Western Ded­i­ca­tion

Collector Jerry Free­man, a reg­u­lar in many gal­leries, cel­e­brates his love of Western art on the oc­ca­sion of his 95th birth­day.

Western Art Collector - - CONTENTS - By Michael Claw­son

In Dal­las, on March 9, more than 215 guests rose to their feet at the sound of Proud to be an Amer­i­can played by a live band. Amer­i­can and Army flags lined the room, with an­other large Amer­i­can flag fill­ing the space be­hind the band­stand, where the Grammy-win­ning band was play­ing. The man of the hour was es­corted in, flanked by an Army of­fi­cer and an ROTC stu­dent on each side. A mil­i­tary color guard fol­lowed, as did Texas con­gress­man Pete Ses­sions, who led the au­di­ence in the Pledge of the Al­le­giance. “[It was] a grand en­trance for an amaz­ing man,” one guest says.

Jerry Free­man’s 95th birth­day party was not just the mark­ing of a milestone—it was a cel­e­bra­tion of one man’s mag­nif­i­cent life and his re­mark­able ac­com­plish­ments. Free­man had risen from al­most noth­ing to be­come one of the most prom­i­nent busi­ness­men in Dal­las as an owner of car deal­er­ships and a bank. Along the way he grew up plow­ing and har­vest­ing with his share­crop­per fa­ther, fought in World War II, be­came a savvy car sales­man and, no­tably for our purposes, rose to be­come a note­wor­thy and re­spected collector of fine Western art.

The art al­ways came easy for Jerry, says his wife, Frances, who says she was the rea­son he found fine art in the first place. “He was a nat­u­ral at it, and he en­joyed it im­mensely when he started,” she says. “To­day the only two things that in­ter­est him are World

War II and the mil­i­tary, and art. He just wants to ded­i­cate his time on those things.”

It wasn’t al­ways Western art that fas­ci­nated Jerry; in fact, early in­ter­ests had roots thou­sands of miles away from the West. “My wife, Frances, opened an an­tique shop in 1974. The Tea Leaf An­tiques and Art was ba­si­cally an ori­en­tal [gallery] spe­cial­iz­ing in cloi­sonné and that was the be­gin­ning of my ap­pre­ci­a­tion of art,” he says, re­fer­ring to the in­tri­cate form of art that in­volved metal, enamel and glass. “The Meiji pe­riod of Ja­panese cloi­sonné was fas­ci­nat­ing and beau­ti­fully ex­e­cuted. In fact, we ul­ti­mately had the finest col­lec­tion in this coun­try, and it was fea­tured in a sale by a prom­i­nent Lon­don gallery in 1990.”

He continues, “The art of cloi­sonné enamel is very del­i­cate and af­ter we sold the col­lec­tion we de­cided that bronzes would be our next col­lec­tion. We had a cus­tomer of var­ied art in­ter­ests who first in­tro­duced me to the world of Western art, which led to our at­tend­ing the Cow­boy Western Art Show in Phoenix,” Jerry says. “At that time we met [dealer] David De­francesca who spoke to me about his in­ter­est in Charles Mar­ion Russell’s work. David came to Dal­las the next week with sev­eral Russell paint­ings. He told me that they were for sale… i ad­vised him if he could lo­cate more Rus­sells, we would fi­nance buy­ing, with him sell­ing, split­ting the profit—thus be­gan the fi­nanc­ing of David trav­el­ling across the coun­try sell­ing Russell’s work.”

Jerry and Frances even­tu­ally closed the an­tique shop, but pur­sued col­lect­ing and sell­ing art un­der the Tea Leaf name. Their buy­ing led them to more Rus­sells as well as works by Fred­eric Rem­ing­ton, Frank Ten­ney John­son, Al­bert Bier­stadt, Thomas Mo­ran and mem­bers of the Taos So­ci­ety of Artists—a work by Eanger Irv­ing Couse was their first ma­jor Taos pur­chase. “We be­gan to travel to the auc­tions… so the by’s and Christie’s in New York, Scotts­dale and Coeur d’alene. We pur­chased and also part­nered with Texas Art Gallery, Al­ter­mann Gallery and oth­ers in Dal­las, and all of the Western art deal­ers in Santa Fe in­clud­ing deal­ers in New York and through­out the U.S.,” Jerry says, adding they only bought his­toric artists. Once a prom­i­nent Western bronze artist asked Jerry why he didn’t buy her work. “You’re not dead yet,” Jerry told her. “[She gave] a big laugh but lit­tle did she know that we were part­ner­ing many of her bronzes with deal­ers.”

To­day their col­lec­tion is stun­ning and vast. Much of their Western work is in their Santa Fe home, where walls are lined with pieces by Joseph Henry Sharp, Wil­liam R. Leigh, Wil­liam Gollings, Thomas Mo­ran, Frank

Ten­ney John­son, Clark Hul­ings, Birger Sandzén and two of their fa­vorite artists, Ni­co­lai Fechin and Leon Gas­pard. They also have works by Eve­lyne Boren, a neigh­bor, and a col­lec­tion of Dan Oster­miller bronzes both in­side and out­side the house.

