SHERIDAN — Rep. John Patton, R-Sheridan, and his wife Virginia have been collecting original pieces of art by local artist Hans Kleiber for more than four decades and recently it was announced that they will donate their entire collection to The Brinton Museum.
The Brinton is currently in the middle of a construction project to add a new three-story, multi-million dollar, 25,526-square-foot, second building which will house large gallery spaces, a public bistro, a gift shop and office and event space.
The new museum is being built into the hillside southwest of the current building and began after the museum changed ownership from a Chicago-based trust to a local nonprofit foundation dedicated to preserving the museum. Now, thanks to the Pattons, the addition will be the new home of the largest collection of Kleiber pieces.
“They have, not probably, but they do have, the best collection of Hans Kleiber etchings in existence so we’re really thrilled,” Brinton Museum Director and Chief Curator Kenneth Schuster said. “We think it is totally appropriate that it come here to The Brinton Museum…He was the first living artist that ever showed when they built the gallery.”
The Brinton Museum currently houses approximately 30 Kleiber pieces including oil paintings and etchings but does not yet have any watercolors.
Founder Bradford Brinton was a collector of Kleiber’s work but he stopped acquiring pieces in 1936. Though the replanting of the museum garden was inspired by a Kleiber, little change has occurred to their collection of works through the years.
John Patton said his collection began after becoming personally acquainted with Kleiber.
“He was a friend and I did business with him for a number of years,” Patton said. “I just thought he was such a kind guy and every time I would visit him I felt warmth and friendship so I thought someone should have a collection of his work.”
Virginia Patton said her husband’s collection was really started as a form of competition and pride for Wyoming.
“There was a man with a collection of 80 pieces in New York and John didn’t like someone in New York owning more than someone in Wyoming,” she said.
The Pattons’ main desire — and only legal stipulation they are placing on the donation — is that the collection remains in Wyoming.
“John and Virginia are very adamant that it remain in Wyoming, which of course we are totally in favor of,” Schuster said. “Kleiber was a very important artist for Wyoming, and a super important artist for Sheridan, because he really was the first artist from Wyoming who was known for anything more than cowboy art and he received national recognition for it.”
Kleiber achieved a lot of acclaim during his lifetime, including a show at the Smithsonian in 1945.
“It really is going to be a great legacy that the Pattons are leaving for the institution and for the people of Wyoming or anyone that ventures here,” Schuster added. “It will enable us to not only curate shows of our own but we’ll be able to loan things to other institutions and do a traveling exhibit of his work and see if we can’t get other institutions interested in turn of the last century print making and the works and endeavors of Hans Kleiber.”
Though the collection has been promised to The Brinton, the process of changing hands is extensive and not likely to be complete for a short while.
“We just wanted to make a gift but it’s like handing someone the keys to your car and saying ‘it’s yours,’” John Patton said. “It doesn’t quite work that way.”
The transfer is currently in the paperwork portion of the process with lawyers on both sides reviewing terms and agreements. Next, the items need to be cataloged and appraised.
The collection was last cataloged at 425 items but Patton said he has continued to acquire pieces since that time and the collection is likely closer to 450 pieces at this point, though he has lost count.
An appraisal of the pieces will need to be done by a professional who is not a party to the transaction.
“I offered to tell them what I thought it was worth but they said that wouldn’t work,” Patton said with a laugh. “We didn’t know everything that was involved in the beginning.”
Once the transaction is completed, the building is open and the collection is made public, visitors will be privy to some very rare pieces of art.
One piece in the collection, Patton found at an estate sale.
A small framed watercolor with an “estate sale” sticker stuck to the front, when he picked it up to give it a closer look, Patton found a second work done on the back of the canvas, this one done with palette knife.
“I don’t think Hans was very comfortable with palette knife,” Patton said. “I suppose he didn’t much like what he did so he flipped it over and started again.”
Another unique piece in their collection is actually a set of five pieces.
“The Bathers” is a series of small etchings depicting women bathing nude in a stream.
When created, Hans Kleiber’s wife did not think they were appropriate so they were not allowed to be sold.
“I discovered these because I found an etching labeled ‘Bathers 2,’ and knowing Kleiber as I did, I knew that meant there had to be more bathers,” Patton said. “It turned out in the end there were actually five and I was able to track down all five.”
The Pattons seem to know the stories behind each piece they own from what inspired it to where they found it and how much they paid for it.
The decision to leave this legacy to The Brinton Museum was not one made easily, but thankfully for the people of Sheridan County and Wyoming, after discussions with their children the Pattons decided that the permanency of giving to the museum was just what they wanted for their beloved collection.