The Nettie J. McKinnon Collection: A Brief History
Nettie J. McKinnon was a District 102 principal from the fall of 1929 until the spring of 1960. During that time she served both Ogden Avenue School (grades K-6) and Oak Avenue School (grades 7-8). During the 1929-1930 school year 7th and 8th graders sold magazines to the community at large, and the profits from those sales were used to purchase artwork for Oak Avenue School. An historical sidelight and testament to Nettie’s perseverance is that despite the stock market crash that started the Great Depression that October, she managed to have the students sell magazines and purchase art. Her campaign was to make art available to students as an everyday part of their lives, and at the time of her retirement, she and the students had gathered about 125 pieces of art.
In 1975 Oak Avenue School was sold and Park Junior High opened. Because the artwork was homeless, the Oak Collection, as it was then known, was moved to Ogden for storage. In 1978 the art study group from the LaGrange chapter of the AAUW decided to resurrect the artwork. Calling themselves “The Friends of Nettie J. McKinnon,” this amazing group of women did hundreds of hours of research on the artists in the collection and helped to open the gallery at Ogden School. The art, renamed the Nettie J. McKinnon Collection, hung at Ogden until the spring of 2002 when new construction made it necessary to give a portion of gallery space over to heating and cooling needs.
In the winter of 2002 the District 102 Board created a task force to make specific recommendations about the collection, and in March the District contracted with an outside appraiser for a fair market appraisal. The Board and task force were stunned with the appraisal of the collection at over four times its previously appraised value. The task force, composed of staff and parents, made specific recommendations and presented a vision and mission for the collection to the Board in May 2003. These were accepted, and the task force was charged with the task of making the vision a reality. A reconstituted task force met throughout the next two school years. The outcome was a signed twenty-five-year agreement between the District 102 Board of Education and the newly formed SaltCreek American Art Foundation.
Today the collection is comprised of more than 120 works of art, including paintings, sculptures, works on paper and decorative art objects; most of the artists are represented in leading museum collections across the country. The majority of the works are by American artists, many of whom were exhibited in the annual shows at The Art Institute of Chicago from 1888 to 1950 and more than half of whom studied in Paris. Among the artists in the collection are Hudson River School painters such as John Frederick and George Aldrich and major American Impressionist painters such as Edward Henry Potthast, John Henry Twatchman and John Singer Sargent. Work by Frederick MacMonnies represents the finest of American sculptors, and works by international artists such as Russian-American artist, Nicolai Fechin, who painted with the Taos Society of Artists, broaden the depth of the American experience in the collection. The Brown County regional artists are also represented, and works by Wilson Henry Irvine, Luci Harthrath, Oliver Dennet Grover, Frank Dudley and Karl Buehr are among the highest selling artists in American galleries across the United States.
Information Courtesy of Friends of Nettie J. McKinnon & Jane C. H. Jacob, Ltd.