Cold War And Cowboys: How Germans Brought Stunning Art To Tacoma | KUOW News and Information

Cold War And Cowboys: How Germans Brought Stunning Art To Tacoma

Apr 3, 2015

The story behind a massive new art collection in Tacoma is one of coincidences.

A wealthy German couple honeymooned in the area in the 1950s and then, years later, started collecting art of the American West.

Those paintings hung on walls near Tacoma and Wyoming and in Germany until recently, when the family bequeathed the stunning collection to the Tacoma Art Museum.

Safe Haven

In the mid-1950s, Erivan Haub, a German businessman, visited friends on Fox Island in Puget Sound. He immediately fell in love with the area. When he returned home to Germany, he enthused about the area to his girlfriend, Helga.

When they honeymooned here later, Helga said the area reminded her of growing up in the Black Forest in Germany.

The couple started thinking about raising a family – a daunting prospect as they were living in a divided Germany. World War II had just ended and the Cold War was on the brink of getting hot.

“They wanted to have the opportunity if things got really bad,” their son Christian said. “The U.S. was the safest place to be. So they hatched a plan for their children to be born in Tacoma so they would have dual citizenship.”

Helga gave birth to her three sons at Tacoma General Hospital. The Haubs bought a home in Arletta, east of Tacoma,where the boys spent summers.

“We learned how to boat and fish and fell more in love with the area than my parents were.”

As the Haubs' love of the area grew, so did their art collection. They were particularly enamored with art of the American West.

"Conjuring Back the Buffalo" by Frederic Remington, Haub family collection.
Credit Courtesy of Tacoma Art Museum

 Digital museum tour -- the story behind the art:

The Haubs are one of the wealthiest families in Germany. They run the Tengelmann Group, which is one of the world’s largest privately owned retailers. That afforded Erivan and Helga Haub the means to collect what has become one of the best collections of art from the American West in the world.

“They got really fascinated by it, buying paintings bringing back to Germany to hang in house,” said Liliane Haub, Christian’s wife. “They also loved the story-telling of the American history of the art, that’s what really fascinated them.”

The art decorated homes near Tacoma, in Wyoming and back in Germany. Stephanie Stebich, executive director of the Tacoma Art Museum, knew of the Haubs and their collection.

“It is hung all over their homes,” Stebich said. “Floor to ceiling. It’s a much-loved collection.”

A while back, Stebich asked the Haubs if they would loan their extensive Western collection for an exhibit at the Tacoma Art Museum. 

“At that time they said no,” she said. “They were very private.”

Mian Situ's "The Entrepreneur." Haub collection.
Credit Courtesy of Tacoma Art Museum

Digital museum tour -- the story behind the art:

The Haubs had made a generous contribution to the Tacoma Art Museum for a 2003 building project, so when Stebich began a new capital campaign, she approached them for another contribution. 

“The answer was, ‘Wait a second, we'd like to talk to you about something else,’” she said.

That something else was bigger than Stebich imagined. With Erivan and Helga Haub getting older, the family began to think about the future of the art. 

“They wanted to keep the collection together,” she said. “It told the story of their family and their love of Native American culture.”

The trend is for collectors to build their own museums to showcase their art. The Haubs also could have donated their collection to a museum in Germany, but because of their longtime association with the region, the Tacoma Art Museum was also a contender.

The Haub family. Front row, left to right: Christian, Helga, Georg, Erivan, Karl-Erivan. Back row, left to right: Liliane, Anna-Sophia, Katrin.
Credit Courtesy of the Haub family

In the course of their conversation, Stebich mentioned that she was born in the small German town where the Haubs' family business has been for 150 years. She lived there until she was 3.

“When they asked me where I came from, they laughed and smiled and said, ‘How can that be?’” she said.  

That sealed the deal. But there was still one problem. The Tacoma Art Museum wasn’t big enough to show many of the 295 pieces in the Haub collection. So the Haubs offered to build the museum a new gallery.

When it came to pack up the paintings, it wasn’t easy.

“They had a hard time letting go of the paintings they saw every day,” Christian said.

Portrait of George Washington, circa 1797, Gilbert Stuart. Haub family collection.
Credit Courtesy of Tacoma Art Museum

Digital museum tour -- the story behind the art: 

In November, the Haub family collection opened a new wing of the Tacoma Art museum, instantly making it one of top such collections in the nation.

“It was delightful twinkle in eyes,” Liliane Haub said. “A collection of over 35 years found a new home, a good home.”

Stebich said the Art of the American West collection has changed the type of visitors to museum.

“Our new top visitors are adult men dragging spouses,” she said. “We have hunters coming.”

Charles Schreyvogel's "The Last Drop," 1900. Haub family collection.
Credit Courtesy of Tacoma Art Museum

Digital museum tour -- the story behind the art:

The Haub collection spans 200 years and includes images from all over the American West. You see styles from realistic to Pop Art, sculptures and paintings of landscapes, wildlife, cowboys and Native Americans. Frederic Remington’s “Conjuring the Buffalo” is a standout.

But there’s one subject you don’t see – the violent clashes of cowboys, cavalry and Indians associated with Art of the American West.

Laura Fry, curator of the Western Art gallery explained the Haubs' selections.

“They avoided violence,” she said. “In Germany during World War II, they had had enough violence for a lifetime.”

The current show of highlights from the Haub collection remains on view at the Tacoma Art Museum through November. 

John Nieto's "Buffalo at Sunset," 1996. Haub family collection.
Credit Courtesy of Tacoma Art Museum

Digital museum tour -- the story behind the art: