Cravens, Annette M. (1923-2017), Night Reflections, 1953; oil on canvas, 32 x 24 inches; Gift of the artist, 1989

Cravens, Annette M. (1923-2017), Night Reflections, 1953; oil on canvas, 32 x 24 inches; Gift of the artist, 1989

Musing on an Aesthete’s Life: Annette M. Cravens (1923-2017)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Annette McGuire Cravens touched a lot of lives. Count her among the greatest philanthropists of the arts and sciences in Western New York. Through her innate curiosity and great aesthetic eye, she committed time and funds to support artists, theater enthusiasts, dancers, and writers, and by extension, anthropologists, students, and museums, including the Burchfield Penney Art Center. Collectively, we have countless stories about our personal relationships with Annette. Her annual New Year’s Day soirees were not to be missed, as it was there in her beautiful home surrounded by great art that a massive crowd gathered to exchange stories about the past year’s achievements and the coming year’s aspirations. There also were meals together to talk about the latest cultural news, as well as trips to museums and collectors’ homes seeking something novel. Conversations were effervescent.

While compassionate at heart, Annette certainly was known for her straight talk, pulling no punches, impatient and critical of anything that did not meet her standards. She wasn’t wild about Charles Burchfield’s art, but took the time to listen to my interpretation of his paintings, and afterward said that I had made her appreciate him more. There was only one occasion in which we disagreed about an emerging artist’s work. She considered buying a sculpture for the museum, and asked me to go to the gallery where it was exhibited, and tell her what I thought of it. Afterwards, I told her that I thought it was unresolved; being interesting from the front, but unfinished in the back. Angered that I did not share her enthusiasm, she raised her voice in loud disapproval during an exhibition opening—which took me by surprise. Still, after that, she valued the fact that we could be honest with one another. I was not a sycophant, but a respectful friend. Shortly after this episode, I fell very ill for many weeks. From work, only Heidi Freedman acknowledged my absence with a get-well card; but craft art patron Sylvia Rosen sent me flowers and Annette Cravens sent me a peace lily. That gesture held great symbolic meaning.

Annette had dabbled in art herself. Her oil painting Night Reflections (1953) in our collection, depicts light patterns shimmering in a grid of window panes. Oriented to the visual realm, she collected a wide variety of art and artifacts. It was fun installing some of them in her home. I always admired her thoughtful, abstract, Zen-like aesthetic. There is great depth in even the simplest of motifs in the art she loved most, such as minimal black lines in a work by Motherwell or Mangold. We also shared a passion for ceramics, from ancient objects to the most contemporary. The innovative permanent exhibition, Cravens World: The Human Aesthetic, at the UB Anderson Gallery is a tribute to her appreciation of internationally diverse cultures and her desire to make archaeological and ethnographic artifacts accessible for scholarly research and public exploration.

For the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Annette donated artworks and contributed funds to support exhibitions and to purchase art. As a result, we have some of the most interesting contemporary works by Peter A. Arvidson, Jozef Bajus, Dianne Baker, Charles Clough, Mary Cohen, Stephen Lane, Robert Mangold, Gail McCarthy, and Ben Perrone. She and her husband Val were among the founding members of our museum’s Collectors Club in 1986, welcoming the group to their Middlesex home in 1993 to see their possessions and meander through their lovely garden, which had the tallest delphiniums I have ever seen. Joining others in the Club, they helped to buy works for our collection which include works by Cindy Sherman, Milton Rogovin, Michael Zwack, Charles Agel, Charles E. Burchfield, Arnold Newman, Robert Longo, Duayne Hatchett, Sharon McConnell, Sheldon Berlyn, Jackie Felix, Fotini Galanes, Jesse Walp, A. J. Fries, Tom Holt, Jason D’Aquino, Joan Linder, and most recently, Anne Muntges and Adam Weekley. In addition, Avatar Beach (2002) by Wayne Higby was a Sylvia L. Rosen Endowment purchase and partial gift in honor of Annette Cravens from the artist and Helen Drutt in 2003, inspired by mutual respect among these ceramics titans.

I will miss our visits together and fetching a glass of white wine filled with ice cubes. I will miss our scintillating conversations filled with candor. But especially, I will miss those words, “Hello Dearie” and her bright blue eyes. This extraordinary woman’s commitment to the arts will be lauded and her legacy thrive through all that she accomplished—her mission to help others and share the objects that held both personal significance and universal meaning. I am just one among a huge array of people who wish to express our gratitude for all that Annette Cravens represents, her cultural patronage, and how she helped to promote what was new and exciting.

Nancy Weekly, Burchfield Scholar, Head of Collections, Charles Cary Rumsey Curator, and Burchfield Penney Instructor of Museum Studies