It has taken an enormous amount of time, energy, and resources. We had decided a long time ago, though, that our interest was to live with the art of our time, and we feel gratified that we’ve been able to support and strengthen the craft world—in the craft world all of the important components of the art system that Alsop identified. The artists, the collectors, the museum, and the art historians. Thank you. [sound of applause]

[recording ends]