State Archivist

Chairman, Maryland Commission on Artistic Property

photo of George Peabody

In one of the darkest days of State Government and in the face of looming bankruptcy, a New England businessman by the name of George Peabody established a successful merchant's business in Baltimore. During the depression that began in 1837, he decided to gamble on Maryland's future and chose, over the advice of many, to shore up the state's bonds by which its debts were paid. He did not sell them off at a harmful discount, and his faith proved justified. In gratitude for the way in which the State came through its obligations, in no small measure thanks to Governor Pratt's fiscal policies (governor from 1845-1848), and in part as a gift to the people of Maryland, George Peabody endowed an institute in Baltimore with sufficient funds and community support to gather a wonderful library and a magnificent art collection.

George Peabody

In 1988, Peabody Institute Chairman of the Board, Richard W. Case, began to voice strategies for preserving the Peabody's wonderful art collection. Working alongside Mr. Case, Elizabeth Schaaf, the Archivist of the Peabody Institute, supported proposals for keeping this treasure intact. At about the same time, the Peabody Oversight Committee was established under the chairmanship of then Lt. Governor Mickey Steinberg to explore how the Peabody Institute could be saved as one of the premier cultural assets of Baltimore and Maryland. Fortunately, Lt. Governor Steinberg and the rest of the Committee understood the importance of keeping this art collection together for the state, and they devised the Peabody Plan which provided for a $15 million contribution to the Peabody Institute endowment fund in return for the state acquisition of the Peabody Art Collection. As part of the Plan, The Johns Hopkins University undertook to raise an equal amount through private fundraising. The Plan was accepted by then Governor William Donald Schaefer and the General Assembly.

Two years ago, the implementation of the Plan was completed by the Peabody Oversight Committee now chaired by Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. On June 28, 1996, the Board of Public Works approved the final payment to Johns Hopkins for the Peabody Institute endowment, and the Peabody Art Collection officially passed to state ownership. It is now cared for and managed by the Maryland Commission on Artistic Property of the Maryland State Archives. We are not aware of any other state which has made such a bold and generous commitment to keeping an art collection intact for future generations. There are many people who should be thanked for this magnificent investment in our cultural heritage, including the members of the Board of Public Works: Governor Parris N. Glendening, the late Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, and Treasurer Richard N. Dixon; as well as Governor William Donald Schaefer; Lt. Governors Mickey Steinberg and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who chaired the Peabody Oversight Committee; and Elizabeth Schaaf, for her persistent devotion to this collection.

Because of this history and the special nature of the collection, it is with particular pleasure that the Archives and the Commission on Artistic Property have planned and organized this exhibition in Government House of a selection of works from the Peabody Art Collection, the first such exhibition since the state assumed ownership. First Lady Frances Hughes Glendening's program, Celebration of the Arts has been the catalyst for this exhibition, and we are all very grateful for her commitment to the arts in Maryland. Working with her staff, Carol Borchert, Curator of the Maryland Commission on Artistic Property, and Elizabeth Schaaf have put together a combination of paintings, photographs and sculpture which demonstrates the richness and beauty of the collection, as well as its nineteenth century origins.

This is just the first of many exhibitions to come showcasing the treasure that Maryland now owns and the Archives, at the urging of the Commission on Artistic Property, will be mounting more exhibits in the future. Also, reflecting the national significance of this collection, a number of pieces have been chosen for inclusion in important national exhibitions, including Mary Cassatt's Woman In Black and Thomas Wilmer Dewing's Lady With A Fan. The Archives maintains a comprehensive on-line catalog of the whole collection and is also creating an electronic exhibit of images from the collection on its website (www.mdarchives.state.md.us) so that it is accessible for the enjoyment and education of an unlimited audience. Given the international interests of George Peabody and his keen concern that his legacy encompass the edification of as many people as possible, we are sure that he would be pleased, not only with the deserved attention this exciting exhibit brings to the art collected in his name, but to the ongoing program of its care, preservation and access represented by the work of the Maryland State Archives and the Commission on Artistic Property.

silver ball


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Copyright November 13, 2001 Maryland State Archives