A major gift to Hope College by California residents David Kamansky and Gerald Wheaton has poised the college’s new Kruizenga Art Museum to serve as a resource for Asian art unequaled elsewhere in the region when it opens in September.
Donated to the college in the fall of 2014, the gift includes more than 500 works of art and a library of more than 7,000 art-related books, museum publications and auction catalogs. The art and library together have been appraised at just over $1,250,000.
Approximately 80 percent of the art objects in the Kamansky-Wheaton gift are from Asia, spanning centuries and representing multiple cultures.
“When added to other older and more recent gifts, the Kamansky-Wheaton donation gives the Kruizenga Art Museum the largest and most significant collection of Asian art in West Michigan,” said Charles Mason, who is the museum’s founding director and a specialist in Asian art.
The college has built the Kruizenga Art Museum to house and enhance the college’s Permanent Collection of art as an educational resource for the entire campus as well as the community and beyond. The works in the Kamansky-Wheaton gift comprise about a third of the Permanent Collection, which has developed steadily across the past 50 years.
“There is no question that the Kamansky-Wheaton gift has substantially upgraded the quality and variety of art that we can show in the new museum,” Mason said. “That gift has provided a meaningful context for many artworks that were donated in the past, and it provides a terrific foundation for attracting new gifts in the future.”
The Asian portion of the gift is particularly strong in works from Japan, China, Mongolia and Tibet, but also includes works from Korea, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar. The Asian artworks range in date from the 2nd century A.D. to the late 20th century and span a wide range of genres, from paintings and sculptures to ceramics and furniture.
Highlights among the Asian objects include a sensitively-rendered 16th-century Chinese scroll painting of the Buddha Shakyamuni as a humble monk; a rare Japanese sutra table with an inscription dating to the year 1667; an important group of 84 mainly 18th- and 19th-century Mongolian devotional paintings; and a large and diverse assortment of 17th-20th century Tibetan temple furnishings.
The remaining 20 percent of the artworks in the Kamansky-Wheaton gift are European and American. Most of the objects are paintings and drawings dating from the 16th century to the present, but the gift also includes a smaller number of sculptures, ceramics and textiles. Highlights among the European and American works of art include a 16th-century German oil-on-copper painting of Christ’s nativity by a follower of Hans Baldung Grien; a 17th-century oil painting titled “The Defenders of the Eucharist” after a composition by the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens; an 18th century pastel portrait of a child with a kitten by the Englishman John Russell; and a large group of 20th century Suprematist and Expressionist paintings and drawings by the Russian-born American artist Victor Mall.
“As with the Asian objects, the European and American works of art in the Kamansky-Wheaton gift significantly enrich the Kruizenga Art Museum’s founding collection, extending its chronological range and adding many new subjects,” Mason said. “Including—somewhat surprisingly—the college’s first major paintings with Christian themes.”
The works of art in the Kamansky-Wheaton gift were carefully selected from a much larger art collection shared by Kamansky, who is a former director of the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, California, and Wheaton, a retired commercial baker and salon owner who is also interested in antiques.
The collection was formed primarily by Kamansky over a period of more than 50 years. During his 30-year tenure as director of the Pacific Asia Museum, he built a strong permanent collection of more than 14,000 objects for the museum while organizing ground-breaking exhibitions on subjects ranging from Australian aboriginal art and Filipino ivory carving to contemporary Chinese painting and Tibetan furniture. He also applied his broad interests and extensive knowledge to his personal collection, which ranges from Asian, European and American art to pre-Columbian, Oceanic and African art.
Kamansky and Wheaton wanted to make their gift to an institution where it would have an immediate impact and not duplicate existing collections. They knew of the Kruizenga Art Museum through their friendship with Mason, who had served in Kamansky’s former position as director of Pacific Asia Museum from 2011 until coming to Hope in 2013.
The idea of giving to the KAM also appealed to them as a way to leave a major art legacy in both of their home states. Kamansky is a native of California, where they had already donated hundreds of artworks to museums over the years; Wheaton was born and raised in Michigan.
“Gerald and I like the idea of our art going to a part of Michigan where Asian art in particular is not well represented,” Kamansky said.
The fact that Hope College was interested in the related art library was also a major factor in their decision. “The library was formed in conjunction with the art collection, and it is wonderful that students will be able to use the books and catalogs as they are learning about the art,” Kamansky said.
When the Kruizenga Art Museum opens in September, about one third of the artworks in the inaugural exhibitions will come from the Kamansky-Wheaton gift. Mason intends to engage faculty and students from across campus in using the museum and he believes the gift will strongly support the more global, interdisciplinary curriculum that is called for in the college’s new strategic plan.
The Kruizenga Art Museum features two galleries, one of 2,000 square feet and the other of 1,500 square feet, as well as a classroom for viewing of select pieces and state-of-the-art, climate-controlled storage space for the Permanent Collection.
The building is named in honor of a leadership gift from Dr. Richard and the late Margaret Kruizenga of Holland, each of whom graduated from Hope in 1952. It was designed by architect Matt VanderBorgh of The Hague, The Netherlands, a 1984 Hope graduate who is director of C Concept Design, which has developed projects in 30 countries on four continents. Leadership guidance for advance programmatic planning was provided by Donald Battjes, a 1968 Hope graduate from Los Angeles, California, who is retired from a career in corporate facilities and real estate administration, most recently as chief of operations and facility planning with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.