COLLECTION INDICES OF THE DIVINE
By Elizabeth Hunt-Blanc, Director of the Jesuit Dallas Museum PA CI FI
Pieces from the Dietschy collection originated from the Ancient Mexican cities of Colima, Chupicaro, Jalisco and Nayarit.
Collecting lies at the heart of the Jesuit Dallas Museum’s (JDM) activities, and its mission to enhance the educational experience of students and the broader community through awareness, appreciation, and passion for art. Recently, the JDM was generously gifted with a collection of pre-Columbian sculptures by Dr. John and Beverly Dietschy. Dating back over 1,500 years, the collection represents some of the oldest works in the JDM. Antiques expert and past national director for the International Society of Appraisers, John A. Buxton, ISA, CAPP stated, “The Dietschy collection of ethnographic art was assembled over decades with the discerning eye of a knowledgeable collector. Most importantly this collection offers opportunities to the students of Jesuit Dallas that are rarely afforded before college level programs. To be able to handle, study, and research authentic ethnographic art will no doubt inspire some of our future art collectors and scholars.” John Sabine, who is a principal gifts officer at Jesuit Dallas, spoke with Dr. Dietschy about the collection. “The roots of their collection began with Michele Herling, in Dallas, in the 1960s. Ms. Herling was hired by Stanley Marcus to provide the primitive art, artifacts and antiques that enhanced Neiman Marcus' annual and storied "Fortnight" art and design events. Herling opened a gallery in the Quadrangle in the late 60s and Beverly Dietschy and friends gathered there regularly to share their interest in primitive art and antiquities. This group attracted Dallas collectors, patrons, others with interest in this type of art, including SMU art department professors and a UT anthropologist. This continued until the late 1970s when protective antiquities laws began to be established. Margaret McDermott was part of this group and she eventually donated her collection as a permanent part of the collection at the Dallas Museum of Art.”
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Dr. Dietschy also noted that historical sources for primitive and pre-Columbian art were not always legitimate. Colonial powers throughout the world appropriated native art from colonized countries. For example, Austria, in its brief control of Mexico City, became an appropriator of this kind of art, and grave-robbers in the western, coastal provinces of Mexico would loot "vertical graves." It was an ancient, native custom to dig tubular, two four-meter shafts through the soft volcanic rock where a room would be carved out at the base of the shaft to house the deceased. The pre-Columbian figurines and pieces would be placed with the deceased to accompany the deceased in death. Sabine noted the ironic connection between these antiquities and archeology. “International law was changing to protect these kinds of artifacts, as was the cultural and social awareness of those who acquired and held these pieces; i.e., that they were appropriating pieces that were likely looted from other countries and cultures so interest in and acquisition of this art began to wane in the late 70s. At the same time, there was an explosion of interest in archeology, largely driven by technological advancements.” The irony was that more and more of these pieces were being discovered and the world was growing more aware of and appreciative of primitive and pre-Columbian art. These conditions led to collectors like Stanley Marcus simply placing his collection for sale, piece by piece, with dealers in Tucson and L.A. Beverly found the idea of selling her pieces to be repugnant. In many ways, her collection was a passionate representation of a life's work. It connected her to a beautiful intellectual and social scene that was emerging in Dallas in the 1960s and to lifelong friends. She was simply unwilling to consider selling her collection and she was determined to keep the collection together.