March 26, 2016
AN OPEN LETTER TO LOVERS OF THE CALIFORNIA ARTS AND CRAFTS
I wrote a rough draft about an event last week, read what I had written to a friend who cares strongly
about the Arts and Crafts in California and has collected and saved many important pieces over the years,
cut and pasted it into my email for review before posting it on my website and then somehow lost it
completely. Not so good navigating in the twenty first century, I am... This week, however, the situation
which caused me concern in the first place has gotten worse and I can't remain silent about it without
becoming a part of it, so here is what I wanted to say a week ago and still want to say today:
Last Saturday and this Saturday have been tough days for those of us who love the California Arts and Crafts and the work of the Studio and Workshop of Dirk van Erp in particular. Last Saturday an important
artillery shell vase, early work by Dirk van Erp himself, and formerly in the collection of his son, William,
a piece which had been exhibited in the earliest Arts and Crafts show here in California,
Eudorah Moore's "California Design, 1910" in Pasadena in 1974, and subsequently shown in a number
of other exhibits of the period, was offered up for sale and sold the same day by Gus Bostrum in Berkeley,
the proprietor of California Historical Design. He is also the founder and Executive Director of the
Dirk van Erp Foundation whose stated mission is "to preserve the legacy of Dirk van Erp by educating
the public about his contribution to the art of quality handcrafted metalwork and to inspire others to
continue this craft through education." More pieces from the collection of Forrest Merrill were offered by Gus today. So this letter to the public is also an indirect plea to both of them to hold off on these sales for a moment and to the Dirk van Erp Foundation as well to intercede in these ongoing sales, to substantiate the need for an agreed upon waiting period, and to step in and help develop through a strong, concerted effort on their part an alternative path down which these and future objects might travel.
There are many examples of the work of the van Erp shop which are already housed by major museums
and in top collections across the country. Since that is the case, many people feel that those pieces unique
to the workshop such as the tools, sign, and furniture as well as personal pieces from the family should
remain together here in California so the studio's legacy can remain intact, integral, and as strong a representation as possible of its craft. It is frustrating and very disappointing to see pieces of such high caliber
leave the Bay Area even if they wind up in museums or major collections elsewhere. Ideally, the
Dirk van Erp Foundation should also have as part of its directive, an active desire to acquire other
special examples from throughout the studio's operative years, which illustrate the strength and beauty
of its designs.
Today, hinges from the shop gate and stunning examples from the later studio craft period of the
workshop as it moved out of the Arts and Crafts era into mid-century design are also being offered
for sale. Once wonderful examples like this have been sold, the amazing reach of van Erp's studio's
metalwork throughout its sixty plus years in operation will be much harder to represent. To omit strong
examples which illustrate the later breadth and sweep of modern design from any future, permanent
exhibition of the van Erp Studio would be a great loss. The van Erp studio was one of the very few able to
transition and change with the changing times, moving forward as a viable concern crafting quality
art metalwork into the next two quarters of the twentieth century.
Lovers of the craft and preservationists have a responsibility to see to it that the merchandising
of our state's Arts and Crafts legacy be discouraged as much as possible and that instead key objects be preserved for future generations. This may be just the beginning of many more important pieces like these coming up for sale. Have they been saved forty years or more only to come to this unfortunate moment on the chopping block? What can be done to convince these gentlemen to seek another alternative? If money is needed to secure these pieces for posterity, perhaps they would both be willing to take a step back, work through the Foundation on which they both serve; reach out to us, the public, with explicit information detailing the objects which need to be sold and/or donated through contributions from willing patrons and thereby rescued. The foundation could also seek donations and support from the corporate sector and from other foundations who grant funds to support the preservation of the art of Craft. It's Board of Directors could explore all avenues possible to raise the necessary funds to secure exceptional examples of the studio's lifetime of craft so they do not leave the Bay Area where they belong.
Over the last forty years or so, many important pieces of California Arts and Crafts have been
offered for sale and have left California. I have personally sold things I wish I could have convinced
California museums to acquire. It is not easy. I have tried. But in this particular instance there is now a
unique mechanism in place which could help save the most important examples of metal work of the
van Erp Studio from that fate. If those of us who care take the time to reach out to the Board of Directors
of the Dirk van Erp Foundation at this critical juncture, perhaps we can convince them to assume the task
of fundraising and become the bridge and new shepherds on behalf of the Golden State, to be the ones to purchase pieces from Forrest Merrill who has been a good steward of these objects for so many years and from Gus Bostrum who is trying to pass them on as best he knows how as well.
Wouldn't that be a wonderful resolve to the dilemma collectors of California metal craft face as these
pieces reach the marketplace and are being sold to "the quickest moneyed guns" which aim their way?
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE ARTS AND CRAFTS COLLECTING PUBLIC