Friday, December 5, 2008

Tribute to An Eclectic Visionary

By: Paul D'Ambrosio, Vice President & Chief Curator
I was saddened to hear of the recent loss of folk art collector Dorothea Rabkin. She and her husband Leo built one of the most interesting and eclectic collections of American folk art assembled in the late 20th century, and it was my great privilege to know them and visit their home on a number of occasions to enjoy their company and see their amazing things. They became friends and benefactors of the Fenimore Art Museum, and we are very fortunate to have wonderful examples of the fruits of their endless scouring of the countryside in our permanent collection. It is so rare to meet someone with a vision so astute and yet so broad; a testament to the enduring cultural value of the arts that she and Leo championed.

One incident at the Rabkins’ home stands out for me. My wife Anna and I were visiting the Rabkins several years ago, and after admiring their new purchases for awhile they offered us some refreshments. Dorothea served the coffee, handing the cup first to Anna. She immediately handed the cup over to me, whereupon Dorothea’s eyes widened and a smile lit up her face. “A wife serving her husband is something you just don’t see anymore,” she said, clearly impressed. I pretended like it was a daily occurrence, of course, but it illustrated to me that beneath the surface of the Rabkins’ innovative and omnivorous collecting was a wonderfully solid and old-fashioned relationship. They truly reveled in making each other happy. I am reminded of this incident often when I think of Dorothea, an immigrant woman with a traditional outlook within the home and a far-reaching and complex cultural vision without.

You can read more about Dorthea Rabkin here.
Empire State Building by Gregorio Marzan. Gift of Dorthea and Leo Rabkin. N0104.1991

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