Arts and Entertainment

Penn State New Kensington a player in the art world

Sotheby’s to auction campus' 17th century tapestry 'The Story of Joseph and Potiphar's Wife'

Penn State New Kensington's Brussels tapestry, "The Story of Joseph and Potiphar's Wife," will be auctioned at Sotheby's on Oct. 17. Credit: Bill Woodard / Penn StateCreative Commons

UPPER BURRELL, Pa. — Carole King made millions on her “Tapestry” album. Penn State New Kensington hopes to make thousands on its tapestry artwork.The campus has teamed with Sotheby’s to auction a 17th century Brussels tapestry called “The Story of Joseph and Potiphar's Wife,” at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 17, in New York.Sotheby’s is one of the world's largest brokers of fine and decorative art. The 271-year-old auction house estimated the 11-foot-by-10-foot piece's worth at between $12,000 and $18,000. New Kensington is believed to be the first Penn State campus to consign an item to Sotheby’s."We offered this piece up for auction with mixed emotions,” said Kevin Snider, chancellor of the campus. “We're sad that it is leaving our campus, but delighted that this piece will likely end up in the hands of people who will make sure it is adequately preserved and appreciated for years to come.”  The campus came into possession of the tapestry in 1968 as a part of the Roy A. Hunt collection. Hunt was president of Alcoa from 1928 until he retired in 1951. He remained with Alcoa as chairman of the executive committee until 1963. He died in 1966 at the age of 85. Two years later, Hunt’s four sons donated the tapestry, as well as other art objects and furnishings, from their parents' Pittsburgh home. In addition to the Brussels tapestry, the gift included furniture, rugs, and a 116-piece collection of rare 19th century French Langeais china.  The tapestry and collection was the first exhibit in the new campus Art Gallery, which was dedicated on Sept. 13, 1968, two years after the campus moved from the city of New Kensington to its present location in Upper Burrell. During the ensuing years, the tapestry moved to various locations around the campus. Its most recent home was outside the office of the theatre instructor on the wall of the Information Technology building. It was removed several years ago during a repainting project and stored in a long-forgotten location.A year ago, Snider set up the campus art committee, which was tasked with enhancing student learning and improving campus aesthetics through visual art. Chaired by Tina Sluss, Art Gallery director and administrative support assistant for development, the committee inventoried all art works at the campus. Sluss and Bud Gibbons, professor emeritus of visual arts at the campus and former Art Gallery director, serendipitously found the discarded tapestry under the stage of the Forum Theatre. Also hibernating with the tapestry was an antique library table and several paintings. Despite the dank conditions, the tapestry was in good shape. The colors were vibrant and the edges only slightly frayed.“We knew the tapestry was worth getting appraised,” said Sluss, who curates the gallery’s monthly art exhibits. “Michael Malley from East End Gallery in Pittsburgh conducted the appraisal and then forwarded the information to Sotheby’s.”Photos of the tapestry were also sent to Sotheby’s. The venerable auction house researched the piece and found it to be a valuable textile art from the Renaissance period. It calculated the worth and recommended an auction. The campus was now a player in art world.Sluss took the tapestry to New York, Sotheby’s headquarters. She was met by handlers and receiving specialists who gave the “Joe,” as the tapestry has come to be known, the white glove treatment.“Sotheby’s was very welcoming and professional,” Sluss said. “It was a cultural experience for me. There were so many beautiful antiques and furnishings being received that day.”The auction house examined the piece in more detail and delved into its history and meaning. The center of the tapestry is surrounded by a border of 25 colorful illustrations. The narrative is presented in a counter-clockwise arrangement. In the left foreground are two men, with Potiphar on the right, negotiating Joseph's sale into slavery. Potiphar's wife looks on in the right foreground. In the right background, Joseph flees the lustful embrace of Potiphar's wife, leaving behind his cloak. In the center background, Potiphar's wife presents Joseph's cloak to Potiphar, accusing Joseph of trying to seduce her. In the left background, Joseph is escorted to a castle-like prison.Tapestries were essential during the Middle Ages and Renaissance because of their functionality and portability. The woven pieces were learning tools, used for storytelling and moral lessons. Wall art provided warmth in the winter, as well as decoration. It also muffled sounds in drafty castles. In addition, noblemen could roll them up and easily transport them between residences.Alumni and friends are welcomed to bid on “The Story of Joseph and Potiphar's Wife” online. The campus tapestry is Lot 601. It will be auctioned as a part of the European Decorative Art collection. Proceeds from the sale will fund cultural arts activities.“The sale of this piece will go to support our efforts to preserve and expand our campus' legacy in the arts,’ Snider said. “What a great way for art to give back to art."For more about the bidding process, visit Sotheby's online.To view the tapestry, visit Penn State New Kensington tapestry online.

Lower right border of the Brussels tapestry, "The Story of joseph and Potiphar's Wife." The border comprises 25 illustrations. Credit: Bill Woodard / Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated October 09, 2015