Saturday, June 21, 2008

Cedar Glen, The collections of Robyn and John Horn, by Doug Stowe

Human beings are collectors---either by accident if we stay in one place too long or on purpose if we discover a particular passion for something. You may have collected something as a child, whether pennies in a collection book or Pokeman trading cards, and you probably noticed that the quality and extent of your collection had to do with two things, your resources and your passion for the process. I collected coins as a kid, carefully going through my father’s pocket money looking for the 1909 SVDB that would have changed my fortune forever. I also filled some of the innumerable blank spaces in my collection books. For some collectors, however, there are no collection books to guide acquisitions. The scope and depth of their collecting is driven by much deeper things, as is the case with Robyn and John Horn.

Robyn and John Horn, live on an acreage called Cedar Glen west of Little Rock. After passing through their gate, you drive through a broad meadow and then enter the glen of cedars that gave the property its name. At times the cedars close in tall and tight on the road, then at points, they move back to provide an expansive view. There are large objects at a distance and others framed close at hand by the forest. Both cause you to pause, arousing your deepest curiosity. “Was that Stonehenge I just passed?” Next you cross a bridge and come to a fork in the road, marked by two stone pillars, joined at the top by a freeform arch. If you turn one way, the road leads through more fields, past a vegetable garden and various large sculptures, up the face of an earthen dam and to the Horn’s home built on the shore of a lake. If you had turned the other way, the road would have taken you winding up through the woods to a large metal building. Meanwhile, back at the fork, the arch at the top of the stone pillars is symbolic. It joins things that might seem divergent, into something unified and whole. If you like, read the arch as symbolic of the lives of John and Robyn, their combined forces brought into a cooperative whole, larger and more meaningful, but it is also symbolic of the joining of two forces in human life, to have, and the other more primal, to make.

John and Robyn Horn have become well known as major collectors. Their collection of American crafts has been featured in American Craft Magazine (Collecting A Life: John and Robyn Horn, Dec. 2000/Jan. 2001). It has also been the subject of an exhibit at the Arkansas Art Center, Living with Form, 2000. Objects from that exhibit are featured in a book, Living with Form, Bradley Publishing 2000. But the objects in the book are the tip of the iceberg in lives dedicated to collecting, and collecting itself can only be understood in light of the ways in which collecting, for the Horns, at least, has been an expression and enhancement of personal creativity and engagement in the arts.

When Robyn and John first met, John was a printer, and Robyn a photographer for Arkansas Parks and Tourism. They collaborated for a time as artists doing stained glass work and selling in craft fairs. The life on the craft show circuit gave John and Robyn a deep sense of appreciation for the challenges faced by artists in marketing their work. In 1984, John’s brother Sam introduced Robyn to woodturning after he returned from a week-long class with David Ellsworth at Arrowmont School of Crafts in Gatlinburg, TN. Robyn took immediately to woodturning and her own creative expression became the driving force in building a collection of works created by others. The richness of texture and form became the foundation for her own search for expression.

In 1990 the Horns bought the property at Cedar Glen and built the metal building that serves as Robyn’s studio and John’s print shop. John, continuing his passion for the printer’s art, has accumulated an incredible collection of antique printing equipment and type from back in the days before ink jets and lasers. It is not an idle collection. He works frequently in the print shop preserving the earlier technology and sharing its subtle creativity with like-minded, obsessed printers from around the country. He has been actively engaged as a last wall of defense between the wondrous subtleties of hand-set type and ignominious erasure by the city dump. On the other end of the shop is Robyn’s studio where she turns, saws, and sculpts wood into forms derived from her own imagination and stimulated by the material. Robyn is the famous one of the two, with her works being sold through major galleries throughout the US (see, but the Horn Collection is a partnership. Robyn is the primary decision maker in the acquisitions for the collection. Her curiosity about texture, form and the relationship between these elements of design is a large part of the decision making process about what gets collected.

John deals with the logistics. When not in the print shop, he can be found on the grounds, running a tractor or loader, preparing a foundation for a new sculpture to be added to their collection.

Their home designed by John Connell was finished in 1997 following two and a half years of construction. It was built from the outset to serve as a home for the ever growing and changing collection. John describes it as “a museum with bedrooms.” Its massive stonework, each stone carefully laid to appear dry stacked, anchors the home to the surrounding woods. The large windows and interior height leave little sense of distinction between inside and out, and the carefully arranged collection inside blends seamlessly with large sculptural objects out of doors. The Horn collection consists of over a thousand pieces by over seven hundred artists, and so far has taken 25 years to collect.

Townsend Wolfe, former director of the Arkansas Art Center in Little Rock said of the Horns:
“John and Robyn Horn are artists and collectors who are committed to every aspect of the contemporary craft movement. They make art themselves, and encourage other artists by acquiring and showing their work. Because of their energy, a whole contemporary craft community s developing and communicating.

The Horns developed their collection in a quiet and consistent manner over the course of years. They did not set out in the beginning to build a collection of crafts, but purchased individual pieces that interest them. Their strong tactile sense of materials and eye for form laid the foundation for seeking out and selecting the objects they acquired.“
As stated by Robyn,
“The collector plays an important role in the art world, and the art you choose can enhance your life every time you view it. Painter Eldon Burnicky asked, ‘What is art if it does not awaken one from the mundane?’ It is this awakening that keeps us collecting.”
The photo above is sculpture by Robyn Horn. The article is written for an upcoming issue of Ion Arts and will feature photographs from the Horn Collection.

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