John Mallery has a warning for new collectors of prints. “Buying a print can be a gateway drug,” he cautions. “You might even end up buying a watercolor.”
Mallery should know — six dozen prints, as well as two drawings, an oil painting and one watercolor from his own collection are on view through June 10 in the exhibit “A Life’s Looking Glass: The Collection of John Mallery,” at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art.
Mallery, founder and owner of a computer forensics firm, also expresses his passion for prints as program director for the Kansas City Print Society, a membership group of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art that includes print collectors, scholars, artists, appraisers and enthusiasts.
The society meets once a month or so for activities organized by Mallery, including field trips to print exhibitions at various museums, visits to artists’ studios to learn about their processes, lectures by curators, or tours of the art collections of fellow members. Recently the society visited Linda Hall Library to examine historic books of bird prints by artists such as Audubon and Catesby.
The Print Society was founded in 1978 by George and Jan McKenna (George McKenna was the curator of prints at the Nelson-Atkins), to promote connoisseurship, education and enjoyment of all types of prints. The Society contributes to the museum’s permanent collection acquisitions each year.
At the society’s recent Love of Art Luncheon, approximately half of the 100-plus members was on hand to socialize, enjoy a gourmet meal and most importantly, to vote on which print they would like the museum to purchase with funds raised by the Society for the museum.
As a general rule, members look for a museum-quality work that will fill a gap in the permanent collection — either by an artist who is not represented or a work that will complement what is already owned.
This year’s choices included works by Abstract Expressionist Helen Frankenthaler, noted contemporary abstractionist Julie Mehretu, local favorite and Kansas City Art Institute alum Akio Takamori, and Texas-based nature artist Billy Hassell. The prints were available for firsthand inspection, and during lunch, brief presentations were made about the artists and the specific works. After the votes were tallied, it was announced that Hassell’s “Kingfisher, by the River,” a flat, brilliantly colored rendition of a kingfisher perched on a branch, surrounded by bright flowers above fish swimming in an aqua blue river, had been chosen.
In addition to choosing a print, the Society frequently commissions an artist to do a small edition every year. The entire run is purchased, with one print being donated to the Nelson-Atkins and the rest made available for purchase to Society members and the general public.
Another annual event is the “Show and Tell” program, in which members are encouraged to bring in a print of their own to share with the group. It might be a favorite from their collection, or it might be a mystery piece, with no information as to its origin, author or technique. Fellow members can then exchange information to enlighten each other.
Paula Winchester, an artist and businesswoman, joined the Print Society in 2013. Her enthusiasm and friendly manner inspired the group to designate her as official greeter. Although collecting is not Winchester’s focus, as an artist she enjoys learning about the many challenges of printmaking, such as the labor-intensive task of creating a multi-colored silkscreen.
Winchester confides that she particularly relishes the Society’s visits to the homes of other collectors, who sometimes have so many works they are hung from floor to ceiling, or, as Winchester says, “just drenched in art.”
In April, the Print Society took a field trip to view the exhibit of Mallery’s collection at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum, with Mallery leading the tour. His participation in the show also extended to the labels, which, according to the museum, “employ a unique first-person perspective to explain Mallery’s collecting choices and his connection to the prints.”
Mallery ends his tenure as program director with a bang. The Print Society will elect new officers in June.
For more information about the Kansas City Print Society, call (816) 751-1281 or visit the society’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/kansascityprintsociety.