Fleur Bresler: CWA 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

by Dave Long
. .
Writing the check has never been enough for Fleur Bresler.

Some individuals buy pieces of art to display as a trophy. To them, the maker is no more than an autograph on an object. Others give large amounts of money to arts groups for public prestige and increased social standing. No involvement please.

But not for the 90-year-old Bresler. When it comes to being a docent, board member, collector or philanthropy, it's all personal.

Her support for the wood art movement over the past 30 years has earned her the 2016 Collectors of Wood Art Lifetime Achievement Award.

She will be honored at the CWA's annual dinner Friday, Nov. 4, 2016, in Chicago.

Bresler bought her first piece of wood art in the summer of 1986. Since then, she has added "probably 900 works in wood" to a collection of 1,500 works of American craft.

They adorn her 8,500 square foot penthouse apartment in Rockville, Md., a suburb of Washington D.C. Fleur and her late husband, Charlie, originally lived in a 4,000 square foot space. But when the property next door became available, she bought it and - at age 84 - embarked on a total renovation. It took three years to complete and "allows me to better display my work and invest in some bigger pieces," she said.

It is a grand space she opens up several times a year to group tours. And she can tell you in precise detail the background of each piece in the collection, no matter the medium.

"It may seem like a quick and easy thing to do to open your home to visitors, but the tours Fleur gives of her vast collection are historically detailed - she remembers all the artists' names and tells delightful stories about a variety of works in her collection," said Betty Scarpino, former editor of American Woodturner magazine.

"Through these activities and more, Fleur is an active champion of the wood art field. It is important that wood artists' work be purchased, but even more important is that the work be shown to others as well as connected to the museum world - Fleur does this in a grand way!"

She has supported numerous wood artists not only with multiple purchases of their work, but financial assistance in lean times.

"I guess I'm just from a different generation," said Bresler. "When I buy something, I'm inviting someone into my home. That piece is going to become part of my family. I want to know the person who made it, why they made it and how they did it.

"It's the same way with organizations. If it's worth giving my money to, it should also be worth giving my time.

"Some people don't feel that way, but that philosophy has served me and my family well. I have been fortunate in my life. I have met and worked with so many creative people who have taught me so much.

"I just want to keep learning and make sure younger artists have the chance to explore that full creativity."

Bresler's support has not been just through collecting and patronage. She has volunteered her time to numerous craft-related organizations including the Center for Art in Wood in Philadelphia (president for five years), James Renwick Alliance in Washington D.C. (board member), the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Mass. (board member) and the Minneapolis-based American Craft Council (ACC).

She was also a docent for 15 years at the Smithsonian Institution's Renwick Gallery. For the 5 years prior to being a docent at the Renwick, she was a docent at the Smithsonian American History museum where she focused on quilts and early American textiles.

The ACC gave her its Aileen Osborn Webb Award for Philanthory in 2014.

"Fleur's service on numerous boards of arts organizations has given her experience and input on the institutional side of developing the craft movement," said Albert LeCoff, founder of the Center for Art in Wood and one of the leading figures in the wood art movement in the 1970s-80s.

"I've known her for 25 years. During her term as president, she guided the Center through the development of our first facility in Old City Philadelphia. In addition she was actively involved in the Center's multi-year partnership with the Yale University Art Gallery to organize the exhibition and publication of 'Wood Turning in North America Since 1930' (2001).

"We should all be so lucky to be so sharp and have her energy at age 90. She still wants to learn and be involved in encouraging new artists. She's just a treasure, not only to wood art, but the whole craft world."

Bresler is the mother of six children and the grandmother of nine grandchildren. Her husband, Charlie, passed away in October, 2010.

Fleur's most memorable moments with the Collectors of Wood Art came in September of 2010, during the opening weekend of 'A Revolution in Wood: The Bresler Collection' at the Renwick Gallery. CWA held a weekend forum revolving around the gifting of 66 works of wood art from Fleur and Charlie's collection to the Renwick Gallery.

CWA members in attendance were also treated to a behind the scenes tour of the Renwick Gallery, visits to five of the best wood art collections in the world and a late-night party at the Bresler penthouse with 300 friends and associates.

It was the last public appearance for Charlie who passed away three weeks later.

One of the collections featured that weekend belonged to Jeff Bernstein and Judy Chernoff. Chernoff is the current president of CWA and works as a docent at the Renwick Gallery with Bresler.

"Fleur's influence in the field of collecting, in particular the wood art field, can not be underestimated. She is a stellar example of a true patron of the arts, " said Chernoff. "Not only has she encouraged, inspired, and supported numerous artists over the years, but she has stressed the importance of education and documentation in the craft art world. A fellow docent at the Renwick Gallery, I have seen Fleur lead tours, and attendees are always enthusiastic to hear her personal stories about the artists."

The Renwick is where she was first introduced to wood art. Taking shelter from a rainstorm in the downtown Washington D.C. building in April of 1986, she decided to see a new exhibit which had opened.

"It was the Ed Jacobson bowl collection," she said. "I had never seen anything like them. I wanted to feel them and hold them. I was hooked."

She bought her first wood art piece "from a gentleman named Hildebrand whose work I have never come across again" in the summer of '86 at a craft fair while visiting her daughter in Atlanta.

Visiting her daughter later that year, she bought a piece from the Maratha Connell Gallery. "A lovely lady who gave me some advice on what to look for in good wood art.

"But the first few years there wasn't much rhyme or reason to my buying. I was pretty uneducated. I bought what I liked because the work was so affordable. But when I began buying pieces with three zeros on the end rather than two zeros, it was time to find professional advice."

Now she is one who many new collectors turn to for advice.