The Art of Giving
During the 1970s, while Jack Blanton visited Nashville to examine yet another bank for the Federal Reserve System, he stopped into a junk store. His eye rested on a frame surrounding a filthy black canvas. “I’ll buy it and put a mirror in it,” thought Blanton. Back in the hotel room, he recalls, “I ruined a washcloth cleaning the painting – not a good conservation technique!” And yet the method worked, revealing a painting of a lake. “I took it to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and they identified it as a late nineteenth-century piece from the Ryder School,” Blanton continued. “The painting itself is not important, but the experience was,” awakening an interest in art collection that blossomed in ways both personally satisfying and professionally important.
From there Blanton went on to collect almost 600 works in his personal collection. Having formerly gifted over 100 works to other institutions, he recently announced his plans to give his collection to the LCVA. In addition, he has pledged significant financial support for the Center through outright and estate gifts. Of the promised art, 230 works with an approximate value of $400,000 have already been placed in the possession of the LCVA, either as loan items or gifts. Much of the art will be installed in a gallery and sculpture garden at Longwood University ’s planned Center for Communication Studies and Theatre.
A native of Tamworth in Cumberland County, Blanton retired in 2003 from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond as vice president and community affairs officer, a role in which he could promote economic development in underserved communities. In addition, he developed the bank’s fine arts program and served as curator of its art collection, which includes over 1,000 artworks.
Avocationally, he advised several corporations in creating their collections, including the Carpenter Company and most recently, the highly respected Media General Art Collection in Richmond.
Blanton’s personal collection is widely eclectic, with a largely contemporary focus. He has acquired the work of a variety of Virginia artists, along with nationally known talent in media such as sculpture, painting, prints, and drawings. Represented artists include Maurice Beane, Nell Blaine, Richard Carlyon, Gene Davis, Harriet Fitzgerald, Ann Lyne, Albert Paley, Rubin Peacock, Beverly Pepper, Donald Sultan, and Nancy Witt.
Commenting on this wide-ranging variety and excellence, Longwood’s Vice President for University Advancement Bobbie Burton noted, “Longwood is very fortunate to be the recipient of one of the most exciting collections of art in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Jack Blanton, like his art, is wonderful, memorable, and certainly one of a kind.”
Blanton explained that he chose the LCVA because “I chaired the board for several years and so much admire LCVA’s community outreach. I like that the LCVA is placed in a building in the heart of downtown Farmville and that its programs reach people in nine counties throughout Southside Virginia. I don’t know of any other model like this.”
“Jack has always had a passion for contemporary art, for education, for art in education, and for the people of Southside Virginia,” noted friend and current LCVA board chairman Heyn Kjerulf of Richmond. “His very generous donation of his art to Longwood University represents a perfect fit between a donor’s desires and a beneficiary’s needs.”
The art will have a wide impact on Longwood students and faculty after its installation in the planned Center for Communication Studies and Theatre. “Aside from my personal pride that Jack would give such an interesting and significant collection to the LCVA, I am excited that we have the perfect place to display the art,” said Dr. Patricia Cormier, president of Longwood. “This is an important gift that will enhance the beauty and integrity of this important facility.”
In November 2006, the LCVA received 230 of Blanton’s artworks. Fifty-one of those works were officially given at that point, with the remainder to be given formally over several years. The final portion of the planned gift remains with Mr. Blanton, who now lives in Florida with his beloved dachshund, Dachota. When asked how Dachota is enjoying retirement, Blanton replied, “He’s loving it. He lies on a chaise in the sun. Also, we have a ‘fauxplace’ in the den, which has become his snuggery. That room has more than a bit of Richmond tradition, and he feels very secure there.”
“Jack is very interested in people and organizations that use both sides of the brain,” noted LCVA Director K. Johnson Bowles. “He himself is adept at both analysis and art, and is skilled in many ways – as an art advisor, as an administrator, as a communicator. His collection will be a stimulus for creative thinking.”
Blanton himself is pleased with the planned placement of the art: “I’m glad that my art won’t be sitting in storage. Instead it will be accessible to students, faculty, staff, and visitors, so it can be enjoyed. One of the many things I admire about Longwood is that there is a decentralization of good art throughout the campus. I’m particularly glad to know that the art will be seen daily by students,” concluded Blanton. Who knows? The art itself might frame someone’s thought process and open new ways of seeing our world. Just as a neglected frame in a junk shop once opened his eyes to the world of art collecting.