'Coming Home: The Transformative Gift of the Janet & William Ellery James Collection' at Cape Ann Museum

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'Coming Home: The Transformative Gift of the Janet & William Ellery James Collection' at Cape Ann Museum
Fern Coppedge (1883–1951) New England Shore, c. 1916. Oil on Canvas. The James Collection promised gift to the Cape Ann Museum by Janet & William Ellery James.

GLOUCESTER, MASS.- The Cape Ann Museum has announced the transformative commitment by Janet and William Ellery “Wilber” James of Palm Beach, Florida to gift their exceptional collection of Cape Ann American art - a donation that constitutes the largest single gift of works in the Cape Ann Museum’s 148-year history.

This landmark donation of over 300 exemplary pieces of American art brings new genres and masterworks to the Museum’s holdings, including pivotal pieces by Winslow Homer, George Aarons, Cecilia Beaux, Stuart Davis, Adolph Gottlieb, Marsden Hartley, Eric Hudson, Anna Hyatt Huntington, Paul Manship and Jane Peterson amongst numerous others.

“We are overjoyed by Janet and Wilber’s generosity and dedication to fuel the expansion of the Museum’s holdings,” said Museum Director Oliver Barker. “The Jameses have partnered with the Museum to add a significant corpus of new pieces to their collection in recent years. We celebrate their shared vision and lifelong quest to assemble works by eminent artists, as well as significant yet lesser- known artists, who have illuminated the inexhaustible human spirit that has animated and enriched Cape Ann for centuries.”

The James’s instrumental gift builds on over a century of generous donations of artwork, artifacts and archival materials that the Museum has received from numerous individual members of this community, who like Janet and Wilber, cherish Cape Ann and are inspired by the impact that such gifts have on the Museum’s efficacy and momentum. “News of this major gift comes as the Museum works to strategically expand its collections in advance of its 150th anniversary in 2025,” Barker said. “We are hopeful that the James’s generosity and lifelong journey to collect provides impetus to others to join in strengthening the Museum’s growing holdings which revolve around this singularly unique place and the people who for millennia have called Cape Ann home.”

The James’s announcement is being marked with a display of 36 pieces on view through December 31, 2023 in an exhibition Coming Home: Selections from the Janet & William Ellery James Collection. This exhibit and the accompanying catalog marks an inaugural opportunity to showcase highlights from this superlative collection, and to present the James’s vision and commitment to the arts to the broader community.

In speaking about the gift and exhibition in particular the Museum’s Chief Curator, Martha Oaks, shared that “a significant portion of the artists from the James Collection including March Avery, Fern Isabel Coppedge, Arthur Dove, Adolph Gottlieb, Thomas Hart Benton, Robert Henri and Rockwell Kent have until now not been represented in the Museum’s collection.” Works on view in Coming Home have been selected to complement the current landmark exhibition Edward Hopper & Cape Ann: Illuminating an American Landscape on view. Coming Home exemplifies the depth and breadth of the James’s donation which will dramatically amplify the Museum’s ability to showcase the rich artistic history of Cape Ann between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries.

Wilber James has had an extensive career as an entrepreneur, founding multiple companies in the international energy sector as well as in banking and real estate. He serves as Trustee Emeritius of the Cape Ann Museum and the African Wildlife Foundation, is a Peace Corps alumnus (Kenya), and is a Board member of the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Florida.

Janet James has a background in Finance and investment, both in banking and the private sector. She currently serves as Trustee of the Cape Ann Museum and is a Commissioner of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, as well as a Board member of the Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach, Florida. They say, “We view the collection as a gathering of dear friends brought together over time. Recognizing that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, we have a deep wish to keep these pieces together rather than having them disperse and disappear into private hands. We felt that gifting the entire collection to the Cape Ann Museum is the best way to have them “Come Home”, to be shared with and enjoyed by Cape Ann’s residents and visitors. We recognize that we are really not the owners, but rather the stewards of these works, and of the artists’ legacies.”

“This pivotal collection gift builds on the James’s extraordinary vision and generosity to create the new Cape Ann Museum Green (CAM Green) campus at the gateway to Cape Ann” Barker said. CAM Green, off Grant Circle and Route 128 in Gloucester, MA, is an historical site that includes the Janet and William Ellery James Center, which provides critical state-of-the-art storage for the Museum’s expanding collections as well as community space for education and art installations.

“We are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us,” said Wilber James, who was raised in Rockport and whose family has longstanding, multi-generational, Cape Ann roots.“The CAM Green campus builds on the vision and history of our forebears and sets the stage for the next generation as the Cape Ann Museum becomes renown as a leading regional museum of American art, education, and community engagement.”

The Cape Ann Museum, founded in 1875, exists to preserve and celebrate the history and culture of the area and to keep it relevant to today’s audiences. Spanning 44,000 square feet, the Museum is one of the major cultural institutions on Boston’s North Shore welcoming more than 25,000 local, national, and international visitors each year to its exhibitions and programs. In addition to fine art, the Museum’s collections include decorative art, textiles, artifacts from the maritime and granite industries, three historic homes, a Library & Archives and a sculpture park in the heart of downtown Gloucester. In Summer 2021, the Museum opened the 12,000 square foot Janet & William Ellery James Center at the Cape Ann Museum Green. The campus also includes three historic buildings – the White-Ellery House (1710), the recently acquired Babson-Alling House (c.1740), and an adjacent Barn (c. 1740), all located on the site at the intersection of Washington and Poplar Streets in Gloucester. CAM Green re-opens each spring.

Cape Ann Museum
Coming Home: The Transformative Gift of the Janet & William Ellery James Collection
Collection spotlight now on view through December 31, 2023

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