‘eggs-actly’ eclectic

A collection of eggheads featuring Taos artists from the Stark collection by Ruth Robinson Murphy

A collection of eggheads featuring Taos artists from the Stark collection by Ruth Robinson Murphy

Stark Museum offers peek inside collection of Orange’s first family

ORANGE — We all collect things. Some of us collect stamps, some of us collect postcards — I collect keychains, for reasons that escape me but started when I was a child. The desire to surround ourselves with “stuff” transcends all demographics.

Orange’s Stark and Lutcher families were no exception, as evidenced by the exhibition “Collecting Conversations,” at the Stark Museum of Art through Jan. 7.

This eclectic collection is not your typical art exhibition. It comprises pieces from the family archives, so there is a little bit of something for everyone, from crystal to paintings, from books to eggheads (yes, eggheads. More of that later).

Speaking of books, the stars of the exhibition are a pair of rare books — first editions of the King James Bible and Shakespeare’s First Folio on loan from the Miriam Lutcher Stark Library on the campus of UT-Austin, donated by the Starks.

The books of the 1611 King James Version include the 39 books of the Old Testament, a section containing 14 books of the Apocrypha, and the 27 books of the New Testament. King James VI commissioned 47 scholars, including some of the leading poets of the day, all of whom were members of the Church of England, to translate the text — the New Testament from the Greek, the Old Testament from Hebrew and Aramaic, and the Apocrypha from Greek and Latin. A good condition first edition is worth up to $400,000. Fewer than 200 of the original printings still exist.

Legend has it that William Shakespeare contributed his skills to the King James, although there is no direct evidence. However, in 1610, a year before publication, Shakespeare turned 46-years old. If one turns to the 46th Psalm and counts from the beginning, the 46th word is “shake.” Counting back from the end, one finds the word “spear.” Coincidence? It is unlikely that Shakespeare, who was a favorite of the king, would not have been involved somehow. Did the Bard of Avon bury an “easter egg” in the text as a byline? I like to think he did.

Busts of William Shakespeare and John MIlton, along with first editions of Milton's "Paradise Lost" and "Paradise Regained." They are part of "Collecting Conversations" at the Stark Museum of Art.

Busts of William Shakespeare and John MIlton, along with first editions of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Regained.” They are part of “Collecting Conversations” at the Stark Museum of Art. Photo by Andy Coughlan

Miriam Lutcher Stark was a great fan of theater and participated in the Orange Shakespeare Reading Club where she organized a reading of “Romeo and Juliet” in 1898 and The First Folio on display is open to the opening of the tragedy.

The First Folio was complied in 1623 by his friends John Heminges and Henry Condell in an attempt to preserve Shakespeare’s plays that otherwise would have disappeared. There are thought to have been 750 copies printed, with approximately 230 still known to exist. The Folio includes all of the plays generally accepted to be Shakespeare’s, with the exception of “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” and “The Two Noble Kinsmen,” and the two lost plays, “Cardenio” and “Love’s Labour’s Won.”

The First Folio cost 15 shillings to a pound at the time (roughly $217 in today’s money). A First Folio sold in 2003 for 3.5 million pounds ($5.79 million in today’s money).

It says much about the star power of these two books that first editions of John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Regained,” as well as an example of Charlotte Bronte’s homework, are reduced to supporting players.

The rest of the exhibition is drawn from the collection of the Stark Foundation. The idea of the show is to highlight the Lutchers and the Starks as being just like everyone else — albeit with a little more disposable income.

Many of us collect books, but a First Folio may be slightly outside of our price range. But ultimately, collecting is about surrounding ourselves with things we love. A giant photograph of H.J. in his study, surrounded by his books, is really no different than a scene in the houses of many of my friends. Fine crystal and beautiful art mixes with knickknacks and letters, including the grandfather John Stark’s Civil War diary and notes from the Shakespeare Club meetings. There’s a even a death mask of Napoleon which reflected the couple’s interest in the French ruler.

H.J. loved to collect sets, which accounts for the museum’s impressive collection of Audubon books. It also allows the display of a series of drawings and small paintings by Charles Dutton that show the process behind the large painting of a bear.

Not everything in the collection is “high art.” The couple discovered a series of “eggheads” created by artist Ruth Robinson Murphy. They are exactly what their name suggests, a series of historical figures made out of eggs. They are both whimsical and hilarious — and also really well done. That they are rather silly offers a glimpse into the playfulness of the couple’s tastes. Once the couple collected some of the presidents, they commissioned Murphy to create images of the Taos artists that form such a dominant part of the Stark art collection.

Lutcher seems to be obsessed with the number 13, and requested it whenever possible. Uniform numbers and license plates are adorned with the number. Three restored cars are featured in the lobby — a 1922 Ford Model T Runabout Truck, and a 1911 Hupp Motor Car Company Roadster, Hupmobile, both used by the Stark family on their ranch in Colorado, as well as a 1950 Crosley Super Sport, owned by Lutcher Stark. Presumably the license plate for these would have been 13.

“Collecting Conversation” has something for everyone. It also offers a glimpse into the private tastes and passions of one of Southeast Texas’ great families, and asks us to think about what we collect and why.

The show is on display through Jan. 7. The Stark Museum of Art is located at 712 Green Ave. in Orange.

For more, visit www.starkculturalvenues.org/starkmuseum.

Story by Andy Coughlan, ISSUE editor

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