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An Eccentric Collector:

The Dr. Gilbert Estate Collection


In an interview given in 1997, Dr. Ivan Gilbert described his Jewish immigrant family as, “very proud, very intellectual, and very educated” even though they came to America with little more than ingenuity to support them. Their resourcefulness would lead their grandfather to own a pawn shop, their father to launch successful shoe shops, and Dr. Ivan to become a respected community member and amass a beautiful collection of artwork. Dr. Gilbert’s collection grew to embody the American spirit of determination and gumption.

An Eccentric Collector: The Dr. Gilbert Estate Collection
An Eccentric Collector: The Dr. Gilbert Estate Collection

Dr. Gilbert had a history of overcoming obstacles matching many of the artists in his extraordinary collection, he contracted tuberculosis while in medical school and decided to focus on finding a cure. He began by assisting in finding a treatment for his own TB and would go on to run a local hospital, all the while managing his father’s shoe shops. Along the way, he met and married his beautiful wife, Marcella, and further established roots in the Columbus Jewish community. Eventually, his tremendous workload led to a hard decision: run the family business or run the hospital. He chose the family business and grew from 10 shops in Columbus to more than 50 across the country. His restless spirit could not be calmed, during the expansion, Dr. Gilbert also studied psychoanalysis, became a leader in understanding dyslexia, helped to create a state-of-the-art Jewish Community Center, and established the Columbus Torah Academy. The Torah Academy would go on to save the lives of many immigrant children during WWII. He credits his industrious energy to the rock in his world, his wife Marcella, who when not being recognized for her incredible fashion, was seen in her garden, at a bridge tournament or working feverishly in the community as a philanthropist.

In his later years, Mr. Gilbert would leverage his energy and creativity to write books on poetry, patterns, and the equally eccentric Emily Dickenson. During this time, Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert also began to seriously collect a wide variety of artwork and establish a truly incredible collection. When asked about his extensive collection, Dr. Gilbert stated “he could never collect women, as his beloved wife would never approve”. He did however determine two criteria every collector should follow, “One of them is that I like it and the other is I can afford it”. Criteria that should also be determined by personal taste. As he so clearly put it, “I don’t feel anybody else’s judgment or taste is any better than mine and I’ll go with mine, so you’ve just got to buy what you like”.

An Eccentric Collector: The Dr. Gilbert Estate Collection
An Eccentric Collector: The Dr. Gilbert Estate Collection

Dr. Gilbert’s ideology of believing in one’s personal taste was the reason he fell in love with folk art. The same individual spirit, gumption, and personal creativity that has given folk artists their drive are also what drove Dr. Gilbert. Of folk art, he writes, “I like the idea that the artist is not being impacted by what Picasso did. This is something coming out of him or her”. A belief that many of us here at EBTH feel is the beauty of the American folk art movement. These works of art not only represent a movement in history, but more so a movement of a family, and a man. We hope you use this ideal when viewing this incredible collection: Do you like it? Does it speak to you? We know the fun, dynamic, caring, and tenacious spirit of the Gilbert family will be with you.

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