MITCHELL MUSEUM BONAN GALLERY: THE CEDARHURST PERMANENT COLLECTION

TRADITION AND INNOVATION IN AMERICAN ART

This extraordinary permanent collection of American paintings, works on paper, and sculptures owned by the Mitchell Museum at Cedarhurst Center for the Arts has made Mt. Vernon, Illinois one of the most remarkable small towns in the United States. The collection was formed in the 1940s and 1950s by John R. and Eleanor R. Mitchell, a prosperous Mt. Vernon couple, who acquired major examples by Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt, Childe Hassam, John Singer Sargent, George Bellows, Robert Henri, William Glackens, and others at a time when American art was under appreciated and much under-valued. These artists have since proven to be among the most crucial figures not only in the development of American painting, but in the greater history of art. 

The most exceptional paintings in Cedarhurst’s permanent collection are by artists who trained in Europe in the late 19th or early 20th century – Cassatt, Eakins, Hassam, Sargent, and J. Alden Weir, for example – but who remained deeply committed to the values and beliefs central to the American experience as they knew it.

Central to the Cedarhurst collection are the works acquired by State Senator John J. Parish. Parish was a businessman and state senator from Centralia, Illinois, and often visited Chicago’s art galleries. Strolling through the galleries of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1941, Parish spotted a landscape watercolor by a relatively unknown, twenty-four year old artist named Andrew Wyeth. He bought Winter Furrows, a major work on paper by Wyeth that day from the Art Institute’s annual watercolor exhibition. Wyeth has since become considered one of America’s greatest artists.

It may have been the encouragement of John Parish that led another Centralia, Illinois resident, the senator’s good friend, and the publisher of the local newspaper, S. Alden Perrine, to become interested in American art. In late 1944 or possibly January of 1945, Perrine bought Thomas Eakins’s 1886 masterwork, Professor George F. Barker from the Babcock Galleries in New York City.

By the 1950s, a handful of families in this farming and coal-mining region owned works of American art that were becoming increasingly sought after by museums and art galleries.

The Mitchells knew their collection would enrich the cultural life of southern Illinois. In 1973, the Mitchell Museum at Cedarhurst Center for the Arts opened to the public, with the Mitchell’s collection of American paintings and drawings as the centerpiece of a vital new institution. Since the opening Cedarhurst staff have continued to acquire regional artworks that add to the founders’ original mission.

This expanded gallery exhibition showcases Cedarhurst’s varied collections and is distinguished by five sections:

  • The Ashcan School
    Most of the paintings left to southern Illinois by John and Eleanor Mitchell are by Ashcan School artists. These creative thinkers challenged the “normal” artistic standards of their time, paving the way for future modern artists to portray the realities of everyday life.
  • Modern & Postmodern Art
    Cedarhurst’s Ashcan School artists were lead organizers in introducing modern art to America, and the museum collections contain several examples.
  • The Art of the Midwest
    Many of the artworks acquired by Cedarhurst since the Mitchell Museum opened in 1973 reflect Regionalism, or American Scene Painting. Midwestern artists highlight American ingenuity, values, and landscapes through various mediums.
  • Paul Strand & Modern Photography
    One of the giants of modern Photography, Paul Strand is represented through two portfolios, 20 total works, in Cedarhurst’s collection. His photographs broke with conventional photography and influenced future giants Ansel Adams and Edward Weston.
  • Neoclassicism
    The Mitchell Museum itself, with marble facade and Greco-Roman architecture, is the perfect example of neoclassicism.

• Gallery Admission: $5 per person | Cedarhurst Members Free (children 10 and under free) | All admission is Free each Thursday •

More images from the Permanent Collection can be viewed by visiting the Facebook Photo Album.