Art Illustrates an Amazing Life of James J. White
Shaw, Kurt, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Seen together, a collector's possessions can cast an inexplicable spell. So it is that last weekend, I happened upon the entire collection of James J. White at Concept Art Gallery. But the spell in this case is underlined with sadness.
A Mughal-style portrait of James J. White by Mahaveer Swami (circa 1985)
White, who I have interviewed countless times during the past nine years with this newspaper, is the cunning curator who, for 30 years, managed the art collection at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation at Carnegie Mellon University. Recently, I was shocked to learn that the 60-something curator was ill and in the care of a nursing home.
I remember White as an intensely focused individual, fueled by passion. I knew of his scholarly bent, as did everyone in the loose- knit international community of botanical art. He curated the Hunt Institute's art collection and numerous exhibitions (including the globally recognized, triennial International Exhibition of Botanical Art & Illustration), and he contributed many articles for Hunt Institute publications.
"James has gained the respect of artists around the world for bringing attention to this art form," says Lugene B. Bruno, who worked alongside him at the Hunt as assistant curator and will soon assume White's position of curator at the Hunt. "In fact, James has always enjoyed the beauty of any art form that portrays the ever- fascinating aspects of the natural world."
White was president of the Greater Pittsburgh Museum Council (1999-2003) and awas an honorary director or member of numerous florilegium and botanical-art societies around the world. In 2007, he received the American Society of Botanical Artists' Award for Excellence in the Service of Botanical Art in recognition of his outstanding work in support of botanical art and his contributions as a founding member of this national organization.
I also knew of his passion for gardening, which he has pursued in the yard of his 1880 Victorian house in Pittsburgh's East End. But I did not know that White has long been a connoisseur of European and Indian classical music, fine wine and fine art.
Bruno says that while traveling White would search out the best artists working in the genre of botanical art and introduce their work in Hunt Institute exhibitions. In the process he developed many lasting friendships with artists around the world, and he understood the importance of supporting their creative pursuits by acquiring original artworks for both the Hunt Institute collection and his own. …