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Feb. 6, 2017
The name Olive DeLuce is synonymous with Northwest Missouri State University and its fine arts program. Now the memory and work of her father has reclaimed a prominent place in the building that bears her name.
Olive DeLuce arrived in 1915 at what was then the Fifth District Normal School to establish its fine arts department, and she served as the department chair until her retirement in 1959. She came from a rich heritage of artists and developed her appreciation for art as a child under the tutelage of her father, Percival DeLuce. She continued to enrich those interests through her travel, reading and teaching as a faculty member at Northwest.
After Olive died in early 1970, then-Northwest President Dr. Robert Foster, on behalf of the college, accepted a collection of drawings, paintings, prints and furniture dating back to the 18th century from the DeLuce estate. By accepting what came to be known as the Percival DeLuce Memorial Collection, Northwest also agreed to maintain and exhibit the collection. In October 1971, an exhibit featuring pieces from the collection opened in the Olive DeLuce Fine Arts Building.
For a time, the late Robert Sunkel, an associate professor of art, curated the exhibit and started a paper inventory of the collection. But at some point during the 1980s, the collection was, unfortunately, moved to a storage space in the basement of the fine arts building.
It resided there quietly until recently.
Shortly after Phil Laber stepped away from his post as chair of the art department in 2012, he received a phone call from a woman in Nebraska who wanted to return a painting she believed was the work of Percival DeLuce and belonged in Northwest’s collection. The department reclaimed the painting, a pseudo-impressionistic painting by DeLuce, titled “After the Harvest Belgium,” that is now prominently displayed on an easel within a remodeled exhibit space housing the collection.
“This whole act of resurrecting the collection came out of an awareness that some things in the collection had gone astray,” said Laber, who retired from Northwest last summer as professor of art. “For the first year, we were just trying to figure out what we had, where it was, how it compared to the documentation that Mr. Sunkel had left behind, and then I went about recreating a new database.”
With the help of a small group of students and Lynne Gilbert, administrative specialist to the president, the existing collection of more than 800 pieces has been photographed and documented. The fine arts department is developing an online database of the collection to further enhance its accessibility to the public and make it available for scholarly activity.
“The work we’ve done within the last 2½ years was to discover the magnitude of the collection and then also put it contextually into the larger picture of the University collection,” Laber said. “When we started going through that, we discovered that there’s so much more outside of the Percival DeLuce collection.”
In fact, the Percival DeLuce collection is an extension of what the art department terms as the University Collection. Throughout Northwest’s history, largely at the direction of Olive DeLuce, artworks were purchased and collected. They were added to the collection as class gifts, donations, or commemorations of faculty service and visiting artists.
They include a pair of Rembrandts purchased by Percival DeLuce during the 1800s, a Thomas Hart Benton painting, two Mary Cassatt paintings and a signed original by Swiss-German artist Paul Klee.
Thomas Hart Benton himself presented the lithograph of his painting, “Cradling Wheat,” to Northwest’s Class of 1939 in July of that year after the class was unable to purchase one of his oil paintings. Today, the print is displayed in the University president’s office in the Administration Building.
“This collection is ripe for research, so if someone wanted to do research, publish articles or books,” Laber said. “There’s all kinds of information here that could notarize Northwest for this valuable asset that it has.”
Born in New York in 1847, Percival DeLuce was a successful and renowned artist, working most of his career there as a portrait artist and illustrator until his death in 1914. The remodeled gallery featuring the collection opens with a representation of DeLuce’s New York studio, based on a photograph Laber and Gilbert found as they were combing through the collection.
The studio representation features a handful of DeLuce’s paintings, two Napoleonic chairs, his easel and a 17th century Boulle desk in the same position as it was depicted in the original photo. There are depictions of a young Olive, who was born in 1888 as the second child of DeLuce and his wife, Emma Budlong, throughout the collection, including in an oil painting of the girl writing at the Boulle desk.
|Sketches by Percival DeLuce depict his tours of museums, galleries and studios in Europe.|
Reflecting on discoveries he made within the collection, Laber is most fond of DeLuce’s sketchbooks. The pages, now displayed in a gallery room of their own, include sketches DeLuce drew during his 20s, through six years of study in Europe and his tours of museums, galleries and studios in London, The Hague, Amsterdam, Paris and Brussels.
“Those sketchbooks are jewels of all kinds of information about history, subjects, his ability to draw, modes of transportation, horseback, train, ship,” Laber said. “We are so accustomed to having mass communication instantly. To look at these sketchbooks and realize that they are a form of information much more than just drawings, they are a wealth of information about him in that period.”
The collection also contains about 100 etchings representing well-known paintings of the 1800s that DeLuce kept. Additionally, the collection features several touristic items, including a Ming dynasty iron spittoon that likely was picked up by Edwin DeLuce, Olive’s “Uncle Ed,” who was an engineer and traveled the world.
“It’s a real pleasure to work with the collection to rediscover what’s there and to put it back out for the public view, and some of the pieces have never been seen before,” Laber said.
The Percival DeLuce Memorial Collection is housed on the first floor of the Olive DeLuce Fine Arts Building, adjacent to the Olive Deluce Art Gallery. For more information or to schedule a viewing, contact the Department of Fine and Performing Arts at 660.562.1326.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
email@example.com | 660.562.1704 | Fax: 660.562.1900
Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468