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Thank you, Alfred Bader...

There's something a little eerie and   disturbing about most collectors. I oughta' know - I'm a collector of coins and bills, and I'm just nuts about the 1954 series of Canadian bills. We gather and learn, possessed by possession, ultimately becoming protective of our "babies".


This is true of both types of collectors, but for two very different reasons: those who collect by value are protective of their investment; those who collect what they love protect it for its own well-being. I can really only relate to the latter. My love for 1954  series  banknotes  is  for  their  robust colours and beautiful scenes - vignettes that also captured the feel of Canada precisely. My love for ancient coins comes from the patina that coats the coin in layers of human experience as it is carried through time on a river of hands. I protect them from going unappreciated by sharing their meaning with others.

It is my personal love for coins that made it very easy for me to understand Dr. Alfred Bader's love of fine art. Alfred is a major benefactor of Kingston's most prestigious art gallery, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. Extending over most of its 50-year history, his gifts have truly set a world-class standard for the gallery.

He has bequeathed two of his paintings (page 14) to his sons, Daniel and David. The remainder of his extensive collection of artworks will eventually move from his personal possession to the Agnes. He does not live in Kingston, thus, his generosity has separated collector from collection: an act of both kindness and trust.

What is often lost within such outstanding acts of philanthropy is the unspoken underlying human value. It is easy to be in awe of the sheer magnitude of a gift - such as its monetary value, size or rarity. Or we may be overwhelmed by the broad scope of its impact - such as its "importance" or influence. But let this not blind us to other, more timeless meanings under the surface of such gifts.

Most of the paintings you see here have a special history or significance to Alfred - an invisible  patina of meaning:  Alfred  shares his morning coffee with the "Philips Koninck" piece; a Good Samaritan once rescued the "Head of a Man with Curly Hair"; and two of these works were specially selected to leave to his sons.

Alfred does not acquire paintings unless he personally likes them, regardless of their provenance or quality. He has spent years harvesting the world for this beautiful crop of artworks - actually, he's been gathering it most of his life. This remained constant, despite enduring great hardships in a POW camp or facing injustices in the forms of theft and governmental incompetence. In recent years, Alfred seems kept in forward motion by his deep affection for these paintings - and for beloved wife and search-partner, Isabel.

Alfred's renowned love for discovery and creativity - buried treasures, both - is not simply reserved for finding lost artworks in out-of-the-way antique shops. Through the Aldrich Chemical Company (now Sigma-Aldrich), which he founded and raised for over 35 years, he has expressed his philanthropic interest in supporting creativity through various awards. These awards include prizes for "Creative Works in Synthetic Organic Chemistry" and "Creative Research in Synthetic Methods". These creativity-based awards are but a few in his broader collection of kind acts.

Whether building a playground for underprivileged Roma children of Prague, establishing an award for chemistry in Britain, or providing Canadian students with a castle to continue studies abroad, Alfred can be seen the perpetual doer of good deeds.

Of course, no chronicle of his philanthropy would be complete without pointing out an important good deed that was bestowed upon him - by a Boy Scout, fittingly! Stranger became part of painting when "Head of a Man with Curly Hair" was stolen in Amsterdam by a pair of cunning thieves, discarded, then found and returned by Good Samaritan and Boy Scout leader Bert Vos. Touched deeply by this kind act, Alfred now affectionately refers to this work as his "Bert Vos Panel", adding another layer to this painting's patina of meaning.

Alfred's favorite piece is the painting "Joseph and the Baker". The beauty of the tones alone seems fit for anybody's love. Its crystal-clear intensity depicts the story from Genesis, and highlights the Rembrandt focus on interaction. Its skilled artist has never been identified, keeping this painting's mystique intact and its past - and future - unwritten.

As was pointed out earlier, Alfred does not collect meaningless paintings, purchasing only that which moves him, and often only after exhausting efforts. Though a painting may win his heart quickly, each piece in the collection has within it a hidden mountain of painstaking research, restoration and study. The love and the care behind the collection is what makes it great, thus the greatest of gifts.

Each painting is not a mere object, but a gift of Dr. Bader's time and efforts.  Of his early years of hardship. Of his lengthy schooling towards both careers. Of his continued devotion to understanding the Bible and Judaism. Of the countless hours of  work  and  energy growing his company to fruition. Of he and Isabel's worldwide searches together for that undiscovered piece. Of the tireless research behind each piece. Each artwork is not only a painting; it's a part of his life.

And so it is with this that we in Kingston may find our own layer of meaning behind the Bader collection: he has been giving us his life's work.

Thanks Dr. Bader. You have made Kingston a better city to live in.

About Alfred Bader

A few great shots we couldn't arrange to put in the printed magazine: MSU Gallery  Stamps of Austria Prague Post Photo


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