Monday, June 30, 2008

Guest Blogger: Tommie Rodgers

At the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, we have the opportunity to look back at Laurel’s history in the making, as well as the personal glimpses into life in the early 1920s. While the Museum is abundant with photographs, letters, and historical documents that share important days in the lives of Lauren Rogers, his parents and grandparents, we can only imagine how life would have been different if Lauren had lived past the youthful age of twenty-three.

Museum photographs provide images of an oak tree-lined dirt road we now call Fifth Avenue. Mr. and Mrs. George S. Gardiner built the massive white house seen in the same image. The stately home now serves as St. John’s Day School.

The Museum’s founding family documents mark the era of growth in the timber industry, the founding of the Laurel Presbyterian Church, as well as the building of local schools and parks evidenced in the Catherine Marshall (Mrs. George S.) Gardiner papers.

Lauren Rogers’ great-aunt Catherine Marshall (Mrs. George S.) Gardiner left behind her legacy with not only her Native American Basket Collection, but also her desire to preserve the history she was making. Letters from Native American dealers and other collectors show us how harsh life could really be for Native weavers living in the early 1900s.

Other documents share the memorial services that were held for some of these early Laurelites. One such individual was Wallace Brown Rogers. Very little is known about Mr. Rogers other than he was Lauren’s dad. He worked quietly and tirelessly behind the scenes to help provide the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art its institutional stability and artistic heritage. We credit him with the building of the Japanese woodblock print collection and we have been recently introduced into his world of collecting in the 1920s.

On Wednesday, June 25 at 1:30 p.m., the community had the opportunity to hear a lecture by the essayist for the Museum’s newest publication The Floating World.

Dr. Hans Bjarne Thomsen of The University of Zurich presented a lecture titled "Images of the Floating World: Placing the Ukiyo-e Collection of the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art." Dr. Thomsen researched the Museum’s collection of letters penned by Frederick Gookin to Mr. Rogers and has studied other collections amassed in the early 1900s by Gookin.

The Museum’s catalogue shares much information about collecting at that time and provides the reader with the knowledge that the founding family members excelled in drawing together a rich collection of fine art with the quality that can rarely be amassed today.

While Mr. Rogers went about his tasks without fanfare, his life was memorialized by Mr. W. S. Welch on the September 9, 1943 meeting of the Trustees of the Eastman Memorial Foundation. The statement began, "The great heart of Wallace Brown Rogers has ceased to beat. The love and esteem that we had for him will live always in the hearts of all of us.

His splendid mind was always at work on some project for the advancement of the interests of the community in which he lived. He was always generous. He was generous not only with the material things he possessed, but he was generous in what is vastly more important. He was generous with his very great talents and with his time. He was a thinker–an original thinker; and he never took things for granted."

The statement continues with more beautiful accolades than one could expect. "He was endowed with qualities of leadership and with a desire to be of service in the most self-effacing manner. He was always ready to give credit to another for what he alone had accomplished."

We thank Mr. Rogers for his foresight and generosity and for the legacy of this great collection representing beautiful images of Japanese culture.

The exhibition and catalogue are generously sponsored by Evelyn and Michael Jefcoat.

Tommie Rodgers is the registrar at the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art.

[Originally published in the Laurel Leader-Call]

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