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Sunday, November 17, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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John Hauberg: A True Patron Of The Arts

John Hauberg probably is best-known in the art world as a founder of Pilchuck Glass School, situated on a portion of a 16,000-acre tree farm that belongs to his family.

This year he made another significant contribution to art experience in the Northwest: more than 200 pieces of historic Northwest Coast Native American art, given to the Seattle Art Museum.

Hauberg has a special interest in SAM. He succeeded SAM's founder, Dr. Richard Fuller, as president of the museum from 1973 to 1978, and was the first chairman of the museum board. He was a key player in securing a downtown location for the museum, after Capitol Hill homeowners expressed strong opposition to expansion in Volunteer Park.

His gift in honor of SAM's opening downtown has been called one of the world's finest private collections of Northwest Coast art.

Now that collection is public. More than three-fourths of the Native American art that will be on view beginning Dec. 5 in the new building are pieces he collected.

The gems of the Hauberg collection are four magnificent 1907 houseposts carved by Arthur Shaughnessy for the Sea Monster House of the Kwakwaka'wakw - formerly called Kwakiutl by white men. Hauberg tells the story thus:

"In 1935, the Canadian government ordered all tribes to dismantle their potlatch houses, by taking the roofs and walls off them. They said `evil things' were done there. They meant that the noble families were bankrupting their villages and themselves by giving away everything they owned at potlatch ceremonies, to gain prestige.

"Chief Bill Scow inherited what was left of the Sea Monster House on Gilford Island. The posts and beams were still standing, rotting away, since they'd been exposed to the weather from 1935 to 1965. Bill decided to sell them rather than let them rot away to nothing.

"Every museum in Canada turned them down; they had enough poles. No Canadian university wanted them, either. So Bill got permission to sell them outside Canada."

Hauberg chartered a plane, arriving at Scow's home the same morning Scow received a letter from the Denver Art Museum offering to buy the poles for the $10,000 asking price. Hauberg thought $10,000 was a lot of money for four poles.

"When Scow pulled out the letter from Denver," Hauberg says, "that was the end of negotiations."

Scow's logging equipment lifted the 14-foot poles from the ground and loaded them on a barge for shipment to Hauberg's Bainbridge Island home. They stood in Hauberg's meadow until Dixy Lee Ray, then head of the Pacific Science Center, asked Hauberg to move them to the Science Center for display. The poles remained on loan there for nearly 20 years.

Hauberg notes that in 40 years of collecting, that is the only occasion on which he bought historic art directly from the family.

He had been in love with Indian art since his childhood, but didn't begin to buy it until 1950, when the University of Washington declined to pay $25,000 for a 500-piece collection of Northwest Coast Indian material.

"It amounted to about $50 per piece - the biggest bargain they ever saw," Hauberg said. "They said they couldn't afford it.

"The Seattle Art Museum turned it down, too. Dr. Fuller said he had no room in storage. So the Portland Art Museum got it. It's called the Rasmussen collection.

"I vowed right then that if any other collection came around, I wouldn't let it slip away like that; I'd buy it."

The chance came soon. UW anthropologist Erna Guenther, a family friend, called to say the Burke Museum had been offered the 40-piece Waters collection for $10,000. "She thought it was overpriced," Hauberg said. "She didn't even want to approach university officials about buying it because she was sure they'd turn it down."

Hauberg called a friend, Phil Padelford. "Making a few calls, we raised $10,000 in three days to buy the collection for the Burke. In gratitude, Erna let Phil and me each buy a piece from the collection."

Hauberg chose a raven rattle - the first piece in his private collection. There has been no looking back.

From the first, he declined ethnographic material - that is, things used in everyday life, such as baskets and canoe paddles - in favor of ceremonial objects. "Ceremonial materials are the grandest art of any culture," he says.

He still buys two or three pieces of fine contemporary Indian art each year - pieces that line his office walls, and that eventually will go to his children.

But that's not the end of his generosity to SAM. He has made two additional gifts in honor of the new building: a 44-piece collection of the photography of Imogen Cunningham, and a 15-piece collection of Mesoamerican ceramic pieces from the preclassic period of Mexican culture.

But the Northwest Coast Indian material is special to him. He says, "I have felt from the first that I was a custodian for this material; that it was not for my private pleasure."

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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