Memories of a Collector

Memories of a Collector

I met Julia and Isaiah at a most dangerous time for me. Not because of our efforts to stop the Crosstown Expressway. (I worked on saving Graduate Hospital, but knew that the squatters were an impressive group.) Not because of my indictment for draft related activities. Not because of any other work for peace, justice and socialism. Not even because I was planning a return visit to Cuba. No, the danger was that i had a real job as a health planner (paying $9,500 a year) and I wandered in to the Eye’s Gallery. I had been there before, but now I had a predictable flow of funds — more than I knew what to do with. It was about 1972 and it was the beginning of a continuing wonderful adventure.

Julia showed me these masks. I remember distinctly the first 4 I saw. They were from Guerrero – a European conqueror, a Juan Negro, a bright sun drenched figure and a skull with a serpent wound around it. All had multiple figures. I brought eh skull/serpent. I think I paid $30. Within a week I had bought all 4 and I had become a student of the all-knowing Julia. That was about 750 Mexican masks ago. But learning from Julia expands what one sees and makes one sensitive to how the mass need a proper home complete with sculpture, alebrijes, retablos, lots of other stuff. Not for me – for the masks.

Of course I noticed the sculpting the gallery and then met Isaiah. He made the world – or at least its walls and ceilings- anew. He was well read on art theory and history, knew the Dadaists and the Mexican muralists and managed to integrate and expand their practice.

There follows more than 45 years of wonderful friendship, some travels, an actual photo and collage project with Isaiah, dreaming of the Garden and just celebrating life and struggles in our troubled world. When I met Liz I learned that she already knew Julia and Isiah from the world of Durham school and she had met Isaiah thru their shared sneaking-out-to-grab-a-cigarette, which of course was just a youthful indiscretion for each of them.

Now, Liz continues to love Julia and Isaiah despite lacking a collector gene. We cannot count the time she asked “wouldn’t it be OK to just get one or two of those (fill in the blank). She would often raise the spurious concern “Where will we put that (fill in the blank). Sometimes she took a political tack – “shouldn’t we leave some for someone else. It’s only fair.” Julia and Isaiah witnessed our genetic conflict – collector – non-collector with the discretion of a physician or clergy. They have wisdom.

They are artists, conservators, historians and progressives dragged in to the world of commerce – and they do it with grace and no sacrifice of values. How could we not love them?


-Bob Brand