Will We Ever Learn?

Guest post by Kelly Richman-Abdou

July 2016

Capping a Century of Change:

Terry O. Herndon Completes Comprehensive Collection of 20th Century Art with Piece by Jan Anders Nelson

“Will we ever learn?” 

An age-old question, this query has been rhetorically asked and repeatedly explored by Terry O. Herndon, a renowned Massachusetts-based art collector. With a keen focus on the 20th Century – an era he deems a “remarkable, totally unique century” – Herndon has collected some 275 American works representative of the discoveries, inventions, and changes that appeared and evolved during this time.

With its unique and impressive arsenal of artists, including American greats like Thomas Hart Benton, Stuart Davis, Wayne Thiebaud, Guy Pène du Bois, Ansel Adams, and Jacob Lawrence, the collection boasts an equally unique and impressive array of subject matter, from the revolutionary emergence of the automobile to the proliferation of petrochemicals. Now, with the acquisition of Port of Tacoma, an oil painting by Washington-based artist Jan Anders Nelson, Herndon believes he has completed his collection, viewing this work as an innate symbol of global warming and appropriate “end-piece” to his 20th Century study.

Port of Tacoma

Port of Tacoma, Jan Anders Nelson, 1978, oil on canvas


Painted in 1978, Port of Tacoma is an early work by Nelson, who worked as an art instructor at the time. Initially intended as a study for a larger work, the piece was first exhibited in a gallery on the University of Puget Sound’s campus, in an exhibition of local college art faculty.   Up until Mr. Herndon’s acquisition, the painting has remained in Nelson’s private collection.

Depicting a hazy scene of the smog and smoke offset by a pulp and paper mill, Port of Tacoma illustrates the everyday effects of industrialization on the planet, with Tacoma,Washington, as an example. Due to the palpable prevalence of pollution in the city, the “aroma of Tacoma” became an established joke among locals, who lived among its refineries, factories, and plants. With muted colors and a highly intricate level of detail, the piece presents an intimate and lamentable view of Tacoma, paying particular attention to its ample machinery and the pollution that it produces.

Unsurprisingly, Nelson’s artistic interest in the industrial is not limited to Port of Tacoma. Since the painting’s production, he has also demonstrated an affinity for the automobile, a motif constantly revisited in his oeuvre – and a passion he happens to have in common with Herndon.


Jorge & the U-Haul Trailer, Jan Anders Nelson, 2016, oil on canvas

In 1993 – 1994, Terry Herndon and his wife, Eva, shared their extensive collection of car-related Americana in Art From the Driver’s Seat: Americans and Their Cars in an exhibit at the Museum of Our National Heritage in Lexington, Massachusetts. Following this showing, the works travelled across America visiting nine additional museums. Featuring prolific pieces that remain in the collection today, the exhibition explores the role of the automobile in 20th Century American life. To illustrate the rapid growth of the modern car’s influence, Herndon turned his attention to the century’s major shift in artistic focus:

“Images created by all artists began to change from wildernesses, ocean waves, sailing ships, views of isolated farmsteads to views of paved roads and increasingly of cars, crashing elegant garden parties or sitting proudly in front of houses as part of the image’s design.”

Offering a chronological approach to the subject matter, the exhibition paved the way for Herndon’s growing collection of 20th Century art. And now, over twenty years later, it is finally complete, with Jan Anders Nelson’s Port of Tacoma as its long-awaited swansong.


Kelly Richman-Abdou:  kellyrichmond@gmail.com

Kelly is a freelance writer, currently residing in Paris.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s