Turner gets a new home—for now
Janet Turner was a small woman with delicate, bird-like features who lived alone in a pre-fab mobile home in north Chico for decades until she died in 1988, at the age of 74. It’s safe to say that few of her neighbors in the Casa de Flores Mobile Home Park knew what a remarkable and famous woman was living among them.
In addition to being a pioneering art professor at Chico State University—she was instrumental in developing its fine-arts program—she was also a renowned printmaker whose nature studies are among the most extraordinary works of their kind produced in the second half of the 20th century.
She lived modestly because she had no need or desire for the things money could buy, other than the freedom to travel and the ability to purchase works of art. Her greatest loves were nature, which doesn’t charge admission; printmaking, whose expense in time and effort she gladly gave; and prints themselves, for which she didn’t mind paying a fair price.
She traveled the world both to search out subjects for her own art—snowy owls in Alaska, to note one especially impressive example—and to purchase prints to use as teaching tools. Turner believed strongly that the only way students were going to learn how to make great prints was by seeing great prints.
The result is what is known as the Turner Collection—or, as it’s now being called, “the Turner.” That’s the kind of naming that’s usually reserved for world-class collections, and at first blush it might seem inappropriately grandiose for the personal collection of a woman of modest means living in little Chico, but in this case it’s deserved. That’s because Janet Turner, on her many forays, collected a truly amazing number of artworks—more than 3,000, spanning 40 countries and six centuries—by some of the world’s most famous artists.
As Turner herself once said, “There are few places in the country, outside of big museums, that have large collections like mine.”
The collection is so large, in fact, that housing and showing it have been ongoing problems. It’s owned by Chico State University and managed by the Janet Turner Print Museum, which for many years has used a small room tucked away off the Laxson Auditorium mezzanine to show the works.
For the next nine months, however, it will have a much larger and more accessible showcase venue, the Chico Museum, downtown at the corner of Second and Salem streets. Under an arrangement described during a press conference at the museum Tuesday (Sept. 4), the Far West Heritage Association, which owns the museum, will be lending it to the Turner Museum for a series of exhibitions from the Turner Collection over the next nine months. Collectively, the exhibits are titled Treasures from the Turner.
The first of those exhibits, Due South: 20th Century Prints from Latin America, is already up; it will be followed by From Rembrandt to Picasso and Chagall: The Grand Masters opening Sept. 26. The Gala Grand Opening of “The Turner” series will be on Oct. 4, and the series will conclude next spring with a showing of Turner’s own works.
The arrangement is convenient for both parties. The heritage association is in the process of converting the museum to a Chico-area history museum, explained Bruce Norlie, its president, and “this gives us eight to nine months to get our act together.”
For the Turner Museum, it’s an opportunity to show the community just what a tremendous resource the Turner is and, ultimately, find a location. “We really need a permanent home for the Turner, because it’s so important,” JoAnn Morgan, the museum’s president, said.
University President Paul Zingg, himself a serious collector of art, spoke passionately about the “joys and excitements” of discovering fine art and about how surprised he was the first time he discovered “the breadth and depth of this world-class collection.” He echoed the call to find a permanent home.
Interviewed following the press conference, he suggested there were several buildings downtown that conceivably could become the museum’s home. But he also agreed that the best solution, by far, would be creation of a Chico Art Museum, one large enough to house the Turner as well as a permanent regional-art collection and still have room to host special exhibits and community gatherings.
What would it take to create such a museum? “Folks of means and vision working in collaboration with local City Council members and other leaders,” Zingg replied. The operant model, of course, is the soon-to-be-built Northern California Natural History Museum, which has received several large donations and has garnered widespread community support.
“This is such a great arts community,” he added, “and a community art museum would be a great enhancement for everybody, especially local artists.”