Beinecke Acquires Major Western Americana Collection

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University has acquired a distinguished collection of art, manuscripts and printed material concerning the American West. The acquisition, a gift of Dr. Franz R. and Mrs. Kathryn M. Stenzel of Portland, Oregon, was made before Dr. Stenzel’s recent death. It includes more than 1,600 volumes, dozens of oil paintings, and several hundred watercolors, drawings and prints. The Stenzel Collection greatly enhances Yale’s already important holdings on the art and history of the Far West.

Dr. Stenzel, who was a cardiologist at Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland from 1946 until he retired in 1970, died on March 29 in the hospital unit that bears his name. He was 92 years old. A generous donation from the Stenzels to the hospital in 1996 had enabled the opening of the Franz R. Stenzel and Kathryn M. Stenzel Skilled Nursing Unit.

“The Stenzels began studying and acquiring Northwest art in 1956 and soon amassed the largest private collection of early Pacific Northwest paintings,” observed George Miles, the William Robertson Coe Curator of Yale’s Western Americana Collection. “We are grateful for their generosity and honored that they saw Yale as an appropriate institution in which to place the results of more than three decades of collecting. The Western Americana Collection has received many generous gifts over the decades, but never such a large, comprehensive collection of original art.”

The Stenzel gift includes 79 watercolors by James Madison Alden, an artist who worked in California and the Pacific Northwest during the 1850s with the U.S. Coast Survey, as well as an archive of books, manuscripts and art concerning James G. Swan, an important pioneer in the development of the Pacific Northwest and one of the area’s earliest ethnographers. Among the 88 drawings and sketches in the Swan archive are many done for Swan by Northwest Coast Indian artist Johnny Kit Elswa.

The Stenzel gift also includes collections of work by Gutzon Borglum, J.W. Kehoe, T. Mower Martin, William F. McIlwraith, Luke Pease, Peter Toft and Daniel Winter, as well as more than four dozen “bird’s-eye views” of Northwestern towns and cities. The Stenzels have donated to Yale their extensive research collection, containing information on more than one thousand artists who worked in the West during the 19th and early 20th centuries as well as an array of art exhibition and art sale catalogs.

“The Stenzel gift will complement and extend Yale’s rich resources for the study of Western art and history,” explained Miles. “The Western Americana collection includes important works by Samuel Seymour (the first artist to depict the Rocky Mountains), George Catlin, Alfred Jacob Miller, Richard and Edward Kern, James W. Abert and such Plains Indian artists as Howling Wolf, Etahdleuh and Zotom. The artists represented in the Stenzel Collection extend the geographic and chronological bounds of our coverage. Furthermore, the Stenzels’ research files will be a boon for students and scholars undertaking research in virtually any area of Northwestern art history.”

Dr. and Mrs. Stenzel were married in 1951. They began their study of Western art and history five years later and soon gained renown for their knowledge and energy. They eventually assembled more than 2,500 paintings, watercolors, sketches and prints. Their collection has been exhibited at museums throughout the United States, and in 1973, when the United States Information Agency arranged the first American-organized exhibit of American art to travel behind the Iron Curtain after World War II, the Stenzels contributed four paintings to the 71 works in the exhibit.

Dr. Stenzel, who received his B.S. from Bates College and his M.D. from Harvard, retired from private practice to write two books based on his collections and research. “Cleveland Rockwell, Scientist and Artist, 1837-1907” was published in 1972 and received an award from the American Association for State and Local History. “James Madison Alden: Yankee Artist of the Pacific Coast, 1854-1860” was published in 1975 to accompany an exhibition of Dr. and Mrs. Stenzel’s collection of Alden paintings at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Stenzels have made signficant civic gifts as well. In 1991 they donated 27 acres of wooded hilltop land near Portland’s Forest Park to the Portland Audubon Society. In April 1996, they underwrote the Kenneth Ward, M.D., Glucose Sensor Project at Good Samaritan Hospital and the Horticultural Therapy Department. This year they created an endowment to support a program in Horticultural Therapy at Portland State University.

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Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325