I drive deep into the heart of Alabama. The shiny glass of Montgomery’s office towers and strip malls replaces Tuscaloosa’s old red brick. The old southern diners morph into brightly lit burrito joints. My mother and I enjoy a margarita while discussing Jack Warner and his collection.
Like Tuscaloosa, Montgomery benefited from a local corporate patriarch with a passion for American history. To call Blount, Inc. a construction company is to call Walmart a local five-and-dime. It built massively complex structures, including the New Orleans Superdome and portions of the Kennedy Space Center.
In 1973, Alabama-born Winton Blount, Chairman, President and CEO of Blount, Inc. was inspired by the upcoming American Bicentennial. That year, he founded a corporate collection of American art. Similar to Jack Warner and Gulf States Paper, it is difficult to distinguish the company’s collection from his own.
As with Warner, Blount sought to create a chronological collection of American art, displaying a representative sample of each period of American art as a way of celebrating the country’s history and development. Also like Warner, he eschewed abstraction in favor of representational art.
Blount first became interested in art while working as Postmaster General of the United States from 1969 to 1971. During his tenure, he started the National Postal Art Show. He brought ideas of a corporate art collection back to Montgomery.
Birds of a Feather
Blount was guided in his art purchases by Larry Fleischman, whom we first met in Wichita being beaten to the Hopper watercolor ‘Adam’s House’ by Elizabeth Navas.
‘If it’s over a thousand dollars, I don’t want it.’
Fleischman was a collector cum art dealer. He bought American art at a time when it remained unpopular with most collectors. Later, in New York, I meet Martha Fleischman, Larry Fleischman’s daughter and the current Director of the Kennedy Galleries. She tells me the story of how Blount and Fleischman first met.
‘This man comes in [to Kennedy Galleries] with a Southern accent and he had a bad day. He said, “If it’s over a thousand dollars, I don’t want it.”’
Fleischman laughs. ‘And they hit it off. He was a Southern Baptist, my father was a northern Jewish man, but they just were birds of a feather. And my father helped him build his collection.’
Of course, Fleischman convinced him to spend significantly more than a thousand dollars. Martha Fleischman, a short, unstoppably energetic woman, explains, ‘My father was a great salesman but he wanted people to see his point of view. He wasn’t interested in being won over to theirs. But that’s really what you want.’
How much did Winton Blount spend on his art collection? Find out in the next installment!