As with many small to mid-sized regional museums, the collection of the Cape Ann Museum has come together over the past century and been nourished through the forethought and generosity of numerous individuals and families. While purchases have occasionally been made, most of the objects in the collections have been gifted to the institution and the funds needed for their conservation and preservation similarly received through donation. With this special exhibition, Coming Home, the Cape Ann Museum recognizes the most recent and one of the most transformative of these gifts: the promised donation of the collection of Janet and William Ellery James. For the Jameses, collecting is a passion and each object they acquire, be it a painting, a ship model, or a piece of sculpture, has special significance, ties to their life here on Cape Ann and to the long and rich history of the area. Coming Home not only provides a glimpse into the significant and diverse collection but more importantly allows the Cape Ann Museum to publicly announce this important gift and to thank Janet and William for their extraordinary generosity.
William, or Wilber as he prefers to be called, had been interested in art and history since childhood and was already an avid collector when he and Janet married in 1990. “Janet brought discipline to the collection,” Wilber observes, seeking out different artists and genres, stressing the importance of quality over quantity. From the onset of their collection, Janet and Wilber have envisioned placing it in a public institution where it can be preserved intact and made accessible to all. Since 1990, in partnership, the couple has explored the work of a broad range of artists, almost all with connections to Cape Ann. Their preference for 20th century pieces drew them first to Theresa Bernstein, Stow Wengenroth, Harrison Cady and other artists with strong local connections; recently they have sought out works by more widely recognized individuals including sculptors Walker Hancock, Eli Nadelman and Anna Hyatt Huntington, and painters Milton Avery, Adolph Gottlieb and Stuart Davis. The result is a trove of works that will captivate the viewing public, provide valuable material for art scholars, and elevate the profile of the Cape Ann Museum immeasurably. Janet’s and Wilber’s connoisseurship is unparalleled and the breadth and quality of the collection they have amassed is truly remarkable.
Image credit: Jane Peterson (1876-1965), Smith’s Cove, East Gloucester, 1920s. Oil on canvas. The James Collection, promised gift to the Cape Ann Museum by Janet & William Ellery James.