My Rubloff Experience
In the 1970s, when our Santa Fe gallery was in full flourish, one of our good clients was Arthur Rubloff. He personified aristocracy in its finest moment. Wearing a 3-piece suit and patent leather shoes, he looked like a Prime Minister. The only fault I ever found with Arthur was that his shoes looked to be too long for his feet, although I didn’t profess to be an authority on either subject.
Somewhere along those years, we sold Arthur a bronze portrait of Massasoit (1581-1661), the great chief of the Wampanogas tribe. At more than 10’ tall, some said the feather in the Indian’s hair reached clear up to the sky.
The bronze was installed in one of Arthur’s Chicago shopping centers, and he invited me to attend the unveiling ceremony. When we walked into the mall, I saw that the bronze had been cordoned off, about 10’ around, with an obtrusive white picket fence. Arthur smiled and said the fence was there to prevent the kids from damaging the bronze.
After telling him that there was no way anyone could harm that piece of sculpture, I reminded him that he wanted the bronze on display to give something back to the many shoppers who frequented his mall. I told him of the giant Jonas Brothers grizzly bronze that stood outside the entrance to the Natural History Museum in Denver. “As high as the kids can climb, and reach with their hands, it has the most beautiful patina in the country, and above where they can touch, it is dull and lackluster.”
As the fence was being removed, the band played Hail to the Chief.
Arthur said a few words to the small crowd of people who had paused in their shopping to listen, then he introduced me. It fell my lot to explain who Massasoit was and say how much the art meant to the city of Chicago. It was one of my classic red-face speeches that lasted just long enough to satisfy propriety.
Arthur’s limo took us to his office. The driver, dressed in a casually pressed black suit, sat erect and always faced forward. His matching colored leather cap, daintily tilted, seemed to evoke a festive mood. The lady in the shotgun seat I guessed was one of his secretaries. I couldn’t see her face because a glass partition separated the two of them in the front from the two of us in the back.
During the 30-minute ride Arthur and I didn’t talk about architecture, but I couldn’t help but notice the name Rubloff written on the sides of 2 or 3 buildings. He asked what I would like to have for lunch. My reply was something like, “Well, under the circumstance, maybe champagne and pheasant-under-glass are in order.”
We laughed and I asked him about his celebrated glass paperweight collection that he had promised to the Art Institute of Chicago. The question was a mistake because he started dropping types and names about which I knew nothing. Out of respect, I listened intently, and frequently nodded.
When we entered his spacious office spaces and sat at his dining table, we were served glasses of chilled sparkling champagne, which had to be from a very good year. Although I didn’t like the stuff I sipped and smiled in celebration of the moment. After a nice salad came the pheasant-under-glass. (His secretary had listened on a secret limo intercom, and phoned ahead).
It didn’t take me long to realize that I was way out of my cozy element, and I probably wondered if Arthur knew what a hot dog was.
Looking back on that day now, more than 4 decades removed, I am reminded of other experiences that similarly favored me during my gallery years. But none of them were as good as being at home in the friendly surroundings of my family. f