Arts and Culture / Magazine Feature / People

Alums discover new life in old art

Mary “Marty” McGuigan (BA ’92) and John McGuigan Jr. (BA ’89, MA ’97) joke that the past 10 years of their lives have been “like Indiana Jones without the Nazis chasing us.”

Their adventure began during a 1998 blizzard in Denver. Stuck in their home, they randomly pulled down a book from their personal collection to peruse. That moment changed the course of their lives.

The McGuigans met at DU’s School of Art and Art History and had recently decided they wanted to find an obscure yet talented artist they could study together. That snowy day, they found him: James Freeman, an American who painted in Europe.

“He opened our eyes to what Americans were doing with their European counterparts in the 19th century,” says John. “We were stunned at how talented he was.”

The McGuigans spent years in Rome, London and in myriad American libraries.

“It took us literally 10 years to reconstruct his life,” says Mary. “This is primary research, looking at people’s diaries and letters.”

Early in their research, they also began collecting information about other American artists who were working in Europe around the same time.

The result is not one but two exhibitions opening this year.

The first, “America’s Rome: Artists in the Eternal City, 1800–1900,” opens at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., on May 23 and runs through Dec. 31. The second, “James E. Freeman, 1808–1884: An American Artist in Italy,” opens at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, N.Y., on Sept. 12 and runs through January 2010.

The McGuigans co-curated both shows, wrote the catalog for the Freeman show, and wrote essays for the other. While the professional success is, of course, exciting, they admit Freeman helped them to enjoy their personal lives more, as well.

“Picking an artist like Freeman launched us into a very rewarding career,” says John. “When you work in Italy, you must embrace the entire culture, the food, the wine. Freeman has helped us to take everything we love and wrap into a career.”

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