Library receives $2.2 million donation of Rollin Pickford artwork

Late artist Rollin Pickford paints near Fresno in 1927. Photo by Joel Pickford
Late artist Rollin Pickford paints near Fresno in 1927. Photo by Joel Pickford

Late artist Rollin Pickford paints near Fresno in 1997. Photo by Joel Pickford

A collection of 2,000 paintings, drawings and journal entries by late local artist Rollin Pickford will be gifted by his family to the Fresno State Henry Madden Library’s Special Collection Research Center over the next 20 years.

Pickford created some 18,000 pieces of art during his lifetime, 12,000 to 13,000 watercolors and 6,000 drawings. Fresno State will display a special selection of his artwork valued at $2.2 million. The artist passed away in 2010.

“This is our personal collection. Obviously, a lot of it has been sold and so on, but we’ve always hung on to a lot of the best paintings and not offered them for sale,” said Rollin’s son, Joel Pickford.  “So even though our collection represents only, maybe, 20 percent of what my dad did, it’s kind of the cream of the crop.”

Pickford’s artwork, which often reveals the history of Fresno as what it was and what it has become geographically, will be presented alongside his journal entries. With the writings dating between 1940 to 2000, the journal entries will be shown in correlation to the same date the picture on display was created as a representation of Fresno’s development.

“We are very pleased to have this collection because it is a significant artistic body of work, but more than that it documents the history of Fresno and the Central Valley,” said Tammy Lau, head of the Special Collections Research Center.

In celebration of the long-term donation, an exhibition of Pickford’s artwork from 21 private collectors will be showcased in the Leon S. Peters Ellipse Gallery in the library. Titled “Rollin Pickford:  An Artist and His Collectors,” the exhibit will be shown from Oct. 17 to Jan. 16, 2015.

The exhibition will feature never-before exhibited works and some of Pickford’s most meaningful pieces, including paintings and sketchbooks.  The exhibition will also include information about the collectors who came to acquire his pieces and why they appreciate Pickford’s work.

“I feel Rollin Pickford is one of the most outstanding artists, certainly, in the Central Valley and a great water-colorist in America,” said Don Larson, a personal and private collector.  “I am honored to display one of his paintings I happen to own.”

During the process of selecting a location for Pickford’s art, the family members felt it was important to display it in a place where they were able to create an active multimedia archive.  In due time, it will have a digital Web presence and be available to access worldwide.

With the first gift already donated in December 2013, it is now available for research in the third floor of the library. An ongoing series of exhibitions with different themes and approaches is planned over time.

“It is wonderful for us to have a home for my dad’s work where it’s really available,” Pickford said.  “For example, if another institution comes along and wants to borrow it for an exhibition, as long as they meet the right criteria and provide the insurance that is required, they can do that.”

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