Bob Horvath: A Passion for Collecting—and Sharing—Illustration Art

Written by Debbie Hanson Greene

Robert T. HorvathBoard President Robert T. Horvath has been collecting art since The Illustrator in America: 1900-1960s by illustration historian Walt Reed was published in 1966. The Maryland artist, collector, teacher and library director confesses that his fascination with illustration art goes back even further, inspired and nurtured by his longtime friendships with some of America's most accomplished illustrators.

Among these artists, Bob Horvath counts illustrator Tom Lovell (1909-1997) as "a very good friend" with whom he corresponded for more than 30 years while living and working in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, Penn. He credits Lovell with "encouraging me in whatever I was doing."

Horvath corresponded with Golden Age illustrator Frank Schoonover (1877-1972), one of Howard Pyle's friends and most famous students, known for his documentation of the American frontier. Horvath met Edmund Ward (1892-1991), the noted Saturday Evening Post illustrator who once shared a studio with Norman Rockwell during their student days at the Art Students League in Brooklyn. Horvath even wrote to Rockwell himself in 1968. "I loved his art, and I wanted some of it!" he exclaimed, his letter inquiring about the artist's preliminary sketches.

Much of Horvath's own success as a professional artist can be attributed to his longtime friendship with cartoonist/illustrator George Evans (1920-2001), who used him as the villain in two of his comic strips and "got me going in aviation art." Both men shared a fascination with early aviation since boyhood-Horvath's first degree was in history followed by an MFA and later an MA in library science. Evans got Horvath a calendar commission with the Society of World War I Aerial Historians and helped him forge a 30-year relationship with the U.S. Air Force. "They own 18 of my paintings, which they exhibit a lot," says Horvath.

It was his long-term friendship with Jane Sperry Eisenstat, the late Ben Eisenstat, and their daughter Alice Carter that cemented a Rockwell connection for Horvath and his wife, Lynne Johnson Horvath, who is also a professional artist. Both Ben and Jane Eisenstat were artists, teachers and collectors who accumulated a collection of art works by 19th- and 20th-century illustrators in order to share them with their students. Jane and Alice have contributed original illustrations to Norman Rockwell Museum and Alice serves on the Museum's board of trustees.

The Horvaths became acquainted with Norman Rockwell Museum in 2001 when they visited the Museum's first major Rockwell traveling exhibition, Pictures for the American People, at the Guggenheim, and they were hooked.

In November 2003, Alice Carter curated the Red Rose Girls: An Uncommon Story of Art and Love, at the Norman Rockwell Museum, following the publication of her book in 2000. This well-received exhibition featured the art of noted turn-of-the- century American illustrators Violet Oakley, Elizabeth Shippen Green and Jessie Wilcox Smith. The Horvaths loaned artworks from their collection for the exhibition and traveled to the Museum for the opening festivities. "We met Stephanie Plunkett [chief curator] and became Museum members right then."

In December 2006, Horvath made a bequest to Norman Rockwell Museum in his will that includes an art collection of more than 100 original works representing 19th- and 20th-century American illustrators. An appraisal of the collection noted its particular strengths: works by celebrated creator Tom Lovell and by illustrators who were students of or influenced by Howard Pyle, the "father of American illustration."

As the first to make a large bequest of original illustration art to Norman Rockwell Museum, Horvath thinks the bequest will be a spark. "If one person starts to do this, then others will too," he explains.

This generosity didn't end with the bequest. The following year, the Horvaths made an outright donation of two works by the late Edmund Ward and accepted an invitation to join the National Council. They have been giving pieces of illustration art each year. "Lynne and I talked about it, and this is what we both want to do," says Horvath.

Give indeed! In 2008, they donated or loaned original artworks by Worth Brehm, George Mathews Harding, George Gibbs, Henry Pitz, Thomas Fogarty, Edward A. Wilson, Norman Mills Price, Lyle Justis and Tom Lovell. They gifted their Lovell Archive-a comprehensive collection of Lovell's 30-year correspondence with Horvath, more than 200 slides, photographs of the artist and his work, postcards, notes, sketches, and exhibition announcements, in addition to a rare series of 33mm slides relating to Frank Schoonover. More recently, the Horvaths donated works by noted New York illustrator Saul Tepper, as well as George W. Baratt; Martha Jackson Cornwell; Kerr Eby; Charlotte Harding; Henry J. Peck; and Bob Horvath's dear friend, cartoonist and illustrator George Evans.

The Horvaths' enthusiasm and generosity has helped set the Museum on its way to collecting America's most notable and influential illustration artists-a gesture deeply appreciated by the board of trustees. Director/CEO Laurie Norton Moffatt expressed gratitude for this "important legacy and for their partnership with the Museum," noting that "these images add to the depth and breadth of our growing illustration collection."

"Their generous vision has enhanced the Museum in extraordinary ways," added Chief Curator Plunkett. The Museum's collection will continue to grow, thanks in no small part to the efforts and munificence of collectors like the Horvaths.

In August 2009, Horvath discussed the Brehm drawing that he and Lynne had just given the Museum. "It was a great drawing and we loved it, but it did not go with what we had on our walls, so we thought, why not give it now?" He spoke similarly about a William Heaslip cover illustration for American Boy Magazine. "It's with my conservator in New York right now, but I will give it to the Museum soon," he said gleefully. In late September, the Museum will unveil an exhibition of recent art acquisitions, graced and enriched by the Horvaths' donations.

What drives the Horvaths to donate some of their beloved art collection sooner rather than later? Horvath.said "We have so much artwork sitting in storage that we felt we wanted to give art to the Museum now, rather than have it all sit in closets."

The couple recently bought a home in Massachusetts so they could be closer to Rockwell's Stockbridge and to the Museum that bears his name. "We are delighted to have these dear friends as neighbors now," says Plunkett. Dubbed "the cottage," Horvaths' home offers a second studio space for the two working artists, a short walk to good coffee and conversation at the popular Monterey General Store, and a winter encampment for the avid skiers among their brood of children and grandchildren who hit the slopes of nearby Butternut.

As the Horvaths settle into their new retreat and this latest chapter in their lives, Norman Rockwell Museum appreciates the serendipitous path that led them here, forged by a lifetime of connection with and affinity for many of America's most noteworthy illustrators.