Magic Mosaic

Twelve years after rediscovery, Evansville’s Picasso piece to be shown

A glass mosaic created by legendary Spanish artist Pablo Picasso – obtained by the Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Science in 1963 and, voilà, re-discovered in storage in 2012 – is finally ready for public display.

The first look “Seated Woman with Red Hat,” reserved for members of the museum, is from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, June 23. The museum will be open exclusively to members from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the following Monday and Tuesday.

Then, the exhibition opens to the public at 11 a.m. Wednesday, June 26. Mayor Stephanie Terry will perform the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

To say museum officials are thrilled might be an understatement. Preparing for the reveal required a major art gallery renovation and years of fundraising. That process is ongoing, but enough has been done to make the Picasso – and several other valuable pieces of the museum’s collection – available for viewing.

“We do have more work to do, but we are excited that we can open this section,” says Mary Bower, who retires in July as the museum’s executive director.

The glass mosaic is called “Seated Woman with Red Hat,” and it depicts Marie-Thérèse Walter, a French model who was in a relationship with Picasso from 1927 to about 1935. The two had a daughter together. Displayed alongside “Seated Woman with Red Hat” are four other Picasso works in the museum’s possession, including a lithograph on paper from 1928 that also was inspired by Walter.

Due to the glass mosaic’s worth and fragility – its pieces are held together with enamel – upgraded security measures were needed before it could be displayed.

A $52,658 grant to the museum from the Indiana Destination Development Corporation pushed those renovations forward. That gift and others are enabling the mosaic to be shown in one section of the gallery as construction continues elsewhere, museum officials say.

While renovating the gallery space, the museum utilized the expertise of one of its board members, Jack Faber, with the Evansville architectural firm Hafer.

“I was able to work with Mary quite a bit and be a sounding board for questions on how to best display it, best protect it, and convey that to the general contractor [Core Contractors of Evansville] for the exhibit,” he says.

Faber says he didn’t expect his professional skills would be needed when he joined the board, but “it was perfect timing for everything,” and the renovations are well done.

“It’s a very nice exhibit for telling the story of the Picasso,” Faber says. “It’s a wonderful story, and it’s really highlighted where it’s situated in the gallery. So, when people come into the gallery space and turn a corner, it’s right in front of you and draws you in. And you’ll see other pieces as you walk towards it. It absolutely will generate considerable interest in the museum.”

Photo of Richard Loewy with “Seated Woman with Red Hat” provided by Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Science in 2012

The Picasso mosaic was a gift to the museum in 1963 from a French-born designer named Raymond Loewy, who knew the museum’s then-director, Siegfried Weng. A Wisconsin native, Weng came to Evansville from Dayton, Ohio, and led the museum from 1950 to 1969. He died in 2008.

Loewy lived in New York City and designed iconic logos for Shell, Exxon, Nabisco, Lucky Strike cigarettes, and several other companies.

“When [Weng] became our director, he reached out to art collectors around the country and solicited gifts,” Bower says. “We did receive gifts from many collectors around the country, including this piece.”

Museum officials in 2012 blamed “a clerical error” for the baffling revelation that they’d had a Picasso piece in their possession for decades.

Bower says documentation accompanying Loewy’s gift indicated the artist was named Gemmaux — but that is the plural form of the French word “gemmail,” which is the artistic technique employed to create the piece. Gemmail is the use of layered glass to create 3D art.

The (re)discovery was made 12 years ago after Bower received a call from a New York City auction house that was researching Picasso’s glass technique and traced the “Seated Woman with Red Hat” piece to Evansville.

To put the mosaic on display “is beyond exciting,” says Stephanie Engelbrecht, who’s been involved with the museum for 20 years and recently was named an honorary lifetime trustee. “It has taken some time, some twists and turns, but as board members, we have the responsibility to provide stewardship of the museum’s collection, and every board has taken that seriously. Although it has taken some time, I hope the community and visitors to our region really enjoy seeing it.”

“Seated Woman with Red Hat” will be on display indefinitely, and the museum also has a touring Picasso exhibit through July 21. The 24 prints are on loan from the John Szoke Gallery in New York City, and the works explore the themes of identity and interpersonal relationships.

Depicted in the pieces are Picasso’s friends, wives, and lovers — including Walter.

Rita Eykamp, who has chaired capital campaigns for the museum and also served as its board chair, notes the art gallery renovation “is still a work in progress” and there are still significant dollars to be raised.

But Eykamp says revealing Picasso’s glass mosaic is a major milestone for the renovation project and the museum, and “we’re thrilled that we finally found a way to display it.”

Bower says once the renovations are completed, the museum’s art gallery will have expanded by 34 percent, “and we’ll have views of the Ohio River from the museum, which we haven’t had before. So, we’re excited about that too.”

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Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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