Masters: Fleur Bresler

Masters: Fleur Bresler

Aileen Osborn Webb Award for Philanthropy
Published on Sunday, September 14, 2014. This article appears in the October/November 2014 issue of American Craft Magazine.
Author Staff
Fleur Bresler, Portrait

Photo: Robert Severi

Fleur Bresler wants the craft field to thrive into the future, and that’s no empty wish: She has invested time and money to make it happen.

“One of the things that I’m trying to focus on is to financially support programs that are supporting the next generation of artists,” she says. One example is a long-standing exchange program for artists, many mid-career, at the Center for Art in Wood, where she was president of the board for five years. In addition to helping underwrite the residency, she collects a piece from each artist at the end of his or her term. “I’ve made it sort of an unwritten law,” she says, smiling. “It’s given some variety to the collection, and, in many instances, they are the new generation.”

Bresler is an avid collector. With her husband Charles, who died in 2010, she has assembled a significant collection, with a special emphasis on wood and textiles. In fact, she has recently added 4,000 square feet to her living space in Rockville, Maryland, to display her objects. (It has given her freedom to collect larger and more diverse work, she notes: “I am now collecting wide afield.”)

For Bresler, however, acquisition isn’t the end goal; education and documentation are. She gave her comprehensive quilt collection, including books and catalogues, to North Carolina’s Mint Museum, with the strict proviso that it be available online for research. Her support of the Corcoran Gallery’s recent Albert Paley retrospective was similarly earmarked, particularly for educational programs “over the summer, when you have inner-city kids out of school,” she says. She recently made a donation to the Center for Craft, Creativity & Design, whose very mission is documentation and scholarship. And when she retired from the Center for Art in Wood, she set up a fund for catalogues, video, and internet publications.

In 2011, she endowed a position, the Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator of American Craft and Decorative Art, at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, where she served as a docent for 14 years. This was on top of donating 66 works of turned and carved wood to the museum, a gift that established the Renwick as one of the preeminent public collections of wood art and launched an exhibition (with a beautiful catalogue, of course), “A Revolution in Wood: The Bresler Collection.”

For Bresler – docent, patron, board member, collector – philanthropy is personal. She wants to cultivate not only the next generation of artists but also the next generation of collectors. “Trying to interest a younger group of collectors is absolutely essential,” she says. She is starting close to home, with two grandchildren, budding collectors and sources of deep pride.