This past January, the SIUE University Museum added nearly 500 pieces of art from the artist Emilio Sanchez. The addition of the collection was facilitated by Eric Barnett, director of the SIUE University Museum.
According to the Foundation website biography, “Emilio Sanchez was born in Camagüey, Cuba in 1921. He began his artistic training at the Art Students League in 1944 when he moved to New York City where he lived until he died in 1999. However, it was in Cuba that he became fascinated with the play of light and shadow on colored forms that became a dominant characteristic of his works.”
Sanchez stipulated in his will that a foundation was to be set up “to preserve, promote, and sell his numerous artworks … with the wish to help fund ophthalmologic research and art scholarships,” according to the Foundation website.
However, the foundation was only set up to last for 10 years. After the 10 years were up, the collection was to be distributed.
Barnett stated that he found out about the artwork through a listserv set up for academic museums and galleries. Barnett said that Ann Koll with the Foundation placed a notice that a large portion of the collection was available for interested institutions.
The University Museum acquired the first piece of Sanchez’s art in 1971 when it purchased a large lithograph, stated Barnett, and now will house the largest collection in the country.
“The reason I jumped on it when I saw the name is we had one piece in our collection, a large color lithograph that the University purchased back in 1971. So I knew his work and I knew his name.”
Figuring out which pieces would come to SIUE and how they would arrive took some time and a lot of emails. Barnett stated that some of the pieces that were originally requested had already been promised to other institutions. Once the list of art was finalized, the transfer was negotiated by a lawyer, and then art moving contractors were contacted to facilitate the transfer.
“Most of what we acquired are works on paper. There are about 38 paintings on canvas and board. Then, there is watercolor, ink pencil and then some color and black and white lithographs. He drew constantly and worked with subjects over long periods of time. There’s a lot of pieces of sunsets in New York City and in New York away from the city. There are a bunch of still life’s. We’ve barely scratched the surface on those because there are literally hundreds of still life’s of vases and flowers,” said Barnett. “So we picked a handful that represented that grouping. We didn’t just go to get as much as we possibly could. I really tried to select in order to get a broad overview.”
Barnett also stated that having Sanchez’s art on campus only strengthens the link that SIUE has with the Caribbean region.
“Without knowing it, we’ve been attached to the Caribbean by an invisible cord since we began, mostly because of Katherine Dunham and her dance and her affinity for Haiti and the other Caribbean countries. So, there has been this long standing interest in the Caribbean. I know several faculty members who had gone down there over the years,” stated Barnett. “In fact, Otis Sweezy, the retired chair of theater and dance, he went down there and a photograph he took while down there won a contest in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Calvin Jarrell went down there with some dance groups.”
Several of the framed paintings have already been put on display in offices on campus. With the number and variety of pieces, Barnett hopes that the University Museum will be able to put together a retrospective exhibition on Sanchez.
“I thought that if we could amass a sampling of his work, it would enable us to put together a retrospective exhibition,” said Barnett. “His art is modern. It’s refreshing. His imagery is accessible. Since a lot of what we do is put art out on campus, it helps to have items that are accessible to people, intellectually and aesthetically accessible.”