This past summer, the Heckscher Museum of Art launched Heckscher@Home, an art lending program in partnership with the Town of Huntington's Cultural Affairs Department. With this short-term loan initiative, the museum hopes to strengthen its shared stewardship with the Town of Huntington and connect community members with its collection while sharing behind-the-scenes work including conservation and management.
The museum first opened to the public in 1920 with a donation of 185 artworks from August Heckscher’s private collection. Most of the early works in Hecksher’s collection were by Eastern European Artists, but he also collected many Long Island-based and Hudson River School artists. “From the beginning, the museum has had a diverse collection. We’re not really regionally focused, but as we have been reviewing and growing our collection through donations and acquisitions, we think our niche is American Modernism,” said Executive Director Heather Arnet. Twenty-five years ago, dozens of modern American works of art were donated to the museum from the private collection of artists Arthur Dove and Helen Torr who lived in nearby Centerport. “Their donation included dozens of modern paintings by American artists like Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keefe. This twentieth-century modernist movement is important for our collection. They are artists of national and international importance whose paths intersected on Long Island and that is the niche of our collection,” said Arnet. Today, the museum has nearly 3,000 works in its collection thanks to an acquisition fund. “We are intentionally expanding and diversifying the collection to represent more artists of diverse lived experiences and a focus on women and BIPOC artists.”
There are actually two acquisition funds. There is a Town acquisition fund and a nonprofit acquisition fund, but both are stewarded by the nonprofit museum. It’s part of a unique partnership between the Town of Huntington and the museum. “The Heckschers built the museum and gave it to the Town to be enjoyed by the people of Huntington,” said Arnet. The Heckschers created the Heckscher Trust in 1920 for the building, collection, and park. By the 1950s the Trust could no longer maintain the building, collection, or park. “At that point, there was an agreement drafted between the Trust and the Town where the Trust gave the building, collection, and park to the Town in exchange for the Town agreeing to take care of all of these things in perpetuity. Shortly thereafter a nonprofit museum was created to manage the museum, collection, and acquisition fund.”
The Town of Huntington was interested in pursuing more collaboration between the Town and the museum. “The museum wanted to find innovative ways to connect community members to art,” said Arnet. “We wanted to find a way to strengthen our relationship with the Town and our shared stewardship. There are a lot of different types of partnerships in museums but we have a shared relationship with a public entity and we’re always trying to figure out how to strengthen this partnership outside maintenance.”
The public-loan program idea started when one of the museum trustees mentioned a similar program in the Netherlands. “There are other examples of this type of art-lending program stateside happening at several college campuses like at Oberlin College. Seeing these examples inspired our museum board to give it a try,” said Arnet.
For the first year, as part of a pilot program, the museum wanted to identify one group to lend art from the collection. “The idea to work with local veterans in this pilot year came from Town Supervisor Ed Smyth,” said Arnet. “When we began talking about the program, we concluded that it would make sense to focus and identify one constituency for the first year of this program. Smyth quickly recommended working with veterans here in Huntington.”
Chief Curator Carlie Wertzelbacher and Museum Registrar Carolyn Blea identified prints by Jeffrey Lundstedt that would be among the works of art included in the program. Lundstedt was from Huntingtown, and class president of Walt Whitman High School his graduating year. He was drafted and died in the Vietnam War. “We felt that these prints were a great connection and a natural fit to be included,” said Arnet. “We’ve had his prints in our collection since he passed. There was an exhibition shortly after he passed but they have not been exhibited since then. Working with the Town of Huntington’s Curatorial Affairs Department we’re sharing how the collections team cares for artworks in storage so that now, 50 years later, these artworks can be prepared and loaned to the public.”
The museum’s curatorial staff identified several prints that were in good condition and could easily be loaned. The identified artworks were created by people from Huntington and have not been on exhibition in recent years. “We felt like these particular pieces could safely be loaned to people in ways that we felt comfortable through a partnership with the town,” said Arnet.
Other artworks included in the program are by artists Fannie Hillsmith, Jean Sariano, and Dimmitri Berea. Each artwork that is part of the loan program is loaned for six months. The loan is accompanied by a statement about its t history and a care sheet. The Town provides the insurance for each artwork, with no cost to any of the participants.
“We wanted to develop this initiative together from the beginning with the shared goal of providing a unique service to the community,” said Arnet. “This project has helped us educate the Town on what we do here at the museum. There are a lot of new faces at the council building and through this partnership, we’ve been able to answer questions about the museum like ‘why isn’t the entire collection on view?’ or about collections storage. It’s a really good example of how this project has helped with that sort of learning journey.”
Want to learn more about how to get a program like this started in your community? Contact Heather Arnet at the Heckscher Museum of Art.