News & Publications
Hardware Giant John Hechinger’s Collection of Tools as Art at St. John’s College’s Mitchell Gallery
FOR RELEASE: August 5, 2009
CONTACT: Patricia Dempsey, 410-626-2539
The late John W. Hechinger (1920-2004) collected tools as art. A portion of his collection opens the new exhibition season at The Mitchell Gallery. “Tools in Motion: Works from the Hechinger Collection,” an eclectic, sometimes humorous pun on handyman tools as art, includes 47 works by 42 artists. Hechinger, the chairman of the Hechinger home improvement retail store chain, collected art objects made of, or about, tools. The exhibit will be on view at the Mitchell Gallery August 26 to October 21. The Opening Reception and Family Program, which includes a tour followed by a hands on workshop, will be held on September 13 from 3:30-5 p.m.
After building a state-of-the art headquarters building in Landover, Maryland in 1978, Hechinger felt the long, clean corridors and windowless workspaces were “efficient, but sterile.” To change this, Hechinger tapped into the talent of artist Ivan Chermayeff to create more than 80 graphic, sometimes abstract, kodaliths (high-contrast photos) to enliven the stark walls. At that time Hechinger already owned a set of prints, “Tool Boxes,” by pop artist Jim Dine. It was these works that spawned Hechinger’s idea of collecting art that represents tools in all their dimensions as well as other objects associated with construction. This collection was displayed in the offices, corridors, and cafeteria at the Hechinger headquarters until the company closed in 1999.
Most of his collection, which numbers about 300 pieces, includes works by post-World War II American artists. Some of the artists, such as Jim Dine, Claes Oldenburg, and Jacob Lawrence, are well known, and many others have less recognizable names. However, all of the artists’ works in his collection speak to the industry and diligence of the American homebuilder, whether a “Harry Homeowner” or a professional contractor.
Many of these works are puns on art, literature, architecture, or man’s foibles. Edgar Soberon’s “The Kiss,” a pastel drawing of an electric plug and extension cord, lampoons a Brancusi sculpture by the same name, substituting the man and woman with the electric elements and acknowledges the “spark” between them. “Still Life,” a composition of nails, hammer, hinges, levels and other tools in poetic light, by Henryk Fantazos evokes the principles used in Dutch still-life paintings.
Throughout the collection, there are many tools that deny their traditional function or are clever replicas of tools made in other materials. The “Needle Nose” by Michael Ramus is a convincing sculpture created in cardboard, plywood, and pigment. Bill Wilson has created a sculpture, “Pliers and Nails” in painted wood that is essentially an oversized tool. The glass faucet sculpture with a glass water drip, “Faucet (In the Middle of the Night)” by Hans Godo Frabel, is a fascinating piece that stirs laughter and awe –and the irritation of a relentless dripping faucet.
The largest piece in this exhibition transforms one wall into a “School of Fishes,” a shimmering frenzy of vice grips by Armand P. Arman with an 8-to-10-foot span. Arman, one of Hechinger’s favorite artists, is known for his “accumulations,” multiples of everyday consumer objects arranged to create another vision entirely. Humor, frustration, loss, wonder, and curiosity are all conveyed in these works and touch anyone who has ever picked up a tool for even the simplest task.
Exhibited Related Events for “Tools in Motion”
September 13 Opening Reception & Family Program. Art Educator Lucinda Edinberg will lead a tour of the “Tools in Motion” exhibition followed by a hands-on workshop from 3:30 to 5 p.m.
September 23 Art Express. Art Educator Lucinda Edinberg will give a lunchtime gallery talk on “Tools in Motion” from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m. Juice and sodas will be provided.
September 27 Sunday Afternoon Tour. Art Educator Lucinda Edinberg will give a talk on “Tools in Motion” at 3 p.m.
September 29 Seminar. Artist Ebby Malmgren and St. John’s College tutor, Judy Seeger, will lead an exhibit-related seminar, “Object and Memory: The Soul of a Tool,” at 7 p.m. in the Gallery. Space is limited and the reading may be purchased from the college bookstore, 410-626-2540. REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED. Call 410-626-2556.
October 1 Book Club. Join Mitchell Gallery Book Club members for a tour of “Tools in Motion” followed by a discussion of “House,” by Tracy Kidder, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. For information, contact Kathy Dulisse at 410-626-2530 or Kathy.Dulisse@sjca.edu.
October 6 Lecture. Join “Tools in Motion” curator Sarah Tanguy for her lecture on “The Secret Lives of Tools” at 7 p.m.
October 14 Workshop for Artists. Master framer Eric Zacharias will present “Framing Fundamentals” from 6:30 to 8 p.m. *REGISTRATION AND MITCHELL GALLERY MEMBERSHIP ARE REQUIRED. Call 410-626-2556.