As far as nonprofit organizations go, the Helen and Claus Hoie Charitable Foundation has a most unique mission: to make itself obsolete.And Ann Duggan, director of the foundation, is doing her best to make that happen.
The foundation is named for its benefactors, East Hampton artists Claus and Helen Hoie, who died in 2007 and 2001, respectively. Ms. Duggan explained that the foundation was established in 2008 for the express purpose of giving away everything the couple had amassed over their lifetimes.
In other words, the mission of the foundation, which sunsets in 2018, is to distribute not only the funds in their estate but all artwork created by Helen and Claus Hoie to nonprofit organizations in order to serve as broad an audience as it can.
“They had no children and wanted the artwork seen as much as possible,” Ms. Duggan said, adding that much of the art has already been distributed to museums and historical societies, as well as hospitals, colleges and other organizations, both nationally and abroad.
One local organization that has been a major beneficiary of the Hoie Foundation’s generosity is the Bridgehampton Historical Museum. It’s a relationship that, for all practical purposes, began in 2011, when the museum presented a whaling exhibition in conjunction with a major Claus Hoie show at the East Hampton Town Marine Museum.
Claus Hoie understood the sea, and his watercolors were a natural fit for both venues. Born in Stavanger, Norway, in 1911, Mr. Hoie immigrated to America with his family at the age of 12. He came from a long line of seafarers and was himself a Merchant Marine. During World War II, Mr. Hoie served in a special Norwegian-American battalion whose mission was to assist in the liberation of Norway.
“Claus and Helen met after he came back from the war, probably in the early 1940s,” Ms. Duggan said. “They met through the artistic circles they traveled in. She was designing clothes, and he was doing graphic design and advertising in New York City. They lived on West 12th Street.”
But the couple were contemporaries of well-known East End artists like Ibram Lassaw, Jimmy Ernst, Herman Cherry, Bill King and Connie Fox, among others. Eventually, they made East Hampton Village their home and settled into an artistic life. For Mr. Hoie, that meant harking back to seafaring traditions, which were evident in much of his work.
Specifically, Mr. Hoie focused on whales—both the animals in situ and the business of capturing them. He depicted whales in their natural environment, sometimes as they were being pursued by sailing ships and men rowing whaleboats. His paintings also encompassed a variety of visual elements including text taken straight from local whaling logs and portraits of real-life East End whaling captains. His compositions reflected his graphic design background and the history embedded in the work tends to tell a larger tale than a single subject could on its own.
These whale-themed paintings were the focus of the 2011 exhibition at the Bridgehampton Museum, which at the time had two Claus Hoie paintings in its possession and borrowed another 20 from the foundation for the show.
“Then I asked Judith Sneddon, who was on the board of directors for the Hoie Foundation, if they would give us the paintings,” recalled John Eilertsen, executive director of the Bridgehampton Museum. “She said she’d think about it.
“The board came and liked the exhibit—and gifted us 22 in total,” he said.
As an artist, Mr. Hoie was prolific and his imagery was not confined to whaling scenes. He also created paintings of insects, local landscapes and many works depicting green grocers that celebrated the farming way of life on the East End.
So, in 2013, the Bridgehampton Museum mounted another Claus Hoie exhibition, this time using his green grocer imagery—and, once again, the foundation stepped forward with another 13 images for the show.
Numerous gifts of artwork followed, and today the Bridgehampton Museum boasts a substantial collection of Claus Hoie’s work, with more than 200 of his paintings in its collection.
In addition, the museum has received monetary gifts from the foundation as well, and is slated to receive over $1 million more from the Hoie Foundation to help with renovation and restoration of the Nathaniel Rogers House and care for the museum’s collection. When completed, the Greek revival building at Ocean Road and Montauk Highway will become the new headquarters of the Bridgehampton Museum. Inside, there will be two spaces dedicated to the Hoies.
“One will be a gallery space for local artists, but certainly both Hoies’ work will be on view as well,” Mr. Eilertsen said. “Then there will be the Helen and Claus Hoie Study Center, where researchers, scholars and other interested people can come to study our art collection—specifically Hoie’s.
“The point of having the collection is under the guise of promoting other local artists,” said Julie Greene, curator and archivist at the Bridgehampton Museum, “and having room for us to support other local artists and give them attention as well.”
“We were happy to make that available [to the foundation]. It helps enhance the reputation and presence of the Bridgehampton Historical Museum,” Mr. Eilertsen added. “We want the Rogers House to be a destination, and we see the Hoie collection as a valuable resource.”
The museum’s archives, including the Hoie collection, will be kept on the second floor of the building, and the works will be digitized and available for viewing via computer.
Though the Bridgehampton Museum is primarily a repository of historical artifacts and documents, it has long maintained an impressive art collection, with works by Hubbard Latham Fordham, Orlando Bears and Antonio Jacobsen. Even Nathaniel Rogers, the namesake of the home that will become the museum’s headquarters, was one of the most prolific miniaturists of his day. Which is why the focus of the museum dovetails nicely into Claus Hoie’s work, as it’s both historical and regional in nature.
“This fits into what we we’re doing,” Mr. Eilertsen said. “Claus is an easy fit for us. The themes, the maritime scenes, farming—subject-wise and thematically, it’s all appropriate to our interpretation to our local community.”
Other East End organizations have also been beneficiaries of the Hoie Foundation: Artwork has gone to the East Hampton Historical Society, the John Jermain Memorial Library, Guild Hall and the Parrish Art Museum as well. In addition to Claus Hoie’s paintings, the Bridgehampton Museum has another 50 or so pieces by Helen Hoie, who focused on textiles and collage in her artwork.
“I went to [the Fashion Institute of Technology] and worked in fashion,” Ms. Greene said. “She’s extremely exciting to me, because hers is a whole different type of work. They were husband and wife working side by side. They were inspired by each other. Her work has such a different feel to it.”
Then there are the pieces in the Bridgehampton collection that speak to a more personal relationship between husband and wife—a series of cards that Claus made for Helen to celebrate holidays and special events in the couple’s life. Ms. Greene explains that those cards will be the subject of the next Claus Hoie exhibition at the Bridgehampton Museum. The show is scheduled to open during the holiday season in 2017 and remain on view through Valentine’s Day, 2018.
“He wrote and painted amazing cards for Helen,” Ms. Greene said. “They’re miniature paintings and lovely love notes to her through the holidays, into winter, to Valentine’s Day and her birthday. They’re very romantic and whimsical.”