Nanette's Gifts

February 24 - July 29, 2021

"I can appreciate all the paintings that are on the walls of all the museums, but I am a much more tactile person. I like objects more than paintings on the walls." Nanette L. Laitman. Wall Street Journal August 25, 2011

Nanette Laitman standing with 3 pieces of ceramic art


In 2017 Nanette Laitman invited me to see her ceramic collection. I met Alfred University Trustee and Board Chairperson of New York City’s Museum of Arts and Design, Michele Cohen and together we went to visit Nanette. Nanette and I knew each other as names in the craft-art world, but had never met. We spent 2 hours looking at the collection and discussing various pieces. I learned more about Nanette’s visionary role in the world of art. Nanette was captivating, exceptionally astute and articulate.

Nanette L. Laitman was a principle benefactor and founder of New York City’s Museum of Arts and Design. She served on the Museum’s Board of Directors for 25 years, including as its president. She was one of the main benefactors supporting the Museum’s relocation to its current Columbus Circle location in 2002. As a result of her philanthropic initiative four floors of exhibition space in the new museum building were established. These spaces were later named The Nanette L. Laitman Galleries.

Importantly, Laitman’s vision extended beyond the Museum of Arts and Design. Her funding gift to the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, established the Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America. This project was planned around the collection of oral histories from artists working with clay, fiber, glass, metal and wood. The collection of personal papers and gallery records of artists is also part of the project. This gift of Laitman’s was transformative for the study of American Craft-Art.

The following quotes from Laitman confirm her commitment to the artists.

"Well, I've heard from many of the artists who have taken the time to write me notes or in some way communicate and they've expressed their appreciation in many, many ways. And I'm delighted to be able to continue the project for as long as it takes to document all of the work that these wonderful people are doing." Interview: Archives of American Art, 2009

"These are the records of American artists who were overlooked and written out of the textbook history of American art. My dream was to reunite them with their colleagues in other disciplines as compatriots and equals." Archives of American Art Journal, 2011.

After my visit with Nanette, I needed time to reflect. I was overwhelmed by the experience. Her collection was magnificent and her intelligence, sensitivity and grace as well as her crisp clarity of intention were inspiring. We continued to communicate by phone and by mail. Eventually, her gifts to the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum were confirmed. Today, present in the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum central exhibition space are her gifts to the Museum under the exhibition title Nanette’s Gifts. This title was chosen not only to thank her for her generosity to the Museum, but also as a means to highlight and celebrate her gift of vision that has been so important to American art.

Nanette L. Laitman’s gifts to the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum now on view include works by Chris Antemann, Katsuyo Aoki, Robert Brady, Claire Curneen, Richard DeVore, Franklin Fleming, Mary Frank, Sergei Isupov, Keisuke Mizuno, Tip Toland, Ken Price, Adrian Saxe, Patti Warashina, Paula Winokur and Daisy Youngblood.

The image above is a photograph that my friend, photographer Brain Oglesbee, took of Nanette Laitman at her Manhatten home Friday morning January 19, 2018 at 11:45 am. I will never forget that morning. I wanted her picture for the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum’s News Magazine. We were on a very tight schedule. Brian and I drove into NYC from Alfred the night before. We stayed overnight in a nearby hotel and arrived at Nanette’s exactly at 11:30 am. Nanette greeted us looking fabulous and ready for her photo shoot. We picked a spot with good light and 10 minutes later we had the picture. She was so aware, smart, savvy, a pro –she knew exactly how to handle her photo shoot ---with considerable grace and elegance. At 12-noon Brian and I were on our way and Nanette was off to lunch.

Nanette L. Laitman passed away on March 23, 2020 at the age of 95. Her legacy lives on in the lasting contributions she made and in the hearts and minds of all who knew her. The Alfred Ceramic Art Museum is honored to be among the cultural institutions that she took an interest in. Nanatte L. Laitman was one of a kind. Her presence, generosity and vision were rare aspects of a marvelous individual. It was my great privilege to have known her.

Wayne Higby
Professor of Ceramic Art
The Wayne Higby Director
and Chief Curator
Alfred Museum of Ceramic
at Alfred University