American Art Dealer Helen Drutt English Donates $2 Million Collection to Hermitage

American contemporary crafts come to Russia.

Helen Drutt.

The expansive collection of Russia’s Hermitage Museum just got a little bit bigger: Helen Drutt English, the pioneering collector and dealer of American modern and contemporary craft, known in the art world as Helen Drutt, has donated to the Hermitage a collection of 74 works, including ceramics, furniture and jewelry, worth approximately $2 million, reports the Moscow Times.

The gift coincides with the St. Petersburg institution’s 250th anniversary, and is intended to help foster the relationship between Russia and the US. “By testing mutual curiosity and respect for each other’s achievements in art and culture,” said Drutt at the Hermitage Dinner held this week in New York, “our people can continue to engage in the political, social and cultural spheres.”

By chance, thanks to one of her typically fashionable hats, Drutt met Chauncie Rodzianko, a board member of the US-based nonprofit Hermitage Museum Foundation, at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2010. Drutt was soon meeting with Hermitage Museum officials, and with its curators of porcelain and decorative arts, who were duly impressed by her home and collection.

Drutt began collecting in the 1950s, and helped found the Philadelphia Council of Professional Craftsmen in 1967. In 1973, she became the first to teach the history of modern craft on the college level, and founded the Philadelphia’s Helen Drutt Gallery, one of the first committed to crafts. Her jewelry collection belongs to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Now, much of her remaining collection will be transferred to the Hermitage, where it goes on view December 2, as the most recent additions to the museum’s permanent holdings.

“Almost every item in the collection is unique,” Hermitage Fund president Pavel Rodzyanko told the RIA Novosti news agency, singling out a brooch made by two West-Virginia artists to commemorate the Russia-U.S. Summit of 2000. It “features an American eagle shaking the wing of a Russian eagle.” The exhibition is the first Russian show in recent years to highlight the work of U.S. artists.

Helen Drutt's dining room will be displayed at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Photo: David Maialetti.

Helen Drutt’s dining room will be displayed at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
Photo: David Maialetti.

“Isn’t this a wonderful thing,” Drutt, asked last year, when plans for the donation were first announced, “that so many people in our city will be represented in a Russian museum for the first time?” The exhibition will also include a large-scale temporary installation: the Drutt Dining Room, transported in its entirety from her Philadelphia townhouse.

“You know, all over America there are European rooms,” Drutt explained, recalling Hermitage director museum director Mikhail Piotrovsky’s request to exhibit a portion of her home. “He said, ‘You go into the Met, you go into Boston, you go into Philadelphia, you have a French room, you have a German room, you have Pennsylvania Dutch rooms. But . . . a room of American crafts has never been exhibited in Europe and I would like this to be the first museum.'”


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