In January of this year, the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts received as gifts three works of art that were part of the collection of the Museum’s Director Emeritus, Mark Johnson, and his wife, Amy Johnson (pictured above). Mark spent most of his 23 years as Director of the Museum strategizing the refinement and expansion of the Museum’s permanent collection. Much of this involved the Museum’s use of endowed funds to purchase American historical paintings and sculpture (thanks to the generous bequest of Ida Belle Young) or Old Master prints (equally generously funded through the Weil Print Endowment). While he enjoyed the excitement that went along with these searches and purchases, he was personally devoted to more modern works of art, and particularly Studio Art glass and contemporary ceramics. Mark made many friends among the artists in these media, and he valued them as people as well as the art that they made.
The first gift, an intricate and exuberant ceramic platter by Viola Frey, Halo of Possessions, 1994, is currently on view in the exhibition About Face: Contemporary Ceramic Sculpture. Frey (American, 1933–2004) had an incredible influence on the trajectory of figurative ceramics in this country. Her bold and colorful platters such as Halo of Possessions were inspired by found materials gathered from junkyards and flea markets. Casting these objects in clay, Frey assembled them into rich, expressionistic, textural platters that become tableaux of our cultural lives.
Also included in the gift are two sculptures in glass by Seattle-based artist Ginny Ruffner (American, born 1952) that showcase her exceptional creativity and lampworking skills: Learning to Cat Paddle, 1994, and A Not So Still Life, 2000. Ruffner’s works combine her skills as a painter with her training as a flame worker in glass. Her sophisticated, whimsical, and narrative sculptures function as a canvas for her thoughts and dreams as seen in Learning to Cat Paddle. Sharing its title with an award-winning, full-length documentary about Ruffner, A Not So Still Life was featured in the exhibition Creativity: The Flowering Tornado, which the Museum organized and toured in 2003.
The Museum family takes great pride in the work that Mark and Amy invested in the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and in its success over his long tenure. We are tremendously grateful that they have entrusted these outstanding works of art that meant so much to them to our permanent collection.