On display at the Huntington Museum of Art this summer is an exhibit, “Visionary Benefactor: Alex Booth and the HMA,” which features gifts of art to the museum’s permanent collection by Booth, a long-time member of HMA’s Board of Trustees.
Booth’s role as a trustee began in the early 1960s, and he immediately began to steer the museum toward contemporary artwork, beginning with a significant gift to help fund the purchase of an Alexander Calder mobile in 1964. He quickly followed this donation with the provision of funds to acquire a drawing by Georges Braque, as well as a gift of historic works by John Singer Sargent and Samuel F. B. Morse.
It was Booth’s appointment as Building Committee chairman during the 1960s, however, that seemed to galvanize his resolve to push for a collection that reflected the modernist spirit in 20th century art.
“His work with famed architect Walter Gropius during the design and construction of the Museum’s 1970 addition served as a strong inspiration, and he worked with diligence to see that the new space would include work by contemporary artists,” Hatten said.
When the museum sought to match acquisition funds that were available through grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Booth supplied the financial resources that allowed for purchases of work by contemporary sculptors Seymour Lipton, Leonard Baskin, Harry Bertoia and others. Many of these works would reside in the courtyard space that became a featured component of the new addition.
He also provided funds to acquire paintings by two of the giants of mid-century American art, Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline, and would later enrich the collection with an eclectic assortment of gifts that included a George Bellows drawing, a painting by the American impressionist Edward Henry Potthast, and historic sculptures from Asia, ancient Rome and the Americas.
The museum’s Walter Gropius Master Artist Workshop program, which has brought contemporary artists to teach classes and exhibit their work at HMA for more than 20 years, was funded by a bequest from Alex Booth’s mother, Roxanna Booth.
The “Visionary Benefactor” exhibit is being presented with support from The Isabelle Gwynn and Robert Daine Exhibition Endowment and financial assistance from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History and the National Endowment for the Arts, with approval from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts.