Jane Haskell: Artist, Collector, and Museum Donor
Few people have had the type of multi-faceted relationship with an arts institution as Jane Haskell had for half a century with Carnegie Museum of Art. A transplanted New Yorker turned committed Pittsburgher, Jane was an important member of the local arts community since the mid-1950s. Her close, long-lasting relationship with the museum took many forms: as an artist whose works have not only been exhibited here but are also included in the permanent collection; as an art collector who donated important works by European and American artists; as mastermind of an acquisitions fund which enabled, with her personal involvement and advice, the purchase of many important 20th-century Modernist works; and as an active and respected member of the museum’s board as well as its Collections Committee.
All of these roles will be examined in turn. But first, some brief biographical facts are in order. A more detailed source of Jane’s early biographical information is an extensive interview, which she taped in 1994 for The National Council of Jewish Women, Pittsburgh Section Oral History Collection, which is housed at the University of Pittsburgh. The interview is the source of the quotations in this essay.
Shirley Jane Zirinsky was born on November 24, 1923 in Cedarhurst, Long Island, New York. After graduating from high school there, she attended Skidmore College, in Saratoga Springs, New York. Though she had always been interested in the arts and had given some thought to a career as an artist, she chose, more pragmatically, as she commented in the 1994 interview, a more general course of study in college, one that would allow her to earn a living. At Skidmore, from where she graduated in January 1944, Jane concentrated on the practical aspects of the visual arts, such as design courses, in addition to broadening her other academic interests.
By the time she graduated from college, Jane had already been engaged to Edward N. Haskell (born in 1920), whom she had met when she was 14 years old. Ed, however, was in the war and their marriage was postponed for some time. Waiting for him to return, Jane worked for about 18 months in the design and window display group of the cosmetics giant Helena Rubinstein in Manhattan, where she gained invaluable practical experience in “getting things done.”
Jane and Ed were married in 1945. The couple made their first home in Riverdale, New York, where their first child, Anne, was born in 1947. The Haskell family moved to Pittsburgh in January 1949, when Ed joined his brother as partner in what became the successful office furniture manufacturing company Haskell of Pittsburgh. Their daughters Patti and Judi were born in Pittsburgh in 1949 and 1953, respectively.
Artist and Educator
Jane started to paint more seriously after her move to Pittsburgh; in the fall of 1953 she began to attend classes taught by the well-known Pittsburgh artist Samuel Rosenberg at the Young Men and Women’s Hebrew Association in Oakland. Rosenberg, a creative, beloved teacher who treated students as colleagues, became, in Jane’s words, a “very great influence and mentor.”
In 1957, the year she joined the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh (AAP), Jane began graduate study in art history at the University of Pittsburgh. Walter Read Hovey, chairman of the Fine Arts Department, became another great influence. Jane received an MA degree in 1961 with a thesis on American Abstract Expressionism.
After completing her graduate work, Jane taught art history at Duquesne University for about 10 years. Throughout, she continued her work as an artist, exhibiting at various regional venues and regularly with AAP. In April 1964 the emerging artist’s work was spotlighted in a month-long solo exhibition, Jane Haskell, Paintings, Collage, and Sculpture, at the Carnegie. The following year, her work first entered the museum’s permanent collection, when her 1964 painting Yaddo won The Carnegie Museum of Art Purchase Award at AAP’s 55th Annual Exhibition.
By the 1970s, Jane was involved in artistic creation full time. At first primarily a painter, she began incorporating fluorescent light fixtures and neon into her work in 1979. Light, always of primary importance to her as an artist, was used to bring new dimensions to her work.
Jane’s first public commission, the neon installation Rivers of Light for the Steel Plaza subway station in downtown Pittsburgh, was completed in 1984. Other commissions followed, both locally and in other cities. Jane continued to exhibit extensively in the Pittsburgh area with the Associated Artists, at Concept Art Gallery, and at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, among many other venues. Jane was also featured in both solo and group exhibitions at the A. I. R. Gallery in New York City. In 2006, she was named Artist of the Year by the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.
Jane continued to experiment and change as an artist throughout her long career. Artistically creative well into her 80s, she was a beloved figure in Pittsburgh’s artistic community. At present, Jane is represented in the CMOA permanent collection by half a dozen works covering different phases of her prolific creative output.
Collector and Museum Patron
Beginning in the late 1950s, Ed and Jane Haskell began the formation of a modern, eclectic art collection. Records show that they bought many of the works in the collection from major galleries in London. The works first graced the Haskell family home, which was designed in 1955 by Pittsburgh-area Modernist architect Herb Seigle. One of these works, an important sculpture by Barbara Hepworth, Figure 1964 (Opus 357), which they bought in London in October 1968, the year of a major Hepworth exhibition at the Tate, was installed outdoors. In 1974, Ed and Jane had it removed from their home and loaned it to the museum to be shown in the sculpture court of the new Scaife Galleries. In 1976, the sculpture became the Haskells’ first gift to the museum. In addition, in the 1980s, Ed and Jane gifted two other important works to the museum: a drawing by Ben Nicholson and Richard Long’s 113-stone sculpture Elterwater Stone Ring.
Indeed much of the Haskell collection, including works by Karel Appel, Bernard Cohen, Alan Davie, Alan Green, Peter Lanyon, Frank Stella, and Wols, was eventually given or bequeathed to Carnegie Museum of Art.
In August 1989, the Edward N. Haskell Family Acquisition Fund was established at CMOA to be used primarily for the acquisition of 20th-century works on paper. Ed, who had died in June 1988, had joined the Museum of Art Committee in 1981 and the Carnegie Institute Board of Trustees in 1983, becoming a Life Trustee in 1987. The new acquisition fund was a fitting memorial to his close relationship with the institution and to Jane’s continued support of its mission. The impressive group of works acquired from the fund was assembled by successive curators with Jane’s invaluable advice and active involvement. It is a testament to her taste, her Modernist aesthetic, and her preference for pre-war and mid-century abstraction.
Haskell Fund purchases include works by Josef Albers, Carlo Carrà, Stuart Davis, Vera Ermolaeva, Dan Flavin, Eva Hesse, Vassily Kandinsky, Lajos Kassák, El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich, Joan Miró, László Moholy-Nagy, Johannes Molzahn, Hélio Oiticica, Pablo Picasso, Olga Rozanova, Kurt Schwitters, Frank Stella, and Edward Wadsworth.
Museum Service and Legacy
Jane joined the CMOA Board in 1999 and was also a member of the museum’s Collections Committee. She brought to her service the unique perspective of a working artist, collector, and arts educator. Jane remained a respected and valued member of both groups until her death on May 28, 2013.
The CMOA exhibition Jane Haskell’s Modernism: A Pittsburgh Legacy pays tribute to all aspects of her long association with the museum, and celebrates her role as an important ambassador for Modernism in her adopted hometown.
Collectors is an ongoing series that explores the stories behind the artworks in CMOA’s permanent collection and how they arrived at the museum. For past installments, visit the archives.