Frames by a Friend

James McLaughlin holding Marjorie Phillips's painting

Detail of a photo of James McLaughlin with a group of young museum-goers, holding Marjorie Phillips’s painting, Night Baseball. Photo: Phillips Collection Archives.

James (Jim) McLaughlin worked at The Phillips Collection for almost five decades as a gallery preparator and curator. He shared a close relationship with Duncan and Marjorie Phillips, and he often accompanied their family on trips to their summer home in Pennsylvania.

A painter, a family man, and a self-taught craftsman, McLaughlin built his own house and carved frames for many paintings in The Phillips Collection. The above photo shows McLaughlin holding a frame he carved for Marjorie Phillips’s painting, Night Baseball. Phillips Installations Manager Bill Koberg recalls the frames that McLaughlin sometimes carved for works loaned to the Phillips without frames: “He used a profile and carved into it an alternating U-shape pattern that traveled across the face. Splendid to see.” U-shaped ornamental patterns are sometimes referred to as “egg and dart” or “lamb’s tongue” by woodworkers and frame specialists. McLaughlin’s nephew, David McLaughlin, says, “Not only did he make his own frames, as we know, but put frames together for many other paintings that came into The Phillips Collection. . . . He became known for his lovely custom-gouged and distressed frame work, so many other painters in the area used his beautiful frames . . .”

During a recent visit to Laurie McLaughlin Ward’s home (McLaughlin’s daughter), the U-shape ornamental motif could be seen in many of McLaughlin’s frames. Below is a photo taken at Laurie’s house of a Duncan Phillips painting in a frame that McLaughlin carved.

Photos: Jenna Kowalke-Jones

To honor James McLaughlin’s memory, The Phillips Collection has held an annual staff show since 1984, to feature the works of artists employed at the museum.

The 2012 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show is on view September 4-October 9, 2012.  Please join us for the reception on September 27, 5:30-8 pm. This year’s show features 35 artworks, of various media, all by Phillips Collection staff.

Jenna Kowalke-Jones, Young Artists Exhibitions Program Coordinator

“The sort of a person we would all like to be, but aren’t . . .”

Read part one of Jenna’s remembrance of James McLaughlin and history of the staff show here.

James McLaughlin with a group of young museum-goers, holding Marjorie Phillips's painting, Night Baseball. Photo courtesy Phillips Collection Archives.

Duncan and Marjorie Phillips’s son Laughlin described his fondness for James McLaughlin and his character at McLaughlin’s 1982 memorial service:

Jim was in many ways my mentor. When he first came to the Collection, he was 24 and I was 9. I didn’t come to the gallery much those days. But, during summer visits to our family home in Pennsylvania, he taught me about the woods and the mountains, and how to mix paints, and hammer a nail and throw a curve. His enthusiasms were legion and irresistible.

My mother and I feel a great personal loss and a great loss to the Collection. Jim knew every painting here. Every nook and cranny of the building. He approached his work with the creative spirit and sensibilities of an artist – never those of a museum bureaucrat.

He was fiercely loyal to the Collection and proud of it. And well he might be, because everything here has been under his care, for 49 years.

Jim was the sort of a person we would all like to be, but aren’t. He was a man of principle and deep conviction. Strong, and yet extraordinarily sensitive. A gentleman. Independent and able.

The personal memories and anecdotes shared by Phillips staff that knew him make McLaughlin a legendary figure in the museum’s history. According to Alec MacKaye, McLaughlin built and carved many wooden frames specifically for paintings included in The Phillips Collection. Beyond the walls of the Phillips, Bill Koberg recalls that McLaughlin built his own house. Koberg, a preparator here for 40 years, worked closely with and learned from McLaughlin.

Through McLaughlin’s memory and legacy of a staff show, The Phillips Collection continues to cultivate the artistic community that McLaughlin encouraged and esteemed during his lifetime.

Jenna Kowalke-Jones, Young Artists Exhibitions Program Coordinator

James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show

Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender

In honor of tonight’s opening reception for the 2011 staff show, coordinator Jenna Kowalke-Jones has written a remembrance of the show’s namesake, James McLaughlin. Watch for part two tomorrow.

The Phillips Collection’s annual James McLaughlin Memorial Staff show opens this week, marking its 29th year. The first staff show opened in 1982 with an exhibition of paintings by James (Jim) McLaughlin (1909-1982) titled A Retrospective Exhibition: In Memoriam. McLaughlin’s family, in his honor, endowed the staff show in 1984. Artist, gallery preparator, and curator, McLaughlin’s contributions to the Phillips spanned five decades, and his legacy continues with the staff show.

Detail of photo by Jane Godfrey from the show James McLaughlin Retrospective: In Memorium, 1982.

McLaughlin, who hired local artists and art students as museum guards at the Phillips, was well known for his support of artists in the Washington, D.C., area. Susan Davis wrote in the Washington Post (January 1982): “As curator of the Phillips Collection, Jim McLaughlin received artists with unusual openness in order to see their portfolios. If you called, he said yes, he would see you. And when you arrived at his office, there was time for you . . . Another curator might choose to remove himself from the access of the hundreds of artists. Jim McLaughlin remained dutiful and sincere.” Continue reading “James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show” »