Walter Padow could hardly believe his good fortune when, as a medical intern in 1964, he stumbled on a cache of prints by Chagall, Dali and Picasso in the art section of the E. J. Korvette department store in Philadelphia.
The art collector and his wife, Mildred, then a medical resident, snapped up a Chagall and a Dali. The rare prints were hand-numbered, signed by the artists and cost "less than $100" (they were worth much more), but it was enough to fire up the couple's longtime obsession with art collecting.
"We were astounded the store had priced them so foolishly," Padow, 77, recalls from his home in Plantation, where some 1,000 framed prints hang on his walls or are stored unframed in antique architect drawers. "Now, we have all these examples of printmaking trends over the last 400 years."
The fruits of the Padows' 50 years of art collecting are featured at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, now displaying "Four Centuries of Prints From Rembrandt to Picasso: Drs. Walter and Mildred Padow Collection." The couple loaned out 107 prints, a generous sweep of etchings, drypoints, lithographs, engravings and woodcuts by European and American masters that span the 16th century religious drawings of Albrecht Durer to the 20th century abstract fantasies of Joan Miro.
Describing the Padows' home as filled "bumper to bumper" with a "gold mine" of prints, Barbara Buhler Lynes, the museum's senior curator, says she sifted through drawers until she hit on a common theme.
"There's a richness of printmaking techniques here from the Renaissance to the 20th century," Lynes says of the prints, which occupy half the museum's first-floor gallery. "Paintings were well celebrated, but prints were like picture postcards, a way of showing other people what artists were doing in the world."
In his etching "The Hundred Guilder Print," Rembrandt van Rijn depicts a tender scene of Jesus Christ in a cavernous room, healing sick women and children huddled around him. Using the original copper plate, the Dutch painter created many duplicates, adding subtle changes to the lines and shading by hand, Lynes says. In three prints Francisco de Goya made 150 years after Rembrandt's etching, the romantic painter satirizes Spanish nobility. And in five prints by Pablo Picasso, all drypoints from his 1904-06 Rose Period, the painter draws jesters, acrobats and harlequins spun from his imagination. In each case, Lynes sees an evolution in three-dimensional depth as artists perfected new ways of printmaking.
The second half of the NSU Art Museum's main gallery carries "African Art: Highlights of the Permanent Collection," a roundup of 59 masks, textiles, beadwork, pottery and arugbas, or ritual bowls. Museum director Bonnie Clearwater tapped guest curator Marcilene Wittmer, a professor emeritus at the University of Miami, to pick through the collection and pinpoint the geography and identity of the anonymous artists who made the objects. Wittmer, Clearwater says, later traced the artists to workshops in Sierra Leone, Nigeria and other West African countries.
George Bolge, a former NSU Art Museum director, collected most of the African art during the 1970s from donors such as Edward Durell Stone, the architect behind Fort Lauderdale's Riverwalk. But it was a "rare feat" that Wittmer could discover the identities of the artists based on paint style and carving techniques, Clearwater says.
"It's not that the [African] artists didn't care about being known. They weren't seeking a name for themselves," Clearwater says. "For the artists, it wasn't so important who the original creator was. It was the ritual use of the art in tribal ceremonies."
"Four Centuries of Prints From Rembrandt to Picasso: Drs. Walter and Mildred Padow Collection" and "African Art: Highlights of the Permanent Collection" are on view through Oct. 23 at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd. Admission is $5-$12. Hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Call 954-525-5500 or go to NSUArtMuseum.org.
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