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Figge Art Museum Devotes Gallery to Vast John Deere Collection

Farming- and ­forestry-equipment company Deere & Company, the maker of John Deere tractors, headquartered in Moline, Ill., has been collecting artwork since the 1960s, amassing approximately 1,000 paintings, sculptures, textiles, graphic prints and photographs.

NEW YORK—Farming- and ­forestry-equipment company Deere & Company, the maker of John Deere tractors, headquartered in Moline, Ill., has been collecting artwork since the 1960s, amassing approximately 1,000 paintings, sculptures, textiles, graphic prints and photographs. The majority of the company’s collection consists of artworks and objects from countries in which Deere & Company has offices.

To make its artwork available to the general public, Deere & Company established a partnership with the Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa, which will house a permanent rotating exhibition of pieces from the company’s collection.

All of the works in the exhibitions will be on loan from Deere & Company, and the museum will be in charge of curating the displays. Greg Gilbert, senior curator of collections at the museum and director of the National Center for Midwest Art and Design, told ARTnewsletter that as part of the initiative, the museum will also be taking over some of the curatorial responsibilities and the care of the collection as the company phases out its own in-house curators.

Much of the collection has been kept in climate-controlled storage for years. Ken Golden, a spokesperson for Deere & Company, told ART­newsletter that about 10 percent of the collection is related to advertising—for instance, a painting of someone on a tractor used in a magazine ad—and 20 percent is American regionalist paintings and prints, of which the most notable are works by Grant Wood.

Most of the collection was acquired between 1964 and 1982, when the late William Hewitt was the company’s chairman. The company’s most active collecting took place in the ’60s and ’70s, after Eero Saarinen was hired to design its headquarters in Moline.

The company’s acquisitions in recent years have tended to be of more-decorative works, said Sean O’Harrow, director of the Figge museum. Of the partnership arrangement, he said, “we’ll pay for our own gallery costs, such as repainting the walls” and other maintenance. Meanwhile Deere & Company has agreed to pay for the expenses involved in crating and transporting the artwork from its facilities to the museum.

The Figge Art Museum is dedicating a fourth-floor gallery—to be called the John Deere Collection Gallery—to this permanent series of exhibitions. The gallery will have its opening on April 24, and its inaugural installation will feature several Edward Curtis photographs of Native Americans, a lithograph by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Wood’s oil painting Fall Plowing, 1931. Other artists whose work will be part of this first survey of the Deere & Company collection include Joan Miró, Rufino Tamayo, Sofu Teshigahara and Matazo Kayama. The Figge already has a significant number of paintings by Wood, and it is also the repository of the Grant Wood estate.

Deere & Company has branch offices throughout Europe and in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, New Zealand and South Africa, as well as in Canada and the United States.

Subsequent exhibitions at the Figge Museum will be more thematic, and cover such topics as Postwar Japanese art, South American Abstract Expressionist painting and regionalist art. O’Harrow noted that these shows might also travel to cities around the world where Deere & Company has offices, and a company spokesperson confirmed it has offered to pay for most or all of the expenses involved in transporting the artworks for these exhibitions.

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