Longform

Queen of Arts

Page 4 of 7

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.'

"That's like 'Have a nice day,'" says Daniel. "Well, I don't want to have a nice day. I'm busy. I want to do things. So I said to Marty Sullivan, who was the director then, if we're an important, nationwide organization, I want to see our war ax from the Mohawks. I want to see something from the Black Hawks. And do we have any Kickapoo joy juice? Do we have these things? Of course we don't. We're a regional museum. And I said I think we need to expand our horizons. He said that's impossible. We don't have any money for acquisitions."

In the three and a half years that the Albrechts have been sweeping the tundra, from Greenland west across arctic North America, they've purchased about a thousand works.

A small chunk of it has already gone to the Heard, and more is likely headed that way.

"We give here," says Daniel, "because we can't make a mark at the Met. We can't make a mark at the Art Institute in Chicago. Nor do they need for us to make a mark there. But maybe we can really help with the Heard."

This urge to leave a footprint has built museum troves all over the world. But Phoenix institutions have lagged far behind those of other cities in attracting significant works or collections from patrons. Still, there has been some headway.

Gifts of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings from the late Sybil Harrington, and additional bequests of early American Modernist paintings from Lorenz and Joan Anderman, have helped to fortify the Phoenix Art Museum's relatively weak core of modern works. The collection of Chinese art that Roy and Marilyn Papp have loaned to PAM has helped to make the museum a national stop for traveling exhibitions of Chinese art.

Such gifts often come with strings attached.

"A patron is not just somebody who rubber-stamps a check," says Diane Cummings Halle. "A patron is somebody -- if they're giving money -- who wants to see that their goals are met, that there's some kind of an evaluation at the end of the process."

Six years ago she set out to do at the Phoenix Art Museum what the Albrechts are doing at the Heard. She wanted to put the museum on the national map by purchasing a collection of modern and contemporary art from Latin America.

She sees the collection as providing an essential cultural bridge to Phoenix's booming Latino population, a necessary step for the museum to take.

She and her husband, Bruce Halle, who owns Discount Tire, knew nothing about Latin American works before they began.

But, like the Albrechts, the couple leapt into the education and adventure that comes with collecting.

"We wanted to be able to travel to some of these countries, visit the people, listen to their language, their music, or read some of the poetry they write, to really kind of infiltrate other people's cultures."

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Edward Lebow
Contact: Edward Lebow