James Harken clearly remembers the first piece of art he purchased: It was a watercolor by local artist Opal R. Fleckenstein and the year was 1968.
The price was $225 and it was paid off in installments.
Since then, Harken has bought and sold art of all kinds. His collection now holds more than 3,000 pieces.
On Dec. 9, Harken told the Spokane Valley City Council that when he dies he will donate what’s left of his collection – after five children get their picks – to the Spokane Valley Arts Council. The Arts Council may do with the collection whatever it wants to.
“I’m going to suggest something that hasn’t been thought through,” Harken said, at the council meeting. “I will suggest the City Council think of a museum in the Valley.”
Harken’s collection is eclectic. It spans from antique eggshell-thin Chinese porcelain, over Western-themed bronze sculptures to classic and modern oil paintings, antique Native American baskets and clothing, and lots and lots of glass.
Many pieces of handmade art glass from Murano sparkle on shelves in the Harken’s living room. That’s also where a huge abstract portrait of Andy Warhol painted by Peter Max dominates the mantelpiece.
A sculpted Modigliani glass head keeps watch from a high shelf.
Jerry McKellar bronze sculptures sit on tables.
Every hallway is lined with paintings, many are American some are European, and there really isn’t a theme to the collection.
“I’ve purchased anything I like that has a quality to it,” said Harken, who’s a dentist.
Forrest Rodgers, executive director of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, has seen Harken’s collection, which he calls “wide-ranging with representation from many different art styles and ephemera.
“I would say the collection represents Dr. Harken’s passion for and support of regional art and artists,” Rodgers said. “You can’t separate the collection from the collector; it’s almost like the collection is his own piece of art.”
The collection is valued in the millions and Harken is still actively dealing via his website, www.j-art-gallery.com.
The co-founder of the Spokane Valley Arts Council, which incorporated in 2004, Harken has been a Spokane Valley arts supporter since before there was a city of Spokane Valley.
The Arts Council has raised funds for and donated sculptures to the city yet remains an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
“Keeping it independent is the smartest thing we ever did,” Harken said, explaining that city-run art programs often are the first to get cut in tough financial times. “We do our own fundraising. We do our own thing.”
The Arts Council puts on an annual fundraiser and auction, the Artists Showcase, which is in its ninth year.
He’s hoping the Arts Council can create a partnership with the city of Spokane Valley.
“Maybe the city can provide the brick and mortar and we can bring the art,” Harken said.
The Spokane Valley City Council was appreciative of Harken’s future donation – many in the audience clapped after Harken’s presentation – but there are no solid plans for a museum or a partnership.
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