The 6-ton, 46-foot-high statue was first displayed in
The piece, modeled on a young girl who lived in the sculptor's
Spend any time with "Echo," whose elongated head gives her an eerie yet seductive look, and you may wonder about the man who gave it to SAM and the city.
Ebsworth, born in 1934, is an art lover who made his millions in the travel industry. Originally from
He discovered art in a big way after he was drafted into the military. Although he served during the Korean War, he somehow "willed" himself to
"I was hooked," he says of his art interests. "But of course I didn't have any money."
After finishing his tour of duty, he came home to
Once he was in a position to buy art, his first purchases were Dutch 17th-century paintings. But he soon realized all the best items had been bought or were out of his financial reach. So he turned toward American modernists of the early 20th century:
His collection acquired such a reputation that it was tapped for exhibitions in 1987-88 (in
Ebsworth was introduced to the city by his wife in the 1990s. But by the time he moved into his
Starting over in a new city on your own when you're close to 70 sounds daunting.
"It was both exciting and frightening," he admits.
Still, he had contacts in the area from his many stays here: fellow art collectors
He soon became a trustee at SAM and was on the search committee that chose Kimerly Rorschach as SAM's new director in 2012.
"I've gotten to know him since then -- and his wonderful collection," Rorschach said. "He's very involved as a trustee at the leadership level."
But it's his eye for art, Shirley emphasized, that's the most distinctive thing about him: "Barney is one of the most careful, informed, dedicated collectors that I've ever met -- probably the best."
Ebsworth has strong ideas about collecting. Once, after he bought an 86-foot-long painting at an auction, a woman approached him, saying it was a wonderful piece and asking where he planned to put it.
His reply: "Madam, I don't have the foggiest. ... If you really want to be a great collector, you don't buy for a place. You buy because the object is great."
He also believes in a do-it-yourself approach to collecting. He doesn't have much use for wealthy collectors who turn over the job to a curator-for-hire and don't know much about their own collections. "There, I say, 'Hallelujah, you were smart to hire the right people. But you missed the really important thing, which is understanding and appreciating the art.' "
Ebsworth's 20th-century American art collection, Shirley said, is good enough to have had its own show in the
So where does Plensa's "Echo" fit into all this?
It doesn't, exactly. Ebsworth's collecting focus is on 20th-century paintings, not 21st-century sculpture. Still, when he saw a
He immediately contacted Plensa's dealer in
His initial plan to install "Echo" on his property was derailed when Shirley pointed out that Ebsworth would need a building permit to erect a 46-foot statue on the shores of
Stymied, Ebsworth went to SAM and asked if they'd be interested in it.
Rorschach knew and admired Plensa's work, and her instinctive answer was, "Absolutely!"
But she had to be sure SAM could find a place for it. Bureaucracy and logistics made the selection of a site a long and involved process. Ebsworth, she says, was "a great collaborator ... and very patient."
It's a generous gift. In an ARTnews article in 2010, Plensa's dealer said the artist's large-scale pieces sell for up to
SAM's curator of modern and contemporary art,
As for Plensa, in town Thursday for the inauguration of "Echo," he was delighted with the location: "My project was thinking about Echo in the old tradition of Greek mythology. And you have the
Ebsworth himself, taking in "Echo" in its new home, couldn't have been happier. "It's spectacular," he said. "It looks wonderful."
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