A generous bequest from Long Beach art collector Victor Gail (1929–2014) has greatly enhanced The Huntington’s American decorative arts collection while underwriting its care and interpretation. Gail’s $1.6 million gift, received this past spring, has endowed the position of the Gail-Oxford Curator of American Decorative Arts. In addition, the bequest included more than 130 works of art and funding for a handbook documenting the collection.
Gail and his life partner, Thomas Oxford, who predeceased him in 2008, spent five decades amassing one of the finest collections of early American decorative arts in Southern California. They both wanted to find a permanent home for their collection where the public could enjoy the beauty of the objects and learn from them about the nation’s past. Recognizing The Huntington’s growing commitment to American art and cultural history, the pair decided to give key pieces of their collection to the institution.
The gift includes important examples of 18th- and 19th-century American furniture, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, and metalwork. Among the highlights are a brass lantern clock from 1650; a high chest of drawers from 1710; two 17th-century needlework designs; and a 1752 portrait by John Wollaston, an itinerant painter who worked in the North American colonies.
“We are delighted to recognize Tom and Victor’s generous gift by naming this curatorship in their honor,” said Catherine Hess, interim director of the Art Collections. “I also want to recognize the role of Hal Nelson in securing this gift. Hal’s long-standing friendship with the collectors and his stewardship of their collection strengthened their engagement with The Huntington.” Nelson served as curator of decorative arts at The Huntington from 2009 until his retirement in 2017.
Visitors can see a selection of objects from the Gail-Oxford Collection on view in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art, in a gallery named for the donors.
In celebration of Victor Gail’s bequest, The Huntington has published the handbook Abundant Harvest: Selections from the Gail-Oxford Collection of American Decorative Arts at The Huntington. Written by Hal Nelson, former curator of decorative arts at The Huntington, it provides an overview of this notable collection and highlights 64 of the most significant objects.
Abundant Harvest (144 pages, paper bound; $19.95) is available in the Huntington Store or online at thehuntingtonstore.org
Lisa Blackburn is senior editor and special projects manager in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.