Dittmann Center is currently displaying nearly 100 pieces from the collection, most notably including works by Goya, Picasso, Delacroix, Poussin, Degas, Kandinsky and Munch.
Also on display are a few medieval works by unknown artists and two ancient Greek terra-cotta statues. The exhibit, A Collectors Legacy: Richard N. Tetlie," runs until Oct. 22 in Flaten Art Museum.
Collection manager Philip Rosenbaum was Tetlies friend for 25 years, ever since a chance encounter in a rug store (rugs are a central part of Tetlies collection, although only one is on display). Rosenbaum is in charge of managing the monumental collection, most of which is currently in Washington, D.C. and in need of restoration.
As the works are restored, more and more will be brought to St. Olaf, about once or twice each year. Rumors circulated among students as to what else was in store for the gallery, with names reaching the greatness of Michelangelo. Whether or not these rumors are true, it is clear that the works currently on display
are but a small portion of the total.
At the exhibits opening reception on Friday, Rosenbaum spoke with great affection of Tetlie's "great love of wonderful art" and then went on to tell the collectors story.
Professionally, Tetlie was a successful diplomat and part of the first American embassy to the newly formed state of Israel. He knew many people in the new government and co-authored Palestine: A Search For Truth, available in the St. Olaf library. Although his diplomatic career seemed very promising, at the age of 30 he decided to follow his true passion, and he became an art dealer.
Tetlie put great stock in his faith, and Rosenbaum said that Tetlie "believed he was divinely guided."
Tetlie acquired his collection by buying and selling paintings and occasionally making a great find at the odd rummage sale. He tried to keep as many paintings for the collection as possible, but unlike many art collectors, he was by no means wealthy, and had to constantly borrow money from friends. Rosenbaum joked that "[his friends] paid for dinner he needed to buy another drawing."
Tetlies longtime friend Mike Miller said that Tetlie had a vision that "[this collection] would put St. Olaf on the map in the art world in the same way it is in the music world, especially in choral music."
This vision meant that, as Rosenbaum put it, "People would rather sell [art] to Richard because they knew what he was trying to do."
Tetlie was also very knowledgeable about art. Another anecdote told at the reception was that every time Tetlie bought a new painting, he would sit Rosenbaum down in his Washington, D.C. home and bring out his newest acquisition. He would then ask Rosenbaum, in a sort of
tutorial, who the artist was, what period it was from and what he knew of the piece.
Commenting on how such a collection could be amassed by a man of no extraordinary means, Rosenbaum said "the art affected him in a way that it affects few of us . . . he saw the divine gifts that God gives to man, who then creates, himself."