COZAD — The Robert Henri Museum and Art Gallery opens for the season with several special events beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, including presentation of the Heritage Hero award, a new exhibit and the recognition of the museum’s Artist of the Month.
Peter Osborne, executive director of the Robert Henri Museum, answered several emailed questions about the museum, dedicated to the works of the Cozad artist who found international fame through his artwork:
Q: What do patrons gain from seeing the works of Robert Henri in his hometown?
OSBORNE: When Robert Henri, formerly Robert Cozad, left Nebraska in 1884, at the age of 19, he was a strapping youth. He had a Western swagger with a rakish mustache and tousled hair. If he had his pistol on his left side, a bullwhip on his right, and a cowboy hat, he would fit right into the Nebraska chapter of his life. It is believed that his career was guided in part by spending his most formative years on the frontier, exposed to the rawness of the environment and a vast array of interesting characters. When Henri speaks of the freedom of the individual to create what he wanted, to some degree that would have been a common sentiment held by the homesteaders, pioneers and settlers that he knew on the Great Plains from 1873-1884.
Q: How does a museum in Cozad help to explain his art and his life — as opposed to displaying his works in a metropolitan area where more people can see his work?
OSBORNE: Robert Henri is often described as a pioneer, a term he would have been very familiar with. In 1931, two years after his death, a Robert Henri Memorial Exhibition was coordinated by John Sloan and Eugene Speicher, both good friends of Henri. Sloan was Henri’s closest friend and one of the few people who knew about his Nebraska roots. Fifty-four paintings were in the show, many of which were loaned from the Henri estate. The show was first displayed in New York City where it was exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from March 9 to April 19, 1931. The show then traveled to the Baltimore Museum of Art through May of 1931. When we look at his paintings here in Cozad, it is unlike how many look at his paintings say, back East. There they might know a little of his Nebraska roots, such as the fact that his father shot and killed a local rancher and deputy sheriff. People from those far off places think of him as this urbane, sophisticated painter and teacher, but in fact his roots are here and it certainly impacted him.
Q: “Portrait of Queen Mariana,” one of the museum’s most prominent pieces, is presently on a national tour. What is the value of loaning artwork?
OSBORNE: The museum has loaned “Portrait of Queen Mariana” twice, once to the Mississippi Museum of Art and now to the Chrysler Art Museum and the Milwaukee Art Museum. There are risks as there are in any endeavor, however we feel the benefits far outweighs this. Also, all precautions are taken on both ends – packing it properly, a special crew comes out for it (not shipped by UPS). Every museum that loaned a painting to this current show probably had some misgivings, but this was a once in a lifetime show. Our painting is next to other paintings from around the world and form some internationally known museums, so it puts Cozad and Nebraska on the map, so to speak.
Q: Works by Hana Brock, an art student at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, are currently on display at the Robert Henri Museum. What is the value of featuring a student in an art show at the museum?
OSBORNE: The influence of Robert Henri, as a teacher, is one that continues to be felt, even 90 years after his death. It is believed that he taught at least 1,000 students, 100 of whom went on to important careers. Among those who were the most well-known: Stuart Davis, Edward Hopper, George Bellows, Rockwell Kent, Margery Ryerson and Elizabeth Grandin. The best way to describe Henri’s influence on American art might be to liken his career to a large oak tree. He represents the trunk of a tree that has spread its many branches upward and outward. Those branches are represented by his many students over the decades. Even today he is considered to be one of America’s greatest art instructors and his book, “The Art Spirit,” is still used in art classes and read by budding artists. We promote these programs because it is in the tradition of what Henri did, promoting the work of all artists.