The Bowdoin College Museum of Art has received a gift of more than 300 works from what some who are unfamiliar with the art world might consider an unlikely source – a postal clerk and his wife, a librarian.
The liberal arts college, located in Brunswick, received the artwork from the celebrated Vogel Collection. Herbert Vogel, a former postal worker who died in 2012, and his wife, Dorothy, were married in 1962 and spent the next five decades collecting an estimated 5,000 pieces of art – much of it purchased directly from the artists. The couple also painted a number of their own pieces.
Museum officials described the donation, representing about 60 artists, as among the most “significant contributions in the museum’s 200-year history.”
The Vogels stored the collection – worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Forbes.com – in their New York City apartment.
“They did it on a shoestring budget,” said Anne Collins Goodyear, co-director of Bowdoin’s art museum. “They were able to do this because they had the foresight to make some extraordinary choices. One recognizes instantly, when you look at some of the art, that they were in tune with the avant garde tendencies of their era.”
In 1992, the Vogels gave a large portion of their art collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., but kept collecting and in 2008 donated 50 pieces – 2,500 in all – to a single museum in each state.
The Portland Museum of Art received 50 pieces from the project, called “Fifty Works to Fifty States.” The project was sponsored by the National Gallery of Art, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Herbert Vogel, who retired in 1980, was 89 when he died. His wife, 78, still lives in New York.
The couple have virtually no connection to Brunswick or to Bowdoin College except for a deep friendship forged with Goodyear and her husband, Frank Goodyear, as well as deep love and respect for education.
Anne Goodyear said she and her husband were graduate students at the University of Texas when they met the Vogels in 1996. She said she was working at the National Gallery in Washington in 2000 when she bumped into her friends again.
“Our friendship has remained strong ever since,” she said.
After the Goodyears were hired last year as co-directors of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, they and Dorothy Vogel were talking and the topic of finding a home for about 320 pieces of the Vogels’ art arose.
Dorothy Vogel agreed that Bowdoin College would be a fitting home and the collection was shipped to the museum, where works by two of the featured artists, Pat Steir and Edda Renouf, are currently on display.
“This donation represents a true highlight in the giving of our collection,” Dorothy Vogel said in a news release issued by Bowdoin. “I take pleasure in knowing that artworks included here, by leading American artists, have the capacity to inspire many generations of audiences, from students to locals, to a broad range of international visitors.”
In 2008, filmmaker Megumi Sasaki directed a documentary about the Vogels titled “Herb and Dorothy.” The film, which promotes itself with the line “You Don’t Have to Be a Rockefeller to Collect Art,” celebrates the Vogels’ accomplishments as both collectors and benefactors.
Goodyear said the college has invited Sasaki and Vogel to visit next fall, to give students and faculty an opportunity to meet the librarian art collector and view the 87-minute film.
“What really tickles me is this collection has captured the imagination of our students,” Goodyear said. “I think it is the spirit of creativity that has given this collection such power.”
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: