The Evolution of the Kelly Collection
 Richard Kelly, 2006  
  The Kelly Collection of American Illustration was started in the late 1980s with my first purchases of works from the "Golden Age" of American Illustration, dating from 1890 to 1935. Although I’ve always been an innate collector, I didn’t have any original art until the early 1970s, when I bought a Doonesbury comic strip from the Jane Haslem Gallery in Washington, D.C. Shortly thereafter Bob Lewis, a neighbor, introduced me to science fiction and fantasy art, as well as a wide range of cartoon and underground comic illustrations. As a result, by the time I had made my first purchase (a Mead Schaeffer illustration), I was juggling four separate collections. I soon realized that I was not doing justice to any of them and needed to pool my resources in one area. By the early 1990s I had decided to deaccession the earlier collections (with Bob’s help) and to concentrate solely on original works from the heyday of America’s great illustrators. I began working closely with Chris Fauver, who has been involved with the collection since the beginning. Now, after fifteen or so years of steady collecting, I have built up a collection of roughly 350 original illustrations. Looking back, the shape of the Kelly Collection today is the result of conscious decisions made early on in the process.

Narrowing the collecting focus exclusively to American illustration may have been our most important decision since it allowed us to concentrate all of our available resources on a much smaller range of artists. We decided to collect only works by American illustrators whose careers had peaked between 1890 and 1935, excluding those who later became better known as fine artists, such as Glackens, Sloan, and Shinn. Next, we took the proceeds from the newly deaccessioned works—science fiction, fantasy, and non-American illustrations—and plowed them back into the golden age collection. We then narrowed the focus even more. We made a conscious decision, based on aesthetic reasons, not to collect any pinup or pulp art even if it fell within our period. Finally, it was decided that since both children’s book illustration and western art were so hotly collected (and correspondingly expensive), we would only acquire these when they were sufficiently important—such as works by Jessie Willcox Smith—or reasonably priced. As a result, the collection doesn’t have either of these genres represented in any real depth.

Another important decision affecting the early growth of the collection was to remain involved in the entire illustration market all of the time. Accordingly, we tried to be aware of every single illustration that came up for sale so that we could make the best possible choices available and get the best value for the money at our disposal. Chris did most of this work, and the process turned out to be quite time-consuming. It required subscribing to every auction catalogue, antiques trade, or art magazine that might contain works in which we might be interested. It also involved building a network of dealers, pickers, collectors, and any other lovers of illustration who could possibly help us in our quest.

Among the benefits of always being in the market was that over time we became more visible. People outside the field—often heirs to the illustrators themselves—began to track us down, either through ads that we published or through mutual acquaintances. Owners would find something in the attic or the closet that was worth more than they had realized, or fine-art dealers might have a stray piece of illustration that they wanted to unload. We made it a policy to pay market prices for these works, ensuring that we kept the door open for future opportunities. Whenever possible, we wanted to get the first call on a piece as soon as it became available.

As far as the collection’s continued growth is concerned, much of what we did throughout the 1990s (ads, tours, exhibition catalogues, museum outreach) simply planted seeds, which might come to fruition years later—if ever. For example, an art consultant who had once been at a party at our home remembered us years later, when a friend of hers needed to sell an illustration. The friend, the then vice president of facilities at Viacom, did indeed sell us the work, which turned out to be an N.C. Wyeth "Interwoven Socks for Christmas" ad (no. 90) from the Viacom boardroom.

On another occasion my book dealer, Jim Vadeboncoeur, connected us with a guy who had five J. C. Colls for sale. The deal ultimately took place on the picnic table of a trailer park about twenty minutes from our home. Although quite a few of our pieces arrived as a result of this kind of luck, usually our "luck" was the result of groundwork we had laid long before.

Another benefit of being continually immersed in the market was that over the years we got to look at a lot of different illustrations, giving us an excellent basis for comparing the relative importance of the works. Chris, who did most of the detective work involved in tracking down new pieces, has always had a great eye for quality. We began to build the collection around the very best works of which any artist was capable—given the constraints of our budget. When we found it necessary to deaccession works (usually based on quality considerations), our motto was "sell from the bottom, buy at the top," a strategy which continues to this day. At the same time, at Chris’s urging we decided to stop "stamp collecting"—buying a work by each of the illustrators simply to have one—insisting that they now had to meet certain standards of quality to be included in the collection. Conversely, we began to collect the superior artists in greater depth, playing to our strengths whenever possible. As a result, the collection currently has five or more works by some twenty different artists.

In the midst of all this, a little over ten years ago I was lucky enough to meet the woman I was eventually to marry, Mary Kelly, and she quickly got involved in the collection. Rapidly acquiring an understanding of the genre through total immersion, she single-handedly curated our Distant Lands show for the Knoxville Museum of Art and wrote the accompanying catalogue—our best-selling publication ever. Mary has been providing valuable counsel on the collection since we got together, helping me to make the psychological break with the earlier collections and steadfastly fighting for works she didn’t want to see deaccessioned—including, I must admit, two of the Wyeths (nos. 85–90) in this very exhibit.

The Kelly Collection of American Illustration is still quite active, and we are constantly working to improve the depth and quality that we have thus far achieved. This challenge, however, has gotten more difficult of late: great pieces are simply harder to find, and prices for them have been skyrocketing for a couple of years now. In the meantime we have managed to stay busy in other ways. In 1999 Mary and I moved into our new home, which had been designed to house the collection. This has allowed us to give tours to interested arts and museum groups. It’s always gratifying to see their surprised reaction when confronted with the originals of images they’ve only known from the printed page. Mary and I also continue to find pleasure in exhibiting our works or lending them to museums across the country in an effort to broaden the audience for what we consider to be some of the best art ever created in the United States.

As I’ve indicated, I did not build this collection single-handedly. There are therefore a number of people I’d like to thank. Bob Lewis was the first person to recognize and encourage my collecting bent and the one who introduced me to the field of American illustration. My longtime associate Chris Fauver has been resolute in helping us maintain the level of quality that has become a hallmark of the collection. Elizabeth Alberding, without whom the current exhibition wouldn’t have taken place, has been our collections manager for over ten years now; she handles loans, curates exhibitions, and is currently building a world-class reference collection. Walt and Roger Reed of Illustration House not only provided all the biographical material used in this catalogue but have also been good friends and steadfast supporters of this collection since the beginning.

Last but not least, I could never have done this without the support and understanding of my wife, Mary, and, more recently, of our two wonderful children, Neal and Jack. So far it’s been a very fulfilling journey.

Richard Kelly




Michael Kors Outlet Louis Vuitton Outlet jordan 3 sport blue Michael Kors Outlet kate spade outlet foamposites shooting stars kate spade outlet louis vuitton outlet wolf grey 3s sport blue 3s sport blue 6s Michael Kors Outlet Michael Kors Outlet wolf grey 3s louis vuitton outlet sport blue 6s louis vuitton outlet louis vuitton outlet Louis Vuitton Outlet jordan 3 wolf grey