Woman brings sophistication of European art to NahcottaNAHCOTTA, Wash. - The icy wind lashes angrily at the large glass windows of Betsy Millard's home.
Inside, a warm fire blazes, cozying up the sleek stainless steel, clear glass and wooden angles of the contemporary design. On the walls, Millard's love of art shows through a variety of mediums. But it is two small drawings near the dining room table that speak loudly of Millard's biggest collection, more than 100 works of post-war German art.
One of the drawings is by Franz Gunzel, called "Untitled 1985." The other is by Erwin Pfrang, called "Untitled 1988." And at first glance, they look like a mess of scribbles.
German artist's Thomas Schutte's piece, "Head," is ink on paper, created in 1992."There's a certain freneticism in these drawings," 44-year-old Millard said. "The line is shaky, like he never lifts the pencil from the paper. There's a very psychological aspect to the work."
Millard is the former curator of the St. Louis, Mo., Art Museum and former director of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. She will speak about German art and art collection at Tuesday's Columbia Forum lecture series at the Oregon State University Seafood Lab.
"I really wanted people to see images of her collection, because it's such a high-end collection," said Rebecca Rubens, a member of the AVA board of directors. "I wanted people to realize that there's an individual who has this passion for art and collecting and to make that personal connection."
RESERVATIONSWhat: Betsy Millard will talk about German art as part of the Columbia Forum speakers series.
Where: Duncan Law Consumer Seafood Center, Astoria.
When: Tuesday. Appetizers at 6 p.m., dinner at 6:30 p.m. Speaker to follow.
Cost for dinner: $17.50. Non-Columbia Forum member fee, $5.
Reservations: Michele Tila, 325-3211 ex. 220 Millard's collection, which she recently donated to the St. Louis Art Museum, is varied and includes paintings, drawings, sculpture and photographs. The gift is called a "partial and promised" donation, in which 10 percent belongs to the museum from the moment the donation contract was signed. Over time, the collection will become totally owned by the museum. All but the two drawings mentioned above are kept in either the museum or her St. Louis home.
"The collection has great names - Martin Kippenberger, Albert Oehlen, Werner Buttner - and it also includes artists who are not as well known," Millard said. "Some of the pieces are pretty and some are tough. I like tough. There's so many aspects of German art that appeal to me. I kind of miss them when I'm here."
But Millard is pleased that she ended up in the small town at the tip of the Peninsula. She moved to the area because she has family here and had spent many summers, as a child, frolicking on the beach and bay.
"My grandfather owned land on the peninsula, so when five acres became available, I couldn't pass up the opportunity," she said. "I love the pace, the quiet, everything about it. There's a real sense of peace and it's a place to retreat."
Millard's contemporary home is a collaboration with Portland architect Brad Cloepfil, who also designed the Forum for Contemporary Art in St. Louis and the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art.
"I was definitely going for unique and he's a young, visionary architect that has a solid sense of modern design that really works with the landscape."
Millard said she fits in well with the "very interesting people" of Nahcotta, where she has begun dabbling in mid-century Pacific Northwest art. Yet, she is close enough to Portland to feed her urban needs. And she spends several months each year in St. Louis, with her German art.
Deep riftsMillard's German art collection was originally begun by her late husband, Earl, in 1982. He was living in St. Louis, which has a strong German art collection that goes back to the early part of the 20th century. He was interested in continuing the legacy of German art collecting in St. Louis. He was also fascinated by the art of the post-war German people.
Millard was working at the museum, with a background in photography and contemporary art. Both of her parents were working artists and when she met Earl in 1987, she joined his quest.
"Our collection begins in about 1954 and ends with the artists who came to maturity in their work in 1989, before the wall came down," she said. "The art of that time is culturally specific. It was Germans trying to deal with really deep rifts in their culture."
Many German artists were particularly interested in the art of the insane, people who had been shoved aside by their families and their country. After 20 years of fascism, artists often looked to the mentally ill for inspiration.
"They were very interested in what the insane artists were tapping into, in what they were seeing," Millard said. "The collection is all about what happens to art when there is this terrific schism in the culture. They were asking themselves, 'who are we? Are we murderers? Are we anti-Semitic?'"
Millard and her husband also felt a unique connection to the "otherness" quality of their art collection. Toward the end of his life, Earl lived with HIV and the couple became very involved with AIDS awareness groups and education.
"We were figuring out how to deal with our own otherness at the same time we were collecting," Millard said. "We realized how close we could be (at that time) to assigning AIDS patients numbers and sending them somewhere. There was a new emphasis in our thinking, wondering how did this German people survive this and how did the artists talk about it?"
Private collectionMillard's life would not be the same without art. That's why she always encourages people to collect and appreciate art. In fact, part of her Tuesday lecture will include tips to begin a private collection.
"Artists don't just make stuff. They're not just making pretty pictures," she said. "They are the touchstones of their time. They make art for a reason. It will speak to someone."
She encourages people to collect art based on what it means, not just what it's worth. Begin by visiting art museums, galleries and non-profit art shows. This will help determine what type of art speaks the loudest. She also suggests a browse, now and then, in art journals, many of which are available at local public libraries.
Art collecting is one of the more expensive hobbies, so set a budget or start with a more affordable form of art, such as pottery. Set money aside for several years while researching art. Then when you're ready to make a purchase, it won't tax the checking account. That's what she did.
"We weren't Bill Gates," she laughed. "We had a budget and most of the pieces we got for between $1,000 and $5,000."
Make contacts at art galleries and make sure art dealers know what you're looking for. They will be happy to tell you when a piece of art you might be interested in is available.
If children show interest in art, let them begin a private collection. Most museums provide educational programs for children that will help them explore visual expression. Encourage children to save money to buy a small piece of art or purchase it for them as a gift.
"The most important thing to ask yourself about art is are you able to listen and let it speak to you?" Millard said. "That's as valuable as what it might be worth."