About the collection
Roger Brown hit his artistic stride at SAIC, where he earned his BFA in 1968 and his MFA in 1970. He launched into a successful professional career right out of graduate school, making paintings, sculpture, prints, sets and costumes for theatre and opera, large scale murals for architectural settings, and various forms of writing and cultural critique. Roger Brown was a place-maker. Creating home/studio/garden/collection settings was a critical aspect of his artistic path.
Expressing gratitude to the School–-the springboard into his remarkable career––Brown was an especially generous alumnus, giving and bequeathing homes and collections to SAIC (Chicago, IL, New Buffalo, MI, and La Conchita, CA), as well as bequeathing his estate of artworks. Brown didn’t teach at SAIC during his lifetime, but he’s been teaching here ever since, through his remarkable gifts. His legacy has enriched the School's resources and offerings immeasurably and we are most grateful. Please explore the range of Roger Brown resources at SAIC in this website.
The Roger Brown Study Collection (RBSC) is one of SAIC’s very special collections. Located in an 1888 brick storefront building, it extends the SAIC campus into Chicago’s Lincoln Park/DePaul neighborhood. It was the home and studio of artist and alumnus Roger Brown from 1974 to 1996, when it became an SAIC house museum, archive, and place for all manner of explorations and studies The collection is preserved the way Brown installed it, as his “Artists’ Museum of Chicago.” The home collection is a mélange of artworks by Chicago Imagists, non-mainstream artists, folk and indigenous art, objects from material and popular culture, costumes, textiles, furniture, travel souvenirs, and sundry objects. The garden was designed by Brown in 1994/95 and his 1967 Ford Mustang lives in the garage. This place is a lab where students and faculty engage in wonder and projects, as well as aspects of the care, organization, interpretation, and preservation of an extensive collection of art and artifacts. We have many stories to tell: Roger Brown’s life and extraordinary creative path, the history of this house, histories and narratives of over 2000 objects in it, and histories being made here. We are guided by Brown’s conviction that his collection be presented in an environment devoid of academic and economic hierarchies, and his belief in the “spiritual and mystical nature that material things can evoke.”
When Brown gave his home collection to SAIC it was decided unanimously to preserve it intact, as he installed it. The relationships between and among objects reflect Brown’s expansive feeling that things from diverse origins and made for different purposes should interact, should be in conversations. We explain to all guests that, while we loan objects and at times artworks are on view elsewhere, the collection remains as Brown arranged it. This is true with one exception. Brown hung his painting Gothic Stadium (1970) in the dining room early on, where it anchored the room from about 1975 to 1990.
That year Brown attended the opening of Palace of Wonders; Sideshow Banners of the Circus and Carnival at the Krannert Art Museum in Champaign Illinois, curated by artist and banner painter Glen C. Davies and artist Randy Johnson. Davies had a show of his own banners, hanging from his clothesline, at the afterparty in his garden. Brown bought The Lives of Words (1985, oil on canvas with brass grommets). He replaced Gothic Stadium with Davies’ painting.
When Brown gave the Collection to SAIC he requested that a steering committee be formed, with close friends and fellow artists, Ray Yoshida, Barbara Rossi, Gladys Nilsson, and Jim Nutt, as core members. He trusted them to represent the spirit in which he acquired, arranged, and lived with art and objects. His friends asked him to write out guidelines, which Brown drafted December 1996. He wrote, “Ray Yoshida noted that it would be of importance to have examples of my work on view in relation to the collection…He may be helpful in selecting pieces of my work which I gave you (in the storeroom) to exhibit.”
At an early steering committee meeting in 1997, Yoshida proposed that Gothic Stadium be rehung in the dining room and that it be considered permanent. He talked about how important it will be for students to experience the relationship between Brown’s work and his collection. He asserted a major work, from when Brown truly hit his stride as an artist, should be on view. Gothic Stadium remains in the dining room.
The Lives of Words has been preserved in storage. We feel it should be on view here, out of respect for Glen Davies, whose friendship meant much to Brown. As artists they shared deep appreciation and enthusiasm for the genre of the freak show banner, which Brown adapted into his banner-style paintings in the 1990s.