Haub donation springboards TAM to top-tier status

The donation of some 280 pieces of art from the Western American art collection gathered by Erivan and Helga Haub to Tacoma Art Museum launches the local museum into the top rungs of the American art world.

“There are always great moments in the history of a museum,” said museum Director Stephanie Stebich. “This is one of those wonderful moments. This is a moment. This is a transformative moment for us and for Tacoma.”

The Haubs’ donated Western American art collection provides the artistic depth and breadth that now puts TAM, in one swoop, among the top dozen museums of its kind in the nation. 

Haub is a German billionaire with business and personal ties to Tacoma, where three of his sons were born Stebich said, noting that the Haub family has long supported TAM and its efforts through the years. The donation also comes with a sizable contribution to the museum’s $15 million capital campaign that will essentially double the gallery space with an addition of some 15,000 square feet of new space on land between the museum and the federal courthouse in the former Union Station next door.

Work on the new wing is being folded into the museum’s renovation plans that also include the plaza. Designs are underway by Seattle design architect Tom Kundig, who was the architects of record for the current building designed by Antoine Predock. Construction is set to start next year for completion in mid-2014.

Talks about the donation started last fall and it took time to sort through the art that would best fit the collection, which is still growing since the Haubs continue to gather Western American art, as they have for nearly the last three decades.

“The Haubs certainly had the opportunity to create their own museum,” Stebich said, noting that other large collections have gone that route in recent years. “This is a collection that the public has never seen before, and they wanted to make it a gift to their community. They could really see that their collection would have a wonderful impact for the community. A lot of stars aligned to do this.”

The Haub collection includes works by great American artists such as Albert Bierstadt, John Clymer, Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, Georgia O’Keeffe and Thomas Moran. The images span the romantic period of Western art through the age of exploration and the nostalgic era of the “Old West” that became settled by pioneers. The collection also includes contemporary artists in a genre of art that is being re-discovered by art lovers and historians. The collection covers realistic depictions of cowboys and Native Americans as well as mythic scenes painted decades after the era ended following the pioneer migration westward and modern pieces.

“We want this collection to be vibrant and relevant,” Stebich said, noting that she now has embarked on an effort to gather exhibition pieces of baskets and blankets from area tribes to add further depth and meaning to what promises to be a landmark exhibit of Native American and American West artworks.

Only museums in Denver, Wyoming and California have anywhere near the depth of this Haub donation.

News of the donation rippled through the art community around the nation, Stebich said, as she has been receiving calls both for congratulations and inquires about sharing the pieces for exhibits around the nation.

“The main response has been ‘wow,’” she said. “Just w-o-w – wow.”

With the donation and the acclaim it brings, Tacoma has entered the national stage that also includes seven museums, which is unique for a city of its size.

“Tacoma is a cultural destination,” Stebich said. TAM, Museum of Glass, LeMay: America’s Car Museum, Tacoma Children’s Museum, Maritime Museum, Karpeles Manuscript Library and Washington State History Museum are all located within a few blocks of each other and make for a combined draw for locals and tourists alike. “We have to embrace this opportunity.”

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