Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Art in Isaac's Life & Today

Photo card with album
For Isaac, an appreciation of fine art was essential for anyone purporting to be an educated person.  One of my favorite passages from his journal is a lengthy conversation he recorded between himself and a young lady.

      In morning dark-eyed 'Belle A' called in and returned loaned book 'Cave on Coloring.'  I  inquired, "Why, have you read it through already?"
     "Well, could you understand it?"
     "No, not all."
        "How do you like it?"
        "Oh, I don't like such reading."
        "Ah, you must not expect to learn all at once.  Here, I have another small book--'Roebling, Sketching from Nature.'  Maybe this will benefit you more to read.  You must not get discouraged but go on like you had ten years time to learn in.  What other books have you to read?"
       "Well, just you keep on slowly reading and form a taste for the Fine Arts.  You will never regret it."  I handed book to her, and she started then for Seminary.  (Isaac's Journal, February 28, 1871)
Stereoscope with viewing cards

At the time this conversation occurred, Isaac was in his mid-20s, a successful young businessman in Rossville, IL, taking notice of attractive females that visited his drugstore but determined to postpone marriage until he was better situated in the manner he had planned for himself.  The conversation seems to show that while it was clear he wished to find an accomplished young lady familiar with the arts and literature, he was still very clumsy in the area of romance.

Isaac collected all kinds of books, and among them were books of art.  His desire to educate himself in the fine arts is reflected in a journal quote from early 1871:  "Received also 'Wonders of Italian Art,' which I wish I could have had long ago, would have assisted my fine Art progress very much.  Consider it a dear little book, as being the cream of Italian Art."

Museum Slab Party Guest
Among his personal art collection were many framed engravings, as well as photographs of artists kept in his card album of artists and authors.  His stereoscope collection included views of famous works of art, and his library had art books such as 'Murrary's Handbooks of Painting,' including Italian, German, Flemish, and Dutch volumes.  I was fortunate to locate a modern facsimile of one of his art books, 'Cuba with Pen & Pencil,' which I purchased for my collection of some other books that had been in Isaac's library, selecting the oldest editions I could find.  On July 3, 1871, he wrote in his journal:  "Received some 1 doz Stereos from Anthony & Co, also some card photos of Sarony & Co, and other mail matter, mostly Photography."

Because Isaac loved art so much and had few, if any, opportunities to see original paintings and drawings, I know that Isaac Werner would have supported having an art museum near enough for him to visit frequently. How I wish I could share with him the news of the new art museum opening in Pratt, KS, this spring! 

Some Board Members at Party

I am fortunate to have been asked to serve on the Museum Board, and the past few months have been busy ones.  The initial art collection, as well as a generous donation that has allowed the new museum to be built without debt, came primarily from Dr. and Mrs. Vernon Filley.  Mrs. Filley, or "Mimi" as she is well known, became interested in art during an elementary school field trip, and that young interest continued after she married.  Dr. Filley established his medical practice as a surgeon in Pratt, KS, and with a second residence in Santa Fe, NM, Mimi became acquainted with artists and gallery owners there.  She began to fulfill her dream of collecting art to donate to a museum for others to enjoy.

Discussing the floor plans 
The Vernon Filley Art Museum is the culmination of her dream.  The photographs in this blog were taken at the museum's "Slab Party," where supporters had the opportunity to see the progress being made on the construction.  Plastic "hard hats" were given to those who came to see the architectural drawings, the list of services and programs the museum will offer, and ask questions of the board members and the architect who were present.

The museum is scheduled to open this spring, and our Founder Campaign, through which donors can contribute at specified levels to be recognized as early supporters on a permanent plaque that will hang in the museum.  Founder donations and pledges may be made until February 15, 2014, when the campaign closes.  Our membership drive will then begin, and plans for the Grand Opening activities are underway!

Discussing future plans! 
It was impressive how early settlers, some still living in sod houses and dugouts, formed Literary Societies and attended Lyceum programs, eager to enjoy opportunities to see trained musicians, actors, and elocutionists, as well as to discuss books, art, and ideas, and to take singing lessons during the winter months when they were not so busy in the fields.  Isaac would certainly have been eager to visit an art museum on his visits to Pratt, and judging from the support shown the Founder Campaign, the volunteers already involved, the curiosity during construction, the interest in art classes and special museum events, and the inquiries about museum memberships, it appears that the current residents of Pratt and the surrounding region are as excited about the museum as he would have been!

I invite everyone to visit and "like" our page, or on Twitter @FilleyArt Museum.

To read more about the museum you may visit our website at


The Blog Fodder said...

I don't care how pretty she was, if she didn't like reading and hadn't read any books, she was a good one to pass on. Isaac was right.

Brittany Novotny said...

What a fascinating and encouraging tale of the early settlers. Thanks for connection current day happenings as well. The Vernon Filley Art Museum is honored at our mention in your post. We are excited to serve the community. I wonder what Isaac would think of the Google Art Project and some of the tools that allow access all over the world. I hope as a society continue to use these tools to enhance the experiences. There is no supplement for experiencing the aura of an object or art in person. The experience is highlighted in this great CNN article Thanks! Follow Vernon Filley Art Museum on facebook and Twitter. and @FilleyArt Museum