Cindy Kelly, curator of Evergreen House and the University Collections, walks by paintings illuminated by soft white lights as she recounts the serendipity that brought these works of art to Evergreen's walls.
The 38 paintings--portraits, street scenes and landscapes--were created by three generations of artists in the Seyffert family. The oldest works were done by Leopold Seyffert (1887-1956), the others by his son Richard (1915-79) and his grandson Robert (b. 1952), who is Richard's nephew.
Kelly delights in the telling of how Leopold Seyffert was a student of Ignacio Zuloaga, an early-20th-century Spanish painter whose works are on permanent display throughout the historic mansion. Zuloaga, Kelly recounts, was a longtime friend of Alice Warder Garrett, the wife of former Evergreen House owner John Work Garrett, and she commissioned and purchased many of Zuloaga's paintings during their 30-year friendship.
Knowing the connection of Zuloaga to his family, Robert Seyffert phoned Evergreen House in the spring of 1998 to inquire about the collection of Zuloaga's paintings. What Seyffert didn't know, however, was that the collection's caretaker was an old acquaintance.
"Robert and I had known each other since his days as an art student," Kelly says. "We sort of lost track of each other in recent years."
It was Seyffert's idea to develop an exhibit of paintings by each of the three generations of his family. "I didn't say anything at first," Kelly says, "but later I thought the connection to the artist Zuloaga made it appropriate to mount an exhibit here. That made it doubly attractive."
The exhibition Leopold, Richard & Robert Seyffert: Three Generations of Artistic Vision, 1905-1999, which will be on display until Dec. 30, opens with a free public reception on Friday, Oct. 22. In conjunction with the exhibition, Evergreen will host two lectures, "Vistas de Espana: American Views of Spain from the 19th Century" by M. Elizabeth Boone and "Family Recollections: In Search of My Artistic Heritage" by Robert Seyffert. The lectures will begin at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 4, at Evergreen House.
Robert Seyffert lives in New York and is the director of the Alfred and Trafford Klots Residency Program in Rochefort-en-terre in Brittany, France. M. Elizabeth Boone, an assistant professor of art history at Humboldt State University in California, is currently writing a book about the vogue for Spain among American artists during the 19th century.
For her part, Kelly will present two gallery talks about the Seyffert and Zuloaga paintings, at 2 p.m. on Oct. 31 and Nov. 14.
The exhibition, lectures and gallery talks are part of an ongoing series of programs at Evergreen House that are rooted in the history of the Garrett family and will feature the works of contemporary artists. One of these programs is the Collectors' Series, designed to celebrate the artistic collections of two generations of Garretts who lived in the house.
The Italianate house and surrounding 50 acres in north Baltimore city came into the family in 1878, when it was bought by John Work Garrett for his son T. Harrison Garrett; the latter's son John Work Garrett later lived there with his wife, Alice Warder Garrett. Throughout the years, the family amassed an extensive collection of valuable works of art now on display at Evergreen House, including their Japanese decorative art collection, considered one of the most extraordinary private collections of its kind outside Japan.
One member of the family in particular, Alice Warder Garrett, was the inspiration for the contemporary artists series, Kelly says. Alice Warder Garrett was an uncommon patron of contemporary art and helped many artists get jobs, sell their works and have them exhibited. Kelly says that in one of his many letters to Alice Garrett, Zuloaga fittingly dubs her "the angel of artists."
"I truly admire what I've learned about her," Kelly says. "She was on the board of the Baltimore Museum of Art, and even though she preferred more traditional and academic art like the [Seyffert] works, she would always give money when solicitations were made from the museum for more abstract art. She would always say, 'Oh, I don't like that. But I'll support it,' " Kelly says. "I think her interests were extremely broad as she supported nearly all the artistic activity of her day. Every program that we do here will celebrate the way she lived her life and her contribution to the contemporary art scene of her day."
The Collectors' Series at Evergreen House, which includes lectures by curators, scholars and collectors in addition to demonstrations and exhibitions, began in January with "Narratives in Print." The one-month program celebrated the collection of more than 20,000 prints T. Harrison Garrett collected during the late 19th century, including works by Durer and Rembrandt. Garrett's sons donated the prints to the Baltimore Museum of Art in the 1930s.
The next program in the Collectors' Series will focus on books from the university's rare book library, including some Shakespeare folios and a second edition Ptolemy from the Garrett collection. These are books that the public is rarely allowed to see except by special appointment.
Kelly, who received her M.A. in history of art from the university in 1974, smiles and admits that this next program is not just for the public's benefit.
"As a curator, I kind of designed this one for myself," says Kelly with a laugh. "I also want to see those Shakespeare folios."
Kelly came to Hopkins two years ago. Her responsibilities as curator are primarily the care and well-being of the thousands of objects--such as paintings, sculptures, antique rugs and furniture--at Evergreen House and the Homewood campus. Or, as she puts it, her job is "to know where everything is and to make sure everything is conserved."
"Basically I'm working step by step to understand what condition all these objects are in, how to display them better and to conserve the ones that need immediate attention," Kelly says. "I'll eventually do that for all the collections here."
Before becoming curator, she was for 10 years the visual arts program director of the Maryland State Arts Council, the state's funding agency for the arts. She also has served as an independent art consultant for such organizations and groups as the Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks and the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Art and Culture.
Kelly's connection to Hopkins also includes her husband, Thomas Kelly, who is a professor and the director of the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at the School of Medicine, and her son Mark, a junior in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.
As for the upcoming exhibition of Seyffert paintings, Kelly is particularly thrilled to be showing off the works of such talented but relatively unknown artists.
Back in the corridor of paintings at Evergreen House, Kelly points out the various "exquisite" portraits in the Seyffert collection and in particular the artistic growth of the youngest Seyffert, Robert.
Kelly, however, soon brings the conversation back to Zuloaga and inevitably to Alice Warder Garrett. Catching herself, Kelly says she never tires of telling stories about her favorite art patron. "I'll just go to about any extreme to talk about Mrs. Garrett," Kelly says.
Exhibition hours for the Seyffert collection are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday, and 1 to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Admission to the exhibition is $3.
The lectures by Seyffert and Boone are $12 for Evergreen members and $15 for nonmembers. Kelly's gallery talks are $8 for members and $10 for nonmembers. Reservations are required and can be placed by calling 410-516-0341.