WALLA WALLA - The man who collected what is most likely the single largest collection of Broadway posters on the West Coast, and what is also the largest collection of any type of art at Whitman College, was celebrated on Friday by some of his former students.
"It is very ironic that I am here because many years ago I was working here on Mame. And someone said to me ‘Has it ever occurred to you that the college may not want your posters?'" Jack Freimann said to a crowd of about 100 Whitman College theater alumni, mostly from the classes 1970 and 1974-76.
Freimann said he told the colleague "tough" and continued to amass what is now estimated to be a collection of 1,900 posters, mostly of Broadway shows.
Over nearly three decades as a professor and a director at Whitman College, Freimann hung the posters on the walls surrounding the stage, seating area and lobby of Harper Joy Theatre. They are still visible today.
But even after retiring from the college in 1992 to continue an acting career in New York City, Freimann still took time to creatively acquire more posters.
"After I left, I kept buying posters, stealing posters, getting posters. I sent them all to the department," Freimann said.
On Friday, to commence the 50th anniversary of Harper Joy Theater, 18 of Freimann's posters were displayed in the Sheehan Gallery by several senior students of the Art History and Visual Culture Studies Department.
"When they are crammed together like that ...," art history senior Stephanie Silver said, referring to the hundreds of posters now hanging at the theater, "it is hard to give them room to breath as their own art object."
So she and fellow students spent weeks looking at more than 1,000 posters now stored at Whitman College, picking their three favorites, writing analyses and histories, and then hanging the works for a professional art gallery viewing.
"It's just sad that there are just so many posters and not enough space to hang them," art history senior Sydney Stasch said. "We did this to show people these posters are more than just posters, they are art forms."
As for the value of the posters, Freimann was reluctant to put a figure on the collection. But he did tell of how years ago while in Paris he came across a symphony poster for an Igor Stravinsky concert, which was exactly like a poster he had in the collection at Whitman College. The price tag on the poster was about $1,000. Later, when Freimann returned to the campus, he searched for the poster but found it was gone.
"I will never tell anyone which ones are worth a great deal of money," he said, noting he doesn't want any more to disappear.
The Freimann collection is now at about 1,000 cataloged posters and another 900 that need to be archived, and more are on the way.
"I have another box full of posters that I will be sending off soon," Freimann said.
The 18 Freimann Exhibit posters and histories created by the senior students are on display at the gallery of the Fouts Center for Visual Arts, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.