Fine Art Connoisseur’s Editor-in-Chief Peter Trippi speaks often to art collectors about the importance of organizing, protecting, and insuring their precious works of art. A telling case-in-point unfolded in Wyoming. (This article was originally published in August, 2016, but is still relevant.)
In the world of fine art collecting, the names Harold “Hal” Tate and Naoma Tate are among the most well-known and respected. Since Hal’s death in 2003, Naoma Tate has continued to build an impressive and important collection with particular emphasis on American Western art.
A rescue story recently unfolded at the Naoma Tate’s Wyoming ranch — “The Big Hat” — that serves as a potent reminder to collectors: keep track of and insure your art!
Several years ago, Naoma was instructed by her insurance company to perform a number of seemingly excessive and expensive precautions in and around her house. Located about 16 miles from Cody, Wyoming, the area – like much of the west, is prone to potential wildfires that are usually quickly contained. Despite feeling that a major wildfire would never get close to her ranch, Naoma agreed to the expensive and time consuming changes requested by her insurance company. Workmen cleared a number of trees around the home; created large expanses of green space, and placed a number of fire hydrants on the property, among other important precautions.
In 2014, Tate then hired Dr. Donna Poulton — formerly a curator at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts — to inventory and appraise the collection, leaving a detailed record of the artworks’ location and value. If we fast-forward to this past week, these relatively simple actions by Mrs. Tate proved invaluable.
This past week, Wyoming has been battling some of the worst wildfires in recent memory. The exact cause of the fires is still being investigated by local and federal authorities, but preliminary reports suggest accidental or natural causes. As the fire grew consuming large expanses of land, it began to encroach onto the Tate’s ranch — burning approximately 600 acres of her property. As the flames crept closer to the house – and subsequently her important collection of art – it became apparent that a rescue effort was needed.
When Naoma received mandatory orders to evacuate, the community came to her aid. All of the artworks were removed from Naoma’s home and taken to a safer location in a whirlwind process that took just three hours to complete. Untold firetrucks converged onto the property to hose the land surrounding the house and outbuildings, while helicopters flew overhead keeping the inferno at bay. The insurance company also had a representative and fire truck on location. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody rushed a crew of 19 volunteer staff to the ranch to help with the forced evacuation, including the museum’s CEO and Director, Bruce Eldredge and their Whitney Curator, Karen McWhorter. With the aid of a moving company, all of the artworks were taken to the Buffalo Bill Center, where they were properly stored until the fire was contained.
A Lesson in Art Collecting
Had Mrs. Tate not taken the precautions suggested by the insurance company, it would have been very difficult to save her home. Further, having detailed information about the location of the artworks proved vital in organizing an efficient effort to move them to a safe location.
From those of us at Fine Art Connoisseur, we wish to send all of the heroic firefighters, volunteers, the Cody Volunteer Fire Department, and Buffalo Bill staff members our sincere thanks and appreciation for helping to preserve Mrs. Tate’s extraordinary collection. Along with Mrs. Tate, we extend our most sincere sympathy to those families and residents whose homes and properties were destroyed.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.