“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

Happy Anniversary, Duncan and Marjorie

Duncan Phillips's dedication to Marjorie in his 1931 book, The Artist Sees Differently. Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender

When librarian Karen Schneider gives tours of the museum, she often starts with the story of Duncan and Marjorie. They met at the Century Club in New York City in January 1921 where Marjorie Acker had gone to see selections from Duncan’s art collection on display, and, as Karen puts it, they began a conversation that never ended. They married on October 8 of that year, in Ossining, New York and returned to Washington to prepare the Phillips Memorial Gallery for opening. As we celebrate our museum’s 90th birthday, we also celebrate the beginning of a long and loving partnership begun 90 years ago today.