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Speed Art Museum officials: Noe Collection of Kentucky treasures one of largest, most important gifts in Speed’s history

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An inlaid chest from the Noe Collection.

The Speed Art Museum has received what museum officials are describing as one of the largest, most important gifts in the Speed’s 86-year history.

Robert and Norma Noe have given the Speed Museum their collection of early Kentucky arts, furniture and crafts.

The Noe Collection includes 119 examples of early Kentucky furniture, paintings, silhouettes, textiles, ceramics, and silver, according to a news release.

Many early Kentucky cabinet makers came to the area from Maryland, where they had trained at Baltimore’s finest furniture ateliers. The best Kentucky pieces are identifiable by their delicate bell-flower inlay and other inlays, and have become highly sought after by celebrity collectors such as movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

Artworks from the Noe collection are currently on view at the Speed’s exhibition of “Kentucky Antiques from the Noe Collection: A Gift to the Commonwealth.”

“The gift of the Noe Collection more than doubles the Museum’s holdings of Kentucky-made decorative arts and paintings from the nineteenth century, giving the Speed the best collection of this kind anywhere,” stated Dr. Charles Venable, Speed Museum executive director, in the release.

“We now will be able to provide visitors with an unparalleled opportunity to experience and enjoy the state’s artistic heritage as never before. We are extremely grateful to the Noes for both their generosity and vision.”

Scott Erbes, Speed Musuem curator of Decorative Arts and Design, said,  “Bob and Norma Noe’s love of their home state and their passion for collecting led them to find and preserve great early Kentucky antiques. The masterworks they acquired illustrate the wonderful visual diversity that characterized nineteenth-century Kentucky. Through the Noes’ generosity, these treasures—the shared legacy of generations of artists, artisans, owners, descendants, and collectors—will remain accessible for generations to come.”

Exhibited through the years at the Speed and other museums, the Noe Collection is widely recognized as one of the finest private collections of nineteenth-century Kentucky decorative arts in the country., according to the release.

This donation represents a landmark in the 86-year history of the Museum. In 2007 the Noes promised to give their collection to the Speed over several years. With the museum’s expansion underway, the Noes decided to fulfill their promise ahead of schedule so that the public could begin to enjoy the collection, according to the release.

Following the completion of the Speed’s expansion project in 2016, additional space will be available for exhibiting early Kentucky art.

The Noe Collection “dramatically advances” the museum towards its goal of becoming the nation’s “collection of record “for important Kentucky art and design, according to the release. The Noe Collection will also be integrated into the museum’s Kentucky Online Arts Resource (www.KOAR.org), an image database devoted to documenting Kentucky art.

About Robert and Norma Noe (from the release): Kentucky natives Robert and Norma Noe didn’t intentionally set out to become collectors. As newlyweds in 1955, they needed to furnish an apartment and thrift led them to old furniture. Later, living for decades in the Washington, DC, area enabled the couple to visit museums and make purchases from antique dealers and auctions. They came back to Kentucky in 1979 as experienced collectors, and their love for the state and its history soon made them Kentucky collectors. On collecting Kentucky art Robert Noe remarked, “There is an emotional reason for collecting Kentucky objects. We are Kentuckians and that was here and very few people were collecting it at the time, so we decided to become Kentucky collectors.” He went on to say, “Most of our family has stayed in Kentucky. They have lived here and that’s why we’re here and so we have a love of the state…a connection with the state that goes much deeper than just collecting antiques. It’s here, it’s in our soul.”

About the Noe Collection: Early Kentucky furniture forms the core of the Noe Collection, adding more than forty examples to the Speed’s collection. Many can be documented to particular families, locations, and cabinetmaking traditions, helping visitors, scholars, and collectors better understand the patterns of migration, trade, and taste that shaped early Kentucky furniture. Several pieces, visibly characterized by their distinctive, spidery legs, come from a related group of furniture associated with the northeastern part of the state. The most ambitious example from the Noe Collection, a chest of drawers made between 1795 and 1810, is exuberantly inlaid with leafy vines as well as segmented fans executed in contrasting light and dark woods. The Noes’ gift also includes five sugar chests and two sugar desks. These distinctive regional forms were designed to store and protect sugar, a costly commodity in early nineteenth-century Kentucky. Placed in the dining room or parlor for all to see, sugar chests and desks kept the sugar close at hand for sweetening social lubricants like tea, coffee, and alcoholic drinks. The Noes acquired many richly inlaid examples, including one that descended in the Madison County area, one of the state’s more prosperous counties during the early nineteenth century.

About the Speed Art Museum: The Speed Art Museum is Kentucky’s largest art museum with a collection that spans 6,000 years of human creativity. An independent museum located on the campus of the University of Louisville, the Speed plays an important role in the cultural and educational life of the region. The Speed is currently undergoing a multi-phase expansion and renovation that includes a new North Building, Art Park and a public piazza. To view a virtual tour or for more information visit the Speed website here.

Museum hours are Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. (open late); Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.. Galleries are closed on Monday and Tuesday. Admission to the Museum is $10, free for members.

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