Building the Foundation
For four generations, The Clowes Fund has worked with the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields to share the incredible Clowes Collection of European Old Masters with the Indianapolis community. This month, the Clowes Pavilion reopened after a multi-year renovation that brought the space into the 21st century with necessary infrastructure and architecture updates, and as well as accessibility measures, including two new entrances that make the gallery easier for guests to find. The renovated space welcomes guests with an innovative curatorial approach that offers a new perspective by highlighting significant social and historical themes. A state-of-the-art LED ceiling brings the outside into the galleries and is sure to capture the attention of all who visit.
I spoke with Katie Haigh, Chief Operating Officer at Newfields, and Beth Casselman, the former Executive Director of The Clowes Fund, about the organizations’ partnership, what it takes to transfer a private collection from a family home to a world-class museum, and the future of the relationship between the two organizations.
Katie, in practice, what does it mean for a family foundation and a museum to work together?
KH: Family foundations are great partners to cultural institutions. In The Clowes Fund’s case, Dr. George H.A. and Edith Clowes founded the foundation in 1952, six years before Dr. Clowes’ death, to ensure perpetual care for this significant collection of European Old Masters. Museums work with foundations regularly, especially in a grant capacity, but what stands out about The Clowes Fund is that the IMA is not only the beneficiary of the collection, but the family has also invested significantly in the physical setting to house the art. It is just as important that the space is welcoming and accessible to the Indianapolis community, as is the preservation and research of the collection.
Katie, how do The Clowes Fund and Newfields’ missions overlap?
KH: For both Newfields and The Clowes Fund, our number one priority is to conserve and care for the art, but what is the point of the collection if it isn’t shared with guests? We want guests to come and stay awhile, to take a deep dive into this incredible collection, and leave feeling it has relevance to their lives today. Throughout this renovation we worked closely with the Fund and Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation, Inc. to make the collection accessible, both physically with new entrances, and intellectually with the new thematic displays and interpretation elements like the portrait drawing station and of course the new LED ceiling.
Beth, can you set the stage with a timeline of the Clowes Collection moving from a private home to the IMA?
BC: I like to think of it in three phases:
Phase 1 | 1958: When Dr. Clowes died in 1958, the collection became property of The Clowes Fund, and Edith Clowes opened her home, Westerley, a few afternoons a week for the public to view the art.
Phase 2 | 1972: With the direction of Edith and her sons, the collection moved to the new Clowes Pavilion at the IMA where it would be on permanent loan and could be maintained by an expert staff of curators, conservators, and facilities professionals. Edith funded the construction of the pavilion and was a close advisor on the style of the space.
Phase 3 | 2000: When I started at The Clowes Fund, the board had voted to slowly transfer the collection to the IMA, meaning the collection would eventually belong to the IMA.
Now the Clowes Pavilion is open again, 50 years after its original debut at the IMA. Are we embarking on a new phase?
BC: Yes, this is certainly the beginning of a new chapter with the opening of The Clowes Pavilion Reimagined. In addition to the physically renovated space, high-tech ceiling and new curatorial approach, Megan Reilly is the new Executive Director of The Clowes Fund alongside the next generation of Clowes family. Reilly and the board will oversee the final transfer of art to the IMA, including the collection’s crown jewel, Rembrandt van Rijn’s Self-Portrait, which is exciting.
Katie, do you have any favorite memories about the collection to share?
KH: I began working with the Clowes Collection right away when I started at the IMA 14 years ago. One of my first projects solidified the collection with a special place in my heart. I won’t go into much detail, but the IMA had loaned Sleeping Cupid by a follower of Caravaggio to a gallery in New York, NY, and it turns out the gallery owner got into some legal trouble, causing the police to lock the gallery with our painting inside. My challenge was to advocate at the Supreme Court of the State of New York to get the painting back. So, I of course have a soft spot for that painting and was happy when I was able to bring it home safely.
Beth, you never got to meet Dr. George H.A. or Edith Clowes, but you’ve heard a lot of stories. Do you have a favorite?
BC: Oh yes, it always struck me how personal the paintings were to Dr. Clowes. It is said that when he acquired a new painting, he would put it on an easel at the foot of his bed and study it for hours. It would be the last thing he saw before he went to bed, and the first thing he saw when he woke up.
In addition to the 105-piece collection, The Clowes Fund has supported construction and maintenance of the Clowes Pavilion, and an endowment to establish the Allen Whitehill Clowes Curatorial Fellowship. Additionally, the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation contributed significant funds to support catalogue research, conservation, and reinstallation, as well as the new digital ceiling and entrance from Embodied: Human Figures in Art. In 2016, The Clowes Fund and the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation joined forces to meet the IMA's needs in terms of care and maintenance of "all things Clowes" at the museum.
The Clowes Pavilion Reimagined is made possible with support from Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation and The Clowes Fund.
View of the Clowes Pavilion under construction, 2019.