In his lifetime, Allan Stone probably went to many opening-night gatherings similar to the one held recently at College of the Atlantic’s Ethel H. Blum Gallery in Bar Harbor.
Tight groups of people, wineglasses in hand, clustered around paintings hanging on the walls and sculpture parked in corners, discussing aesthetics, meanings and memories. The exhibit might honor an established artist, basking in the glow of a retrospective, or perhaps it showcases the work of someone new, a young person with work on display for the first time.
But unlike other opening-night events the legendary New York-based gallery owner Stone might have attended in the past, this one was all about a collector of art — in this case, Stone himself.
More than 40 diverse works collected by Stone, a longtime Seal Harbor summer resident who died in 2006, and by his wife, are now on display in “Selections from the Collection of Clare and Allan Stone” until Friday, Aug. 14.
For many people who knew Allan Stone or had seen the documentary “The Collector,” created by his daughter Olympia, the packed walls and corners of the Blum Gallery likely came as no surprise.
But for the uninitiated, Clare Stone merely had to point out a small photograph hanging on the gallery wall; the image, taken at her home in Purchase, N.Y., shows a room packed with the art Allan Stone collected over the years.
That “mania for collecting,” as COA President David Hales put it during the opening, was what caught his attention when he saw “The Collector,” and led Hales to ask Clare Stone if she was interested in honoring her husband in some way at the college.
She agreed, and this year COA established the Allan Stone Chair in Visible Arts, which should continue to strengthen the school’s art offerings. Although all COA students graduate with a degree in human ecology, Hales said, the degree extends to any subjects that explore the relationship between humans and their environment. The school already offers classes in subjects such as music, poetry, sculpture and ceramics, and is now looking for someone to fill the new chair.
“The purpose of the chair is to help introduce our students to the world of the imagination, so we want someone who in their own way can take people somewhere they haven’t been,” Hales said. “We don’t have an art program for artists. We have a program that may turn out some artists. So we need someone who sees art as one of the seminal ways of viewing the world, that you can’t understand the world without it.”
Of course, Allan Stone would have been perfect for the position. It’s clear from the current show that he loved a variety of art, from abstract expressionism to American folk art to African art. In curating the exhibit, Clare Stone said, her challenge was to show the diversity of the collection while including key artists that Allan Stone collected, knew, championed and brought to Maine.
The exhibit includes work by Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Wayne Thiebaud, Richard Estes, John Graham and Robert S. Neuman.
“He thought it was like reaching for the angels when he saw something that really grabbed him, moved him,” Clare Stone said. “That was how [certain pieces] made him feel. It was very much a physical uplift from it. He was unusual. Most people don’t know how to look at art and they don’t really see. He knew what he liked. He always knew what he liked and he never doubted it. He liked everything from abstract to figurative but it had to move him in that way.”
Near one corner of the Blum Gallery, an early Estes oil painting called “People on Park Bench” — surprising in its abstraction considering Estes’ success as a photorealist — hangs near a watercolor painting by Makiko Nagano called “Fish.”
In another corner, a wood table by Carlo Bugatti is used to display a Makonde helmet mask from Africa and five other smaller objects in media such as metal, ceramic, wood, paper and feathers. The work hanging on the wall over the table? Kline’s ink-on-paper “Study for Shenandoah Wall.”
In addition to a riot of colors present in much of the work, there also seems to be a fascination with line — the smooth curves of Ron Schwerin’s “Nude on Couch” to the black slashes of Kline’s “Study” — and texture — such as Alex Itin’s “Two Yen Portrait,” made of empty oil paint tubes covered in clumpy paint in the shape of a man. The work was known as the “Paint Tube Man” in the Stone household, according to the gallery guide.
“It’s fun, it’s whimsical, it’s wise, it’s mystical. There’s so much in it,” Hales said of the collection. “In a way, it gives a sense of the gestalt of Allan Stone, how things fit together. And they fit together because he saw that they fit together. You and I would probably not collect the same things, but the diversity is what’s fascinating.”
The Ethel H. Blum Gallery, 105 Eden St. in McCormick Lecture Hall on the College of the Atlantic campus , is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call 288-5015.