Collection Connection: Helen Torr
Lyle W. Williams, Curator of Collections
What’s a work of art in the McNay Collection that you have a connection to?
Helen Torr’s Ice, 1927.
Why did you select this painting?
I knew and loved this painting decades before it came into the collection. Despite its small scale (9 3/4 x 8 1/2 In.), it always had a prominent spot on the walls of the donor and my dear friend Tom Wright. The painting was a silent witness to our many dinners, birthday parties, and cocktails over the years. I observed at this little gem every time I had a chance. A perfect example of an abstract American modernist landscape, this painting was created by one of the most under-appreciated of artists. I admired the rock formations extending above a low plain with a wisp of gray suggesting the arc of the sky.
What is something you know about this artwork that others might learn from?
When Tom lent the work to a Helen Torr retrospective in 2003, we discovered that it wasn’t a landscape at all, but a still life. The curator of the show Anne Cohen DePietro discovered an entry in Torr`s diary in which the artist wrote about breaking icicles off the eaves of her house, standing them on end, and painting them. This revelation made us all like the work even more.
Tell us a bit about you and what you do at the McNay.
I am the curator of collections at the McNay. I take care of our collection, share it with our community, and develop the collection by working with collectors and making carefully considered acquisitions.
What are you most looking forward to when the McNay reopens? Or what are you doing to exercise creativity during isolation?
During the shutdown, I have enjoyed perusing treasures in my library, walking my dog around the neighborhood, and FaceTime cocktails with dear friends.
The Hecksher Museum of Art in Huntington, New York acquired the modest cottage where artist couple Helen Torr and Arthur Dove lived beginning in 1938. See the cottage and a photo of Torr, Dove, and Dove’s daughter-in-law Aline on the front porch.
Helen Torr, American, 1886–1967. Ice, 1927. Oil on board. Gift of Tom C Wright. Collection of the McNay Art Museum.