ROBERT ADDISON COLLECTION - THE ADDISON COMMITMENT
When Betsy Addison, the widow of the artist Robert W. Addison passed away, the Bay College Foundation received a portion of the trust fund she and Robert had bequeathed to five Escanaba institutions: the City of Escanaba
, the William Bonifas Fine Arts Center
, the Escanaba High School
, the Delta County Historical Society
, and St. Stephens Episcopal Church
. The estate included a generous portion of the remaining Addison art works, including the three significant pieces Betsy had given the college in prior years. All five beneficiaries agreed to allow Bay College to select art in the bequest that had a connection to the Escanaba area; the Addison's had maintained a home in Escanaba and were frequent visitors. The college agreed to restore, frame, exhibit, and curate the Addison's in perpetuity. Robert had chosen a significant number of local scenes for his art subjects, thus contributing a treasure of historical importance to the community. The college also, through the trust, came into possession of numerous archival documents that concerned Robert’s career as an artist.
The college had exhibited some twenty original works in a major show in 2003. The college contributed the costs of framing a dozen of these pieces. With the Addison works from the bequest, the college then undertook the framing of another twenty paintings, drawings, serigraphs, and water colors. Once these were ready for presentation, “Robert Addison: A Retrospective” became our celebratory introduction of his works to the community. The exhibit featured works from his early years as a student and our entire collection of his mature pieces, which now numbers some forty-four works of art. We believe we have the largest and most active collection of Addison’s work in existence.
In addition to the two major exhibits mentioned above, we’ve had a showing of ten serigraphs at Bay West, our campus in Iron Mountain; we’ve installed a dozen or more pieces in the college hallways and another dozen in various offices, the board room, and several lounge areas. We circulate the works so that the Addison presence is a part of the entire campus environment. Visitors, students, and college staff, on any given day, will see several Addison paintings. Two large oils, “Stations of the Cross,” are on display in the nave of St. Stephens. Three years ago, we restored, framed, and shipped the jewel of our collection, “El Tracks,” to an exhibit in Missouri.
Once the entire framing project is complete, we intend to offer portions of the collection to regional colleges and museums for exhibition.
To meet the costs of maintaining and adding to the collection, the college is privileged to have modest annual returns from our Hartwig Endowment and a portion of the Addison trust, the bulk of which the Addisons designated for scholarships. Therefore, we believe we have the means to maintain the collection.
The college is in the process of a major revamp to our website(baycollege.edu). While some of Addison’s work is currently used in the “Arts at Bay” section and in background in general pages, we are in the process of having a professional photographer, a specialist in art photography, record all of the Addisons for a special section on the web. We will also have a link to the “Robert Addison Gallery” website. Addison’s art has also been used often for various college promotional materials. So, he gets around.
Perhaps half of our Addison's were derived from specific and recognizable local subjects: numerous neighborhood houses, often Victorian; downtown buildings; the old train station; a stretch of the lagoon area in the park; a few rural stores; the old opera house in Fayette State Park; etc. Gallery visitors have fun identifying the exact locations of the houses, reminiscing about neighborhoods, and glorying in the fact that such fine art has captured their community. Addison also has a presence in City Hall, the high school, the William Bonifas Fine Arts Center, the Delta County Historical Society, and numerous private collections, often in the homes of people who knew and socialized with the Addison's when they spent summers here. There are a lot of stories extant. In short, the community connection is personal and sincere. There’s plenty of support for the collection.
As part of the estate, and with the knowledge that Bay College would likely acquire the Addison art, the executors and beneficiaries cooperated in obtaining any number of documents for the planned Addison archives. We have photo albums, newspaper clippings, art magazine features, gallery promotions, scrapbooks that note a painting’s selling price, publicity materials from Chase Galleries, extensive notes written by Betsy on many of these documents, professional photographs of Robert, even some of his early work as a “commercial” artist. These documents are currently in the process of being cataloged and housed in the college library. The archives, of course, will be available to the public.
Both the college and the community, then, have committed to maintaining, exhibiting, and promoting Addison’s art so that, in concert with Betsy’s wishes, his work receives maximum exposure. Not only is it a source of local pride, it’s a source of affection. Often a historical record,serves for many, as a powerful connection to the past, often a personal past. Even more important, the works have a significant impact on local artists, particularly on our many art students who learn technique by studying Robert’s work. There are Addison's throughout the campus at any one time, and his unique talent has become an integral part of our college identity.
Lastly, our art community and our foundation would be delighted to broaden our collection. Addison’s works are very much a part of everyday life here at Bay.