Leaving an Artful Legacy

Published 10:29 am Monday, January 19, 2009

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — She was a beautiful, gracious rebel who lived a life worthy of a great novel. A model. Fashion designer. Wife of a brilliant inventor. Member of the Colony Club. Jetsetter. Art patron.

But a constant for Isabelle Gwynn Daine were her roots in her hometown of Huntington, W.Va., where she came back to live the last 15 years of her life. Now four years after her death, Daine continues to show her love of Huntington through a bequest she made to the Huntington Museum of Art. That will become the Isabelle and Robert Daine Gallery.

As a young girl Daine left her hometown to study first at Duke University, then Paris, then to test her wings in New York as a model and designer.

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However, when the Second World War broke out, Daine took her artistic talents and switched her design gears almost 180 degrees.

“She thought fashion design was frou frou and went to work for a defense contractor and drew the manuals for assembling artillery,” Margaret Mary Layne, executive director of the museum, recalls.

The next step in her adventure was when she married Robert Daine, a Frenchman who invented the electronic teletype.

“She was very elegant, sophisticated person. Visually she was this type, but she knew how to let her hair down and have a good time,” Layne said. “She was highly intelligent, conversant on everything from religion to politics to art. It was her idea to see a gallery designed for works on paper.”

In the museum world works on paper range from prints to watercolors to photography. Their fragility requires unique care.

“There is special care, special storage, which has become so much more emphasized in American museums in the last 20 years,” Layne said. “You don’t leave prints up for a long period of time.”

Because of this much of the museum’s collection remains in the vaults. Now the Daumier, Rembrandt and Durer prints, among others, will have a home.

The gallery, designed by Edward Tucker Architects, Inc., of Huntington, will be a two-story building with 1,700 to 1,800 square feet on each floor. The top floor will be gallery space with an underground storage vault.

“The more gallery space we have we can display more of the permanent collection items and the better we can share the resources we have with the public,” Layne said.

The museum is expected to approve a contractor by mid February with groundbreaking to be March or April. Construction on the new gallery should take about a year.