One of the qualities of Trillium flower essence is to help us find a healthy balance between greed and altruism. The story of Herb and Dorothy Vogel, art collectors, illustrates aspects of this duality nicely. The basic story is simple. Since 1962 Herb and Dorothy Vogel have been collecting art. Living in New York, they became passionate collectors, focusing on the art that interested them and that they could afford. To manage this on their very ordinary incomes they lived on Dorothy’s salary and used Herb’s for purchasing art. They were such passionate collectors that they amassed nearly 4000 works that literally filled their small one bedroom apartment. In 1992 they came to an agreement with the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC to gift their entire collection to the Gallery so that the works could be available to all the people of the United States.
The description of the positive qualities of Trillium flower essence in the FES repertory encompasses “selfless service; altruistic sacrifice of personal desires for the common good; and inner purity.” At the other pole, the patterns of imbalance are described as “Greed and lust for possessions and power; excessive ambition, overcome with personal needs and desires; materialism and congestion.”
Fifty years of collecting eclectic, cutting edge art resulted in a collection containing pieces of work that would be of great monetary value if they were sold. The Vogels had a very good eye for the minimalist and conceptual art that they loved, and many of the artists whose work they collected went on to become prominent and sought after artists in later years. The cohesiveness, breadth and depth of the collection adds to its overall value. It is a survey of the development of many of these artists and of these movements in modern art. However, the Vogels had no intention at all of selling any work in their collection, singly or collectively.
A tiny apartment, so full of works of art that they cover the walls. Furniture has been sacrificed to make way for piles of art works, and they are piled up in every available space. This is a vivid picture of materialism and congestion—collecting more and more works, and filling the apartment until it is completely congested and barely habitable. In the 2008 documentary “Herb and Dorothy,” Herb acknowledges that for some time they were rather compulsive about their collecting “Looking back now, it would occur to me that we were obsessed.” Dorothy was happy to have one or two items that she liked by an artist, Herb was driven to continue buying works from particular artists in order to illustrate that artist’s development within the collection.
The apartment was so congested with art, that when the collection was finally shifted to the National Gallery of Art it took five full-sized moving vans to transport it. The Gallery was very concerned in case the arrangement did not come off and they would have the daunting task of returning the works to the apartment.
In building-up and holding-on to the collection, Herb And Dorothy demonstrate an element of the dysfunctional Trillium energy – materialism, holding on to material possessions, accumulating. There seemed to be urgency to the collecting. When Herb sees a work which inspires him and which he can see the importance of, he wants it. He is determined to find a way to obtain it, within his means and even by stretching his means. Artists interviewed for the movie talk about this urgency. Robert Barry mentions their “Voracious appetite.” Pat Speir says “They bought work as if they were starving for art.” Linda Benglis is blunt and laughing, says “What can I say? They were greedy, GREEDY.” Living on Dorothy’s salary, they allocated Herb’s to purchasing art. Because of their limited income they would pay their bills with the artists off over a long period of time, however, they also continued to add to their bill while paying it off, and due to this strategy they were frequently well behind with their payments.
Other artists interviewed talked about the passion for the work behind Herb and Dorothy’s collecting. As they were initially buying from relatively unknown artists, they were appreciated as enthusiastic patrons and supporters by many of the artists. There was an exchange here where both parties benefited, and through this they developed long term relationships with many of the artists they purchased from. Even while the obsessive energy of accumulation and acquisition was at play, there seemed to be a recognition of their own contribution to supporting the artists.
As the collection grew, much of the work was stacked up around the apartment, with only a tiny fraction on display on the walls. The Vogels themselves say that it gives them pleasure just to know that a particular piece is there in their collection, there in their apartment, even if they can’t actually see it.
Many art collectors, especially those participating in the art market which has grown since the 1980s, would have used this collection as an investment or a retirement fund, selling selected pieces or the entire collection. Herb and Dorothy Vogel had a completely different view of their collection. They don’t talk about their early attitude to keeping or selling work, but with so much energy going into accumulation it would be hard to imagine that they would be willing to part with any of the work. In later years, once the collection had filled every space they were very clear. They were not interested in selling any of the work, and their view was that the collection as a whole was the important thing. Not only that, but they wanted to ensure that it was freely available to the American people. Here the positive qualities of Trillium start to show themselves in “altruistic sacrifice for the common good.”
They had interest in their collection from most of the important galleries, but said that the conditions were never quite right. Finally in 1990, just as they had used every available space and wouldn’t even be able to “fit in a toothpick” the National Gallery of Art in Washington “came to the rescue” as Dorothy put it. The National Gallery suited their aims for several reasons. Dorothy says, “We liked the idea of giving works to the National Gallery because they do not deaccesion or sell from the collection, it’s in their charter. You know the work will be staying with them. We like the idea that they are free, that anyone can go in there. We feel we are giving back to the people of the United States.” And Herb answers an interviewer's question about why they gave the collection away “Well we didn’t think that money was the most important thing, but the collection is.”
In the end, the collection was too large for one gallery to maintain, and a program was developed to gift parcels of 50 works to one selected museum or gallery in each of the 50 states. This seemed to satisfy Herb and Dorothy’s aim of making the collection freely available to the American people more completely.
At the end of this story we can see that the movement between the two poles of Trillium is quite clear. Decades of acquiring, the massive accumulation and literal congestion eventuating in the gifting of the collection to galleries across the United States with the intention that the work is made freely available to the people. We can also see some other aspects of Trillium essence here. There is usually a feeling of poverty driving the dysfunctional energy; in the Vogels’ case it is possible that Herb’s childhood during the great depression stimulated his acquisitiveness. But it’s interesting that in a twist on the poverty theme, the pair chose to live frugally in order to fund the collecting they enjoyed so much. The other Trillium aspect that is highlighted in the story is that of “involvement with others for the greater social good.” Both the Vogels and many of the artists they supported benefited greatly from their long association. Both parties clearly enjoyed each other’s company and the discussions about the artists’ work. It’s easy to forget too, that without patrons it is difficult for artists to make a living and to continue to practice as artists.
About Sophie Ganley
Sophie Ganley lives in Auckland, New Zealand where she has been a natural health practitioner since 2007. She has specialized in practice flower essence therapy for adults and children since 2010.
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