Monday, October 25, 2004

There’s nothing like a 10th year anniversary to whip up a benefit party, complete with the first-ever local museum award of substance to a Washington artist of importance.

So it was that on Saturday evening Jim Sanborn — the artist best known for such sculptural pieces as “Kryptos” at CIA headquarters — found himself $10,000 richer when he was honored by arts professionals and patrons at a gala black-tie event in the Kreeger Museum.

As Director Judy A. Greenberg pointed out, the award continues the spirit of a tradition established by the late David and Carmen Kreeger, whose sterling collection forms the basis for the stately but intimate museum at 2401 Foxhall Road NW. During their lifetime, the couple had given much smaller amounts of money to young artists through two area universities.

Another reason to celebrate: The Philip Johnson-designed museum, which began life as the Kreegers’ home, this year has open house on Saturdays for the first time; reservations and obligatory docent-guided tours are required on weekday visits.

The David Lloyd Kreeger Foundation supports the building’s operation, but additional support is needed for the museum’s ambitious outreach and education efforts put on by a small six-person staff.

The nominating committee for the new Kreeger Museum Artist Award — underwritten by wealth management expert Mary Sexton of the Sexton Group— debated long and hard over whether it should be given for “a life achievement or for somebody in mid-career who has made a major impact on the Washington community,” said independent curator Sarah Tanguy, noting that a great number local artists of merit would qualify on either count.

Mr. Sanborn fit the bill for the breadth and range of his work. Not notably an educator — he says teaching “drains his creative batteries” — he has inspired many apprentices who work for him, according to Alan Fern, a former director of the National Portrait Gallery who helped in the selection.

Asked his opinion of the ideal arts education, the tall bearded artist, a Washington native, was quick to say “don’t go to an arts school” — at least not for undergraduate years.

Mr. Sanborn said his time spent taking such courses as anthropology and archaeology for his bachelor’s degree from Randolph-Macon College “had a big impact” on him, he said. He later acquired a Master of Fine Arts degree from New York’s Pratt Institute.

The money comes at an very opportune time, he remarked at dinner, referring to difficulties artists encounter when seeking outside support well into their careers. “It’s good the Kreeger Museum sets a precedent,” he said, recalling how in his last year of high school and first year of college he would drive back and forth on Foxhall Road just to check on how construction of the Kreeger home was progressing.

“I just wish they had been here to know I was actually having dinner inside,” Mr. Sanborn said.

— Ann Geracimos

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