The Leiber Collection Reopens With Two Mesmerizing Exhibits

Elizabeth Harper | September 11, 2020 | Culture

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It’s where art, style and nature intersect. It’s a compilation of musings and a love story emulated in physical form. The Leiber Collection reopens, health and safety precautions in place, with two exhibits that celebrate creatives Gerson and Judith Leiber’s long and storied careers, their championing of the arts—and how each of their own endeavors inspired the other’s.

The tale dictates that when the Leibers first moved into their summer home in Springs in the mid-1950s, Gerson, an established, well-respected painter, quickly became a first-rate garden enthusiast. In a whirl of outdoor activity, the late artist once described his newfound passion: “I immediately started a flurry of activity and it developed into an almost all-encompassing, overwhelming desire to garden. I enjoyed it continuously and completely.” Summers out East in the ’90s and early 2000s saw mornings spent toiling in the garden and afternoons in the studio, painting the alfresco moments he had captured in his mind’s eye.

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Judith, whose enviable handbag designs remain fashion favorites, too plucked inspiration from the gardens on their estate. She transformed what was once kitsch—ladybugs, watermelons, bunny rabbits—into crystal-embroidered, collectible works of wearable art. Leiber Collection Director Ann Fristoe Stewart notes Judith had the uncanny ability of seeing a clutch in anything, combining her unique elegant sensibility and whimsical design aesthetic into handbags inspired by tomatoes, asparagus, eggplants and butterflies, among other objects found on grounds of their Hamptons homes.

And thus the first of the exhibits, Garden As Muse, was formed. On display through winter in the Renaissance-style Palladian Leiber Collection, it showcases the couple’s works, from Gerson’s garden paintings to more than 600 of Judith’s designs. Beyond the museum’s stately antique wooden doors lies the second of the exhibitions, The Garden of Friends.

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Long supporters of the arts, the Leibers built their East Hampton museum to house their collections and highlight the artists they admired. The Garden of Friends is a testament to that commitment. While the permanent collection in the Sculpture and Shade Garden counts pieces from friends and neighbors, such as Bill King, Costantino Nivola, William Tarr and Ronnie Chalif, The Garden of Friends showcases works from some of the East End’s most celebrated talents, including Philippe Cheng, Pipi Deer, Jill Musnicki and Almond Zigmund, among others.

Of the exhibits, Stewart says, “One cannot help but feel it is a breathing space where one can get lost in the serenity and splendor for a while.” The Leiber Collection is an ode not only to Gerson and Judith’s patronage of the arts, but also to their enduring careers and the gardens that inspired them.

Limited entrance; Wed., Sat. & Sun., 1-4pm, or by appointment; 446 Old Stone Highway, East Hampton.

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Photography by: Photos By Ann Fristoe Stewart.