Rare Silver Returns to Newcomb

August 25, 2001

Arthur Nead
Phone: (504) 865-5714

Quick footwork by a Newcomb team and generous donations from alumni were key to returning a collection of newly discovered art treasures to Tulane. Newcomb Art Gallery director Erik Neil, senior curator Sally Main, and professor emerita of art history Jessie Poesch outbid eager art collectors for the pieces at a recent auction, and the gallery will begin displaying them this fall.

The collection includes rare sterling silver, tools, a gold ring and drawings. The ring and the silver objects, including flatware, a large water pitcher, a goblet and several bowls, are the work of Rosalie Roos Wiener, who died in 1983. Wiener was a skilled metalworker active at the Newcomb Art School during the first decades of the 20th century.

The horde of materials came to light following the recent death of Rosalie Roos Wiener's daughter, Corinne Wiener. When an inventory was made of the contents of her house--a dilapidated mansion with a commanding view of upper Broadway Street--the silver, as well as many other Newcomb-related art objects, such as pottery, paintings and prints by Newcombs first art professor, Ellsworth Woodward, were uncovered.

The estate administrator arranged for the items to be auctioned. "It was like opening King Tut's tomb," says Main. "The house had been sealed to the outside world for forever and a day. " News of the find moved quickly throughout the local art community. "As word spread about the upcoming auction, it became clear that no institution was making a major effort to acquire these pieces," says Neil. "I felt it was part of our mission to preserve the legacy of the arts at Newcomb and at Tulane, and this was a really unique opportunity."

There was one missing element--the gallery needed funds to participate in the auction, and it needed them fast.

"We aren't very often able to compete at auction for the really impressive pieces," says Neil. "We don't have a big acquisition budget."

On this occasion, however, a number of alumni and other friends of the university came forward and provided the Newcomb gallery with a generous war chest for the auction.

"A lot of people connected with Tulane were really interested in this dramatic situation," says Main. "We were gratified by the amount of support we received in that short time."

Neil credits Tatine Frater, Newcomb College's development officer, with garnering much of the alumni support for the gallery's new acquisitions. With funds in hand, Neil, Main and Poesch, an expert on Southern art, met to plan their auction strategy.

Of the Newcomb items offered in the auction, what stood out in terms of quality, according to Poesch, was the metalwork. "It really is a remarkable collection," says Poesch. "Rosalie Roos Wiener was primarily a metalworker, so there was a lot of metalwork and relatively few pieces of the pottery."

At the auction, the Newcomb team bid successfully for more than a dozen silver items by Wiener, including a child's porringer, the pitcher and two sets of flatware, a goblet, a chalice and a fingerbowl with a plate. They also acquired Wiener's workbench and metalworking tools, which include hammers, shears, a soldering torch head and files.

Also acquired were patterns and delicate, precise design drawings, including one for the chalice. The audience at the auction cheered and clapped each time the Newcomb team won a round of bidding, says Neil. "The auctioneer would say things like: It's going back to Newcomb!"

The Newcomb Art Gallery plans to put this new glimpse of Newcomb history on display in its Angela Gregory Room beginning Sept. 6. The display will run throughout the year, concurrently with the gallery's rotating exhibitions. The work of several other Newcomb metalworkers who were active during the same period will be part of the display.

Significantly, the gallery, which already has on display a potters wheel and a sewing machine, plans to exhibit Wiener's elegant tools and her workbench as well as the finished products of her craft.

"These tools give you a clue to the ideology of the Newcomb Art School," says Neil. "This is what the pieces were about. Each individual piece received the utmost care and attention of the master craftsman, and to ensure this, the master craftsman had the best of tools."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000