Collection of Schenectadians Werner Feibes and the late James Schmitt Includes Works by Josef Albers, Sol LeWitt, Grace Hartigan, and Robert Rauschenberg
(Photo: the late James Schmitt – left, and Werner Feibes – right)
The Hyde Collection announced today that it has received its largest gift of Modern art in 30 years – a remarkable group of paintings, drawings, prints, mixed media, and sculpture by many of the world’s leading modern artists.
The collection of 55 works of art, including works by Josef Albers, Sol LeWitt, Grace Hartigan, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Motherwell, Bridget Riley, Robert Rauschenberg, David Smith, and 38 other artists, was given to The Hyde by Werner Feibes and the late James Schmitt, retired Schenectady, N.Y., architects and longtime art patrons, collectors, and friends of The Hyde.
Mr. Feibes and Mr. Schmitt, partners in work and life, began collecting Modern art in the 1950s. Their collection evolved uniquely over a half century, as they explored galleries in the United States and abroad, and developed personal relationships with artists and art dealers.
Mr. Schmitt died in 2013, and Mr. Feibes donated the collection to The Hyde in both of their names.
“This is a transformational gift for The Hyde,” said Erin Coe, Director of The Hyde Collection. “The Museum is largely known as a collection of Old Masters. The donation from Werner Feibes and James Schmitt now makes us a leading repository of Modern art in the region.”
Prior to the donation, The Hyde’s collection of Modern art was formed around two significant past donations. The first gift of 20th-century art was made between 1992 and 1996 by the late Jane Murray and consists of 82 works. The second major gift was made between 1999 and 2008, by the late Nancy Sills and her husband Dr. Stephen Sills, totaling 45 works. “The Feibes and Schmitt gift significantly enhances our collection of Modern art,” said Ms. Coe. “It expands and strengthens its scope and depth and opens new doors for exhibition and programmatic opportunities.”
The gift of 55 works to The Hyde represents a third of the Feibes and Schmitt Collection. The remaining two-thirds of the collection will be bequeathed to the Museum by Mr. Feibes.
Mr. Feibes and Mr. Schmitt were first introduced to The Hyde in 1998 by then- curator and later director Randall Suffolk, who left The Hyde in 2007, and is the incoming director of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.
“I’m thrilled that these works have found a new home at The Hyde,” said Mr. Suffolk. “The Feibes & Schmitt Collection single-handedly provides a vital, new dimension to the Museum’s holdings and will profoundly impact the visitor experience and programming for generations to come.”
The works in the collection reflect both Messrs. Feibes’ and Schmitt’s personal tastes and their broad interest in Modern art, particularly non-objective art, Pop art, abstract art, and Minimalism.
“Werner Feibes and Jim Schmitt assembled their collection very carefully and with fine judgment, always choosing pieces they wanted to live with in their home,” said Paul V. Turner, Wattis Professor of Art, Emeritus, in the Department of Art & Art History at Stanford University. “The works are of superb quality and over the years many of them have been borrowed for exhibitions by major museums in America and Europe, including the Guggenheim, Whitney, Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart. Messrs. Feibes and Schmitt’s personal friendship with several of the artists also gives their collection a distinctive character. Any art museum would be enriched by this generous donation.”
Mr. Feibes, 85, said it was Mr. Schmitt who “had the collecting bug,” but both participated fully in assembling a collection of stunning quality, breadth, and scope. Collecting art fit perfectly with their love of travel, adventure and cultural pursuits; and The Hyde exemplifies their six-decade commitment to supporting the arts in the Capital Region.
“A collection of art is a collection of ideas,” Messrs. Feibes and Schmitt wrote in 2003 in Formation, a catalogue published by The Hyde to celebrate an exhibition of their collection. “Through the years, we never set a particular goal in acquiring these art works; rather it was a matter of being seduced.”
Mr. Feibes was just nine in December 1938 when he and his family fled Nazi Germany, his physician father having escaped a concentration camp. The Feibes family settled first in New York City where Dr. Erich Feibes passed the medical boards, allowing him to continue the practice of pediatrics. The spirit of exploration that Mr. Feibes inherited animated the whole family: Dr. Feibes, his wife Gertrud, Werner, and his brother Walter set out one weekend to visit the bustling industrial center to the north, the City of Schenectady. A local physician named Van Der Bogert persuaded Dr. Feibes to set up a practice to serve Schenectady’s growing population. In 1940, the Feibes family bought a home in Schenectady, and Dr. Feibes set up a general practice. A renowned diagnostician, he made house calls until he was 75.
After graduating high school, Werner Feibes studied architecture at the University of Cincinnati. There he met Mr. Schmitt, four years his senior. Mr. Feibes graduated in 1954 and returned to Schenectady where he joined the local architectural firm headed by Dr. Van Der Bogert’s son. A year later, wanderlust struck and he took time off to explore Europe.
After college, Mr. Schmitt, a native of Erie, PA, served in the Army in World War II and, after his service, stayed in Europe to study under the GI Bill. Mr. Schmitt was ready to return to the United States just as Mr. Feibes headed off to see Europe. Mr. Feibes arranged for him to take his job at the architecture firm in Schenectady.
Mr. Feibes and Mr. Schmitt reunited in Schenectady in 1956. Mr. Feibes returned to work at the Van Der Bogert firm, which changed its name to Van Der Bogert, Feibes and Schmitt, and later became Feibes and Schmitt after Mr. Van Der Bogert’s early death. Messrs.Feibes and Schmitt practiced architecture together for 55 years, handling many major commissions, including Ellsworth Kelly’s studio in Spencertown, the Schenectady County Public Library, the Daughters of Charity’s St. Vincent de Paul House in Menands, St. Pius X Church in Loudonville, and the restoration of the Assembly Chambers in the New York State Capitol in Albany.
They discovered the potential of the then-rundown neighborhood in Schenectady which became known as the Stockade. Mr. Feibes and Mr. Schmitt helped to organize the Stockade Association, published a neighborhood newspaper, and spearheaded the first historic zoning ordinance in the State of New York that led to the preservation of Schenectady’s oldest neighborhood.
In retirement, Mr. Feibes and Mr. Schmitt traveled widely in pursuit of their love of art, music, and opera. They maintained an apartment in the Bronx to be close to the center of the art world in New York and a residence on Block Island, but home was always the Stockade, and they remained active in the cultural and civic life of the neighborhood, the City of Schenectady, and the broader Capital Region. Both were honored as Patroons, the highest honor the City of Schenectady bestows, for their efforts to “make a difference” in their community. The couple was married on March 22, 2013. Mr. Schmitt died just two months later at 87.
Two works from the recent gift are currently on view at The Hyde in the exhibition Pop Art from the Feibes & Schmitt Collection, along with four works on loan from Mr. Feibes. The exhibit is on view in the Charles R. Wood Gallery until September 27. Plans for an exhibition of works in the Feibes and Schmitt gift are under development.