A gift from art collector Daphne Farago will dramatically upgrade the Museum of Fine Arts’s holdings of contemporary glass and craft, the latest effort by the MFA to strengthen a once-neglected area of the collection.
The 161 works coming from Farago range from rare, century-old pottery to newer works by artists such as Dale Chihuly, Sam Maloof, and Tom Patti. This is the third major gift of art from Farago and her late husband, Peter, whose contributions have totalled $2.5 million to $5 million in art and money over the years.
Much of this work has never been seen by the public. It is set to go on display in August in the museum’s Farago Gallery, which opened in 2011. In announcing the gift, MFA officials stressed that the museum is acquiring works it simply couldn’t afford to buy today. Officials would not estimate the value of the gift, but similar works by artists included have sold for as much as $80,000 apiece in recent years.
“Daphne, as a collector, is one of those amazing individuals who has an enormous confidence in her taste and eye, and she was in the vanguard when not a lot of people in the art world were looking in this area,” said Cody Hartley, the MFA’s director of gifts of art. “As a result, she built a collection that would be very hard to equal. It gives us an enormous edge.”
The works by Chihuly include a bowl, basket set, and cylinder. In 2011, a show featuring works by the glass artist proved to be one of the most popular in MFA history, drawing more than 320,000 people and leading to the purchase of the 42-foot-tall “Lime Green Icicle Tower.” That piece was installed in the museum’s main courtyard.
Other works in the Farago collection include a more-than-century-old ceramic table lamp from Fulper Pottery Co., a double rocking chair crafted in 1988 by Maloof, and a glass vase made in 1957 by Finnish artist Timo Sarpaneva.
Though Farago and her husband (Peter Farago died in 2010) were long associated with the MFA, they also were significant supporters of the Rhode Island School of Design Museum. In fact, RISD named a wing of the museum after the Faragos. In the case of attracting this latest gift, though, the MFA had a clear advantage: It is bigger and has greater reach.
“RISD, though it is a wonderful institution — Boston offers more visibility and prominence for the collection,” said Daphne Farago.
Lauren Whitley, the MFA’s curator of textile and fashion arts, praised Farago’s eye for art and said that, in recent years, the collector has called her occasionally to suggest a museum purchase — and offer money to make it possible. In particular, Whitley mentioned the purchase of an early work by fiber artist and weaver Kay Sekimachi.
Farago already had a group of Sekimachi works in her collection, most of which she had purchased directly from the artist in the 1980s and 1990s.
“Daphne was the one who said, ‘Let’s try to get one of these for the museum,’ ” said Whitley. “It was a great connection. It really filled an important gap in the collection.”
One key aspect of the gift, said Hartley, is that it comes without restrictions or demands. Typically, collectors might donate after striking a deal on how often works would be on display and how soon a catalog of the works would be produced. They often ask for an assurance none of the gift will ever be sold.
“Daphne did not place any restrictions on this gift,” said Hartley. “I think that has everything to do with her good will and confidence that the museum will treat this material right.”
MFA director Malcolm Rogers said he knows of the Faragos’ history with RISD, but he believes the Boston museum had an advantage because of its larger range.
“The thing that tipped the balance — and it was something her husband, Peter, believed in — is that the Museum of Fine Arts has context for the collections that stretches thousands of years back,” said Rogers. “You can see her jewelry, her glass, her ceramics, in the context of what was happening in ancient Greece or ancient Asia.”
Farago said that she began collecting the craft works given to the MFA for her home in Little Compton, R.I. Recently, she sold that property and moved to live in Florida full time. “But my apartment is filled with wonderful pieces of craft and things that I love,” Farago said.
Though she says she’s stopped actively collecting, she does still buy works.
“Everything,” said Farago, “will eventually go to the museum.”