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Showing at Purple Moon pays tribute to art-loving family

By Judy Hamilton

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "We've been dealing with mid-century art for many years. This is really exciting. The patriotic and historic theme really comes through," Chuck Hamsher, owner of The Purple Moon, said about the Pat and Helen Hamilton collection titled "Patriotism to Modernism: Art and More from a West Virginia Family."

The collection of 100 to 120 pieces begins its public display Sept. 17 in the store at 906 Quarrier St.

"We've haunted mid-century galleries and stores up and down the East Coast and beyond and this is one of the best collections we've seen," Hamsher said.

"This is great 'Mad Men' art, an amazing collection from this period," Hamsher said, referring to mid-century art that has been popularized by the Emmy Award-winning AMC television show "Mad Men."

"We always had art growing up," said Patti Hamilton. "I think we took it for granted. It wasn't until my mom died in December that I realized that we had to deal with it."

Patti Hamilton is the eldest of her parents' four children; the others are Debra L. Hamilton, Judith Hamilton Brooks and James Edward Hamilton.

Hamilton explained that her father, Pat R. Hamilton, is 90 years old and in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease. The lawyer and former longtime state legislator is living in a handicap-accessible addition to the family home in Oak Hill.

"It's hard and it's sad, but this is one of the nicest things we could do and let people enjoy it [the art collection]. I like to think my mom would like this. She left no instructions. We didn't do anything until we all decided. I see it as a meaningful tribute to my parents. We can choose what we want for our homes and let other people enjoy it instead of just having it sit around in boxes," Hamilton said.

The family employed Chuck and Connie Hamsher to help them with the process. A private opening was held Sept. 14 and the public showing begins Sept. 17 at the downtown Charleston store.

"Everything is original as framed. Everything is as it was found, which we think is important," Hamsher said.

"The artwork ranges from early-20th-century European to mid-century modern. There is a fair amount of West Virginia art, along with political and historical memorabilia," Hamsher said in describing the eclectic collection.

"Mr. Hamilton collected a lot of signatures and historical documents," Hamsher said, pointing out an 1879 letter from Alfred, Lord Tennyson, a 1910 letter from Booker T. Washington, a 1936 letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt and an American Express document signed by Henry Wells and William G. Fargo.

"There is also a lot of West Virginia glass, mainly from the '50s, along with interesting coal mining memorabilia," Hamsher said.

"This show will run through the end of the year, and we will replenish as things move along," Hamsher said.

Patti Hamilton believes her parents' art and book collecting dates to when they were first married in 1950. They met when he was an FBI agent, assigned to Montana to round up cattle rustlers, and she was a high school English teacher in Miles City.

A graduate of the WVU College of Law, Pat Hamilton returned to West Virginia with his wife and two young daughters to practice in Fayette County. For a few years, Helen Hamilton taught English and Spanish at Collins High School in Oak Hill.

Pat Hamilton served two terms in the West Virginia Senate and three terms in the House of Delegates. He made an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 1980.

Helen Hamilton also was active in the Democratic Party, serving on the National Platform Committee and on the state Executive Committee for 22 years and was elected as a delegate to Democratic national conventions from 1972 through 1988.

Pat and Helen Hamilton were civic leaders in Fayette County and were instrumental in leading efforts to obtain federal protection for the New River Gorge.

Reach Judy E. Hamilton at judy.hamilton@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.


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