Local collector provides contemporary artwork to be displayed at DAI

Much of James F. Dicke II’s 2,500-piece collection is on view at the DAI through July 10.

DAYTON — At the age of 10, he purchased his first piece of art with $5 saved from his allowance.

“My family was on vacation in Michigan and it was a watercolor,” says James F. Dicke II.

The New Bremen native, now 65, has been appreciating and buying art ever since. The prized watercolor, which he still owns, is today part of an impressive collection of 2,500 paintings, drawings and sculptures.

Much of that art is on display in Dicke’s Ohio, Florida and New York homes and at his business headquarters at Crown Equipment Corporation. The New Bremen company, which Dicke heads, is a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of electric forklift trucks and material handling equipment.

Thanks to the generosity of Dicke and his wife, Janet, 70, of those contemporary treasures are on view at the Dayton Art Institute through July 10.

Dicke didn’t have to go far for an early art education, it came from within his family. His parents, Eilleen and James F. Dicke, met at Stivers where, it’s told, his dad threw an eraser at his mom to attract her attention. His mother, a docent at the Dayton Art Institute, regularly pinned information about artists and famous paintings on the kitchen bulletin board to trigger dinner table discussions. Weekend visits to his grandparents in Kettering frequently included a visit to the Dayton art museum.

The close connection stuck: over the years gifts from the Dicke family have significantly enhanced the art collections in all areas at The Dayton Art Institute.

According to DAI director Jan Driesbach, the Dickes have defined the collections of glass, American art and contemporary art and have also contributed support for outreach programming and critical general operations. Jim Dicke has served as chairman of the DAI board of directors and an exhibit of 19th and 20th century art, “American Art from the Dicke Collection,” was generously loaned to the museum in 1997.

There has also been significant gifting by the family to a number of other museums and to institutions of higher learning.

“Colleges and universities can’t justify spending money to buy artwork,” Dicke says. “But it can be very enriching for students to see nice artwork on the walls and not just posters.”

An abstract artist himself, Dicke says he was inspired by two art teachers: Jack Earl, a New Bremen elementary school instructor who later became a well-known ceramicist, and a Culver Military Academy high school teacher, Warner Williams, now deceased.

Dicke began seriously collecting art in the 1980s. He’s happy to share the credit for his world class collection with his friend and art advisor, Jaime Frankfurt, who will be in town tomorrow afternoon to participate in a panel discussion with Dicke and art critic Ellie Bronson who wrote the catalog texts and interviewed many of the artists.

“If it’s good art it engages you intellectually and it’s interesting to look at,” Dicke believes. “Good art never loses it’s fascination. If it’s not good, after a while it just becomes part of the wall paper.”

His advice to would-be collectors is to educate themselves before buying, especially if the piece of art is expensive.

“If it’s a $5 watercolor, then that’s fine, but if it’s $5,000, you might want to know why it’s worth $5,000. The Internet has revolutionized art collecting with websites like AskART and artnet.”

Dicke says it’s easier to be informed about art from the past because those paintings have been “sorted out by the art world.” Buying newer artists — like those featured in the current DAI exhibit — is more of a risk but also an opportunity to decide for yourself what you think is interesting.

“Maybe the paint isn’t even dry on it yet,” says Dicke.

“Many of these artists are young people in their 30s and 40s, and you can’t be sure what direction their careers will take. “

He’s looking forward to viewing his exhibit in a new light at the DAI.

“I think it’s going to be very interesting because when you live with artwork — some in your living room, some in the accounting or sales departments at the office — you don’t see it all together which can be very informing because you see patterns and connections you don’t regularly see.”

The new exhibit, featuring art that’s been created since 2000, is especially interesting and vibrant, he believes, because it reflects an economically turbulent time.

“This art is a reflection of the world economy and the art world,” he says. “Some of the subject matter is very abstract, some is very representational of the human figure, landscape and animals.”

Dicke is optimistic about Dayton’s future as well as the future of the DAI.

“Dayton is struggling and NCR leaving was a big blow,” he admits. “But Dayton’s problems weren’t created overnight and can’t be solved overnight. It’s still a wonderful place to raise a family, a community where today’s major industries are the military, colleges, universities.

“The arts are struggling everywhere, and for all of the DAI problems, it’s in better shape than the Guggenheim. The museum is enriching for students for hundreds of school groups. The DAI is part of everybody’s basic education and vocabulary.”

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2440 or mmoss@DaytonDaily News.com.

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