Long be­fore the art col­lec­tion came to­gether, Jerry grew up as a share­crop­per’s son in Oklahoma, where he would tend to fields with a team of mules. Af­ter at­tend­ing what is to­day South­east­ern Oklahoma State Uni­ver­sity, the Oklahoma teenager was drafted to the Uni­ver­sity of Ken­tucky un­der the Army Spe­cial­ized Train­ing Pro­gram. As World War II pro­gressed in Europe, the train­ing pro­gram was can­celled and the young men were sent over­seas to fight in the Euro­pean The­ater. As part of the 14th Ar­mored Di­vi­sion in France, Jerry saw heavy com­bat, at one point un­der the com­mand of Gen. Ge­orge S. Pat­ton, who took charge of the di­vi­sion on De­cem­ber 1, 1944. Nearly two weeks later, the di­vi­sion was in the thick of the Bat­tle of the Bulge. “One of the fiercest de­fen­sive bat­tles in the cam­paign was

fought at the lit­tle towns of Hat­ten-rit­ter­shof­fen where the 14th held their line against all odds when oth­ers were over­run,” writes Barb Ivey, Jerry’s niece, in a small bi­og­ra­phy on her un­cle. “The 14th Ar­mored Di­vi­sion was known as ‘The Lib­er­a­tors’ as they lib­er­ated two Sta­lags”— Ger­man prison camps—“the largest be­ing at Moos­berg. Jerry sel­dom speaks about the atroc­i­ties he wit­nessed, and when he does it brings tears to his eyes.”

Af­ter the war, Jerry moved to Texas where he talked his way into a job sell­ing cars. A lo­cal dealer told him he could have a job if he sold an old Packard, which Jerry did on short no­tice. “When he re­turned to the deal­er­ship, the sur­prised owner hired him as a sales­man, how­ever he was told he could not have any of the leads on the lot he had to go out into the com­mu­nity and scare up his own sales,” Ivey writes. “He printed 5,000 busi­ness cards and gave them out in a town of 15,000. Over time, he be­came the top sales­man. He was re­cruited to a Buick deal­er­ship in Gar­land, Texas, and his legacy in the auto in­dus­try be­gan. He never looked back, al­though even in his later years he never lost his love for plow­ing and har­vest­ing with a team of mules. Upon semi-re­tire­ment Jerry bought a farm in East Texas and went ‘back to his roots chas­ing a team of mules’ as a hobby.”

It’s that small-town hum­ble­ness that many friends and col­leagues say made Jerry the suc­cess­ful and kind man he is to­day. Car­los Acosta, with Acosta Strong Fine Art in Santa Fe, says Jerry has been a le­gend in Santa Fe for many years. “As soon as he came in we all hit it off and be­came friends. He’s a great sup­porter of gal­leries and we’re just so grate­ful to him—he’s a true friend and role model,” Acosta says. “He’s a fun guy to be around, es­pe­cially his en­ergy, his en­thu­si­asm for art— it’s all con­ta­gious. When he comes in he lights up the room. There is a whole ar­ray of things that make him spe­cial, but re­ally what it comes down to is he’s just a good per­son.”

Acosta says the Free­mans adore Fechin, es­pe­cially Frances, whose fa­vorite piece by the artist was once in their pos­ses­sion, but even­tu­ally was sold. “About five years ago, for Frances’ birth­day, he bought her the Fechin piece they had pre­vi­ously owned to­gether,” he re­mem­bers. “He got it back for her, and it was a re­ally spe­cial mo­ment for both them. That’s the kind of per­son he is.”

Thomas Ny­gard, who owns a gallery in Boze­man, Mon­tana, has also worked fre­quently with Jerry over the last 30 years, in­clud­ing on Russell bronzes. “He was an in­cred­i­bly forward thinker, and prob­a­bly the most dom­i­nant in­di­vid­ual re­spon­si­ble for the uptick in in­ter­est and sub­se­quent value of Charles M. Russell bronzes,” Ny­gard says. “He started buy­ing Russell bronzes when they were gen­er­ally in­ex­pen­sive and in the time he started col­lect­ing to now they’ve gone up ex­po­nen­tially in price.”

The dealer continues, “I tend to ask and sug­gest to col­lec­tors when they are about to spend ap­pre­cia­ble money on some­thing, they need to ask them­selves three ques­tions: First, which they can an­swer them­selves, do I like it? Does it speak to me? Is this some­thing I want to live with? Num­ber two, is it a good work of art? Not every artist nailed it every time. Edgar Payne and Joseph Sharp did 10,000 paint­ings, and they were on and off—more on than off. And third, is it a good value? Peo­ple that can an­swer these ques­tions con­fi­dently are peo­ple who know the mar­ket. That’s not just smart buy­ing, it’s con­nois­seur­ship. And Jerry can an­swer those ques­tions every time. You have to have good eyes to do it, and he has very good eyes.”

Ny­gard adds: “When I grow up I want to be just like Jerry Free­man.”

“My busi­ness was au­to­mo­biles—an Oldsmo­bile dealer for 50 years—and I am blessed that my wife in­tro­duced me to the world of art,” Jerry says. “It has been my pas­sion and lu­cra­tive hobby for the past 40 years and we have ex­pe­ri­enced dy­namic as­so­ci­a­tions with the best of deal­ers, mu­se­ums and art col­lec­tors in the en­tire coun­try. The love of art in­deed rep­re­sents a home of love!”

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Daniel Nadel­bach

Jerry and Frances Free­man at Jerry’s 95th birth­day party in Dal­las in March. Photo cour­tesy Frances Free­man.

Birger Sandzén’s Santa Fe Po­plars is above the fire­place near a num­ber of bronzes, in­clud­ing a buf­falo by Dan Oster­miller on the lower right.

Char­lie Dye’s Old Blue, left, hangs next to a Tony Abeyta work in a hall­way.

Aspens by Night, by Jerry Jor­dan, hangs in the bed­room.

Wil­liam R. Leigh’s Wash Day above Acoma.

Thomas Mo­ran’s Venice with a Dan Oster­miller bronze of a wolf in front of it.

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