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The Vault Opens

American Express by James Litz is one of the many pieces on the block next Sunday, October 4.

Works from Charles Rand Penney's collection on view and for sale

Collecting has been a lifelong passion and pursuit of retired lawyer turned collector/philanthropist Charles Rand Penney, so much so that at one point the Buffalo-born Penney had in his possession 100 separate collections of art, collectibles, memorabilia, and antiques. Over the years, objects from those collections, and in some cases entire collections, were lent for exhibitions at institutions throughout the world. His collections even drew film crews from abroad to Western New York.

As a private individual, Penney takes the responsibility of owning historic objects as seriously as do public institutions, carefully recording each object’s provenance and studiously assisting in the publication of catalogs.

Charles Rand Penney
Landscape, by Clifford Ulp
Summer Roadside, by Martha Burchfield

If Penney’s name is familiar to you, it is likely due to his generosity in the early 1990s, when he gifted four of his impressively comprehensive collections—Western New York art, Western New York craft, Roycroft objects/publications, and works by Charles Burchfield—to the Burchfield Art Center at Buffalo State College. A watershed moment for the museum, it filled numerous gaps in its collection by adding work by scores of significant artists not previously represented. In recognition of the extraordinary nature of these donations totaling over 1,400 items, the museum was rededicated in 1994 as the Burchfield-Penney Art Center. Viewing their permanent collection in now greatly expanded new quarters, you will notice numerous works on display credited as coming from “The Charles Rand Penney Collection.”

Fast-forward to 2009: As a result of purchases of regional (Buffalo, Rochester) art that Penney made primarily after his gift to the museum, he now has a remarkable “second” personal collection of Western New York art composed of an enviable 278 works, in virtually all art media, by 187 artists.

It comes as no surprise that Penney’s collecting of regional art continued, since he’s been respected for decades as one of the most ardent supporters of local artists and an inspiration to many young collectors. What may come as a surprise is what Penney has decided to do with his personally owned collection of Western New York art.

Now 86 years old, he has turned his attention to finding appropriate destinations for his collections, thus completing his stewardship of the works. Deciding recently to sell his Western New York collection fulfills his desire to “find permanent homes in the community from whence they came, so that people in the area can share in some of the joy I have taken from living with these artworks for these many years.”

The October 4 one-day-only exhibition and sale of his Western New York artworks is an event almost without precedent in this area. It represents a unique opportunity for the public to view en masse and purchase artwork by artists associated with Western New York who are represented in major museum collections across the globe. In fact, since some of the artworks are editioned photographs or prints, it is possible to acquire the exact same artwork that is in a renowned public collection. Since Penney purchased primarily from juried/curated exhibitions or auctions, the artworks he acquired are also notably often among the artists’ best work.

This impressive, 10-decade-spanning collection includes work by photographers Howard Beach, Lawrence Brose, Hollis Frampton, Biff Henrich, Robert Hirsch, John Pfahl, and Cindy Sherman; painters Martha Burchfield, Charles Clough, Virginia Cuthbert, Duayne Hatchett, Catherine Koenig, Bruce Kurland, James Litz, Roy Mason, and Walter Prochownik; and craft artisans Nancy Belfer, Bryan Hopkins, Gail McCarthy, Sylvia Rosen, Carol Townsend, Robert Wood, and Barry Yavener among others. Since Penney spent a considerable amount of time in Rochester, there are also a number of works by prominent artists associated with that city such as photographers Nathan and Joan Lyons and painters Edith Lunt Small and George Renouard.

Buying regional doesn’t have to be and isn’t cost-prohibitive. The artworks in this sale are priced from $50 for original prints published by the Rochester Memorial Art Gallery to $10,000 for a massive, folk-inspired painting by Edith Lunt Small, but the majority of the works fall in the $250 to $950 range—affordable for first-time art buyers and seasoned collectors.

The one-day-only show will take place at the Buffalo/Niagara Marriott Hotel on Sunday, October 4, 1-6pm. The event has been organized by Dean Brownrout ( in partnership with antiques dealer David Devereaux.

On that day, an admired and well-respected legacy of our region’s art history will pass on to the next generation of art collectors and patrons—an event that is sure to be recalled for years.

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