Queen of Arts

Kax Herberger's generation knew the importance of perpetuating the arts. Will a younger generation be as giving?

"I hadn't been involved in the ballet for some time," says Whiteman.

But the thought of losing it aroused a number of anchoring memories in her life.

"When people talk about ballet, theater and the symphony," she says, "they often talk about high art and sniff at it. But it's as rewarding as religion in some ways. It opens doors you may be grateful for later in life."

Sheldon Berman, a Chicago transplant, joined the Five Arts Circle to contribute to local art institutions.
Erik Guzowski
Sheldon Berman, a Chicago transplant, joined the Five Arts Circle to contribute to local art institutions.
Mezzo-soprano Isola Jones sings at a recent mixer for the Five Arts Circle.
Erik Guzowski
Mezzo-soprano Isola Jones sings at a recent mixer for the Five Arts Circle.

She says her father, Paul Nickerson, was crazy about ballet.

"He was a poet, an English professor who taught at a college in Montclair, New Jersey. He used to take me into New York to see ballet. It was just something we did. I was fortunate, really, because dance, music and poetry weren't any kind of unusual epiphany. They were simply a part of living."

She married a doctor and lived for a period in Oklahoma City where she was involved with the arts. She moved to Tucson in the 1960s and eventually became managing director of the Arizona Theater Company. She sat in on early discussions about consolidating the marginal dance companies operating in Tucson and Phoenix into one corps.

"But my interest really waned," she says. "When I would go on rare occasions, it was like the theater was in the early days. You'd have some good principal actors or dancers and then there'd be some spear-holder that would come out and say something like, 'The king is waiting for you,' and the whole thing would go down the tubes. It was the same thing with the dancers."

Over the years, she says, the caliber of Ballet Arizona has risen steadily, first under choreographer Michael Uthoff, and more recently under Ib Andersen.

News of the ballet's financial woes reached her the same way it reached just about everyone else.

"I think I read in the paper on a Wednesday that the ballet was going to close on Friday," she says. "I had been through two crises like that with ATC. It's so terrible, just awful. You can't sleep and all of these dancers had their bags packed."

When she thought of helping in some way, she thought of her husband Jack. The couple -- her second marriage -- had met while serving together on the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

Jack Whiteman, who had died the year before, had owned the Caterpillar dealership here.

"You might not think of that kind of guy as an arts advocate," she says, "but he was. He established a foundation at his company for art. His primary interest was arts education."

As it turned out, the ballet's announced closing date was Jack's birthday.

Says Whiteman, "I thought, 'What a lovely gift that would be to Jack's memory.'"

Patronage usually begins with some sort of passion.

"With us," says Daniel Albrecht, former president of the board of the Heard Museum, "you could probably call it an obsession."

The sprawling Santa Fe-style house that he and his wife, Martha -- a second marriage for both -- share in Paradise Valley is swelling with the usual symptoms of collectors who just can't help themselves. Theirs is the Native American strain.

The living-room mantel holds three ceramic plates by the renowned potter Maria Martinez. An abstract sculpture in greenish soapstone by New Mexico artist Allan Houser is parked not far away. Native American paintings, textiles and baskets fill the rest of the walls and nooks in the room and nearby hallway. Inuit sculptures, mostly in whale bone and soapstone, have commandeered nearly every other surface in the house.

The kitchen is a holding room for newly arrived works. More platoons, some still shrouded in bubble wrap, occupy distant anterooms and some marginal acreage in the two-car (both Mercedeses) garage. Cedar-lined drawers throughout the house nest hundreds of smaller works.

This isn't the Albrechts' first brush with collecting. Martha, who headed the Heard Museum's guild and is on the board of the Wheelwright Museum in Santa Fe, has always been interested in Native American art. Daniel, who ran a successful industrial equipment business, previously filled a house in Illinois with English furniture, porcelain and other Anglo goodies. When he moved to Santa Fe and met Martha, the couple collected some of the finest metalwork being produced in New Mexico.

All of the gates, doorknobs and chandeliers of their PV home are hand-forged gems.

"We have broad interests," Daniel says. "We like the good stuff, whether it's fine plants or a good design for a swimming pool, or whether it's beating an architect to death to get out a decent house."

They like the adventure and hunt of looking for objects that aren't like the ones they already have.

They also like the idea of shaping and expanding an institution.

"We got involved with the Inuit," says Daniel, a hefty man with a booming, rapid-fire delivery and a laugh that fills the room, "because it's not something the Heard is collecting. It's not part of its scope. The Heard has material from the Southwest. And that's all it has."

Several years ago, when the Heard was building its new additions, board meetings were full of cheery talk that the museum, Daniel says, "was finally coming of age. Everyone was saying the Heard is finally being recognized. We have a 'national profile.'

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