CWS In the News: '45-Year Art Collection on Sale'

The following story appears in the Friday, June 22, issue of the Argus Leader:

45-Year Art Collection on Sale
By Dorene Weinstein, Argus Leader

Frank and Jan Gibbs always planned on opening an art gallery when they retired.

They lived in one instead.

The couple spent 45 years collecting a treasury of western art, a portion of which now is on display at the Center for Western Studies, with many of the pieces for sale.

The couple filled their Sioux Falls home with original artwork with the idea that they would eventually sell it in a shop.

But the shop never happened.

The Gibbs amassed 411 pieces, and almost 200 are on exhibit and at least 190 of them are for sale, said Barb Gifford, their daughter, who has spent two years organizing and cataloguing the collection.

Tribute Exhibition & Sale

The "Frank & Jan Gibbs' Collection of American West and Regional Art: A Tribute Exhibition and Sale," is on display through August 25 in the Center for Western Studies. A reception and gallery talk will be held from 5-7 p.m. on Friday, June 22. The gallery talk will start at 6 p.m.

The treasure trove includes work from local artists such as Jo Ann Bird and Rosemary Millette, but it also features vintage Harvey Dunn, Jim Savage, Clarence Ellsworth, Reynold Brown and James Swinnerton — America’s first newspaper comic artist.

“The oldest piece is a Seth Eastman illustration from the late 1800s,” Giffords said. Pieces range from pen-and-ink drawings to oils, acrylics, watercolors and statues.

Whimsical drawings and carvings take up a whole case.

“There’s some of Frank in the collection,” said Harry Thompson, executive director of the Center for Western Studies. “He reveled in the lightheartedness of the Old West, the dry witty humor that you find in Old West characters.”

But he also appreciated the beauty and romance of the region, artist Nancyjane Huehl said.

Western art encompasses the pioneer spirit interspersed with western and Native American themes, Huehl said. Seeing the compilation “could inspire you to write a book or a song or do a piece of your own.”

The Gibbs were passionate supporters of local artists, Huehl said. “Frank recognized good art and appreciated it,” said his wife, Jan Gibbs by phone from a retirement home in Missouri.

They bought what they loved and could afford at the time.

One of the best things about collecting art was getting to know the artists, said Gibbs, 87. “Often it was people starting out, and we would be in a position to encourage them and help them out. It opened the door to friendship with people who were struggling with their art.”

When Frank met an artist, he or she often were downhearted, Gibbs said. “He would be encouraging, some we financed a little bit, we had shows in our homes at different times.”

Eventually, Frank became knowledgeable about the artists themselves.

Huehl benefited from their largesse. “They gave me encouragement and advice when I was starting out,” said Huehl, who has three pieces in the show. She learned what they liked and why. Frank fostered her business sense and helped her price her pieces. “It helped me further my art.”

Huehl lived in central South Dakota and stayed at the Gibbs’ home when in town. The years of sharing led to a close relationship between the family and Huehl. “They were my Godparents in art.”

“She became part of the family,” Gibbs said.

The Gibbs moved from San Francisco to South Dakota in 1950. Frank wanted to finish law school and took advantage of the reciprocity between South Dakota and California schools. They intended to go back to California when he finished but found they didn’t want to leave.

“They might be from San Francisco, but they’re really South Dakotans,” said Gifford, 53, who was born and raised here along with her three siblings. Gifford now lives in Ohio, and the other three have moved as well.

After Frank began his own law practice, the couple became acquainted with the art community and hit on the idea of opening a gallery when they retired. They started going to art shows around the region. “Western art was so different than anything we ever had ever seen. Since were were going to be in the west, we decided to collect it,” Gibbs explained.

The collection represents decades of western art collected with a personal touch, Thompson said. “Frank and Jan have been longtime residents and were deeply involved with the youth here. He knew many of the artists. They played a role in the cultural life of Sioux Falls.”

Above: "Flowers in Porcelain Pitcher," by Rudy Calao.