On Oct. 16, the Sheehan Gallery at Whitman College opened an exhibition titled "The Art of Collecting: The Works of Emile Lahner from the Collection of Mr. And Mrs. John A. Peterson." The exhibit features an extensive collection of Lahner's works that the Petersons have acquired over the last 45 years, and on Friday the college will host a question-and-answer session with John Peterson.
Emile Lahner was born in Hungary in 1893. After World War I, he resettled in France, where he became a part of the School of Paris, a collection of artists who worked in the city from 1900 to 1940, famous for their talent and creativity during the period. Throughout his career, Lahner showed his works in cities around the world, but he did not feel comfortable with the commercial side of the art world, and he chose not to become closely tied to contractors or dealers. Therefore, he had freedom to experiment with his artwork.
"Lahner was always enchanted by color and line, but he had a huge range of style over time," John Peterson said.
According to Dawn Forbes, the director of the Sheehan Gallery, this is one of the things that makes his work so unique.
"Lahner painted primarily because it was his passion, not necessarily for popularity, so he experimented, and moved and developed," she said. "You can see the way in which he was responding to all of the artistic movements of the times in Europe. That's not something you get to look at often."
John and Janet Peterson graduated from Whitman in 1954 and currently live in Spokane, but through the years, they have also called Europe, New York and San Francisco home. While living in San Francisco, the Petersons became aware of Lahner's work through one of his art dealers based in nearby Carmel.
"We were charmed by his work and started buying smaller pieces, then bigger pieces," Peterson says. "We are not art experts, but we liked what we saw."
When asked about the title of the current exhbition, "The Art of Collecting," Peterson said, "I don't really know what the art of collecting is. But it has to do with being attracted to a style of art and getting to know the work of the artist, and being entranced by it somehow."
Forbes said, "The reasons people collect are very diverse, but there is an art of collecting. It's intriguing to look at collectors and the way they pursue the artists they're interested in."
The Petersons showed their collection at Whitman in 1979 as a part of the larger "School of Paris, the 20th Century" exhibit. Forbes decided that 30 years later, the Petersons' collection should be shown at the college again.
"A whole generation of people that wasn't there before can now see the collection," she said. "In this day when so many images are from mass media, it's very different to see a collection of original art. I hope [the Petersons] can encourage students and others to start their own collections."
The question-and-answer session with John Peterson will be at 5:30 p.m. Friday in Olin 130, and it will be followed by a reception in the gallery. The Petersons' Lahner collection will be on display through Nov. 20.