Pierro, SHU honor Cate’s life and legacy

Exhibit shows works collected throughout a lifetime, encourages others to collect what they love

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SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The Pierro Gallery opened its doors Thursday, Jan. 25, to display “Carved, Painted, Stitched: The Folk Art Collection of Barbara Cate” until March 3. Cate was an art historian and longtime professor at Seton Hall University who had an extensive personal art collection that she and her husband had amassed over the years. Cate died last year, and the show is a tribute to her years as an art expert and art lover, and shares pieces she loved with the public.

“We didn’t want to do a traditional memorial,” Petra Chu, one of the exhibit’s three curators, told the News-Record at the event. “She would have laughed through it. She was very whimsical and this is a better tribute.”

A graduate of Cornell University and with a master’s degree in art history from Columbia University, Cate was the head of the Museum Professions graduate program at SHU for more than 10 years. She also organized regular exhibits at the Seton Hall Art Gallery.

Chu worked at SHU with Cate for more than 40 years, as did the other two curators of the Pierro Gallery show, Claudia Ocello and Katie Witzig. Ocello was an adjunct art professor with Cate for more than a decade, and Witzig was a member of the first graduating class of SHU’s Museum Professions graduate program. Witzig then served as Cate’s graduate assistant for two years before going on to become a program consultant.

“She had a unique style of collecting,” Witzig said in an interview with the News-Record at the event. “She lived with what she collected, and we wanted something like this to show that.”

Ocello agreed, telling the News-Record that one goal of the exhibit was to show people how important it is to enjoy collecting something.

“I think it’s important to convey to the public that you can live with it,” Ocello said. “Her life was collecting. Everyone collects something, so we wanted to convey that.”

Cate’s husband, Tracy, was her partner in collecting art for many years. The couple crisscrossed the country many times in search of art to add to their Maplewood home, sometimes using motorcycles or bicycles as a mode of transportation. After the pieces that are currently in the exhibit were moved into the gallery, Tracy Cate joked that his house is now “naked.”

“I filled up the hooks that were empty, so there’s still a lot left,” he said in an interview with the News-Record at the event. “I don’t look at it as a collection — it’s more like accumulation.”

Tracy Cate said the artist Henry Thomas Gulick was an important part of his and his wife’s lives. A painter from Middletown, Gulick was a retired farmer when he picked up a paintbrush, and later became a well-known artist with a career that lasted 20 years before his death in 1964. In 1960, Barbara Cate met Gulick and began collecting his paintings. She brought her knowledge of Gulick and his work to SHU, where she and her students put together several exhibits of his work. In the 1980s, Barbara and Tracy Cate expanded their collection of Gulick’s paintings, and eventually owned of the largest collection of his work outside Gulick’s family.

In conjunction with the exhibit, SHU is hosting events in February and March around the idea of collecting, the first of which will be Saturday, Feb. 3, from 1 to 3 p.m., at the Pierro Gallery. For “We Collect: A Pop-Up Museum Family Day,” people are encouraged to sign up to bring their own collections to the gallery.

“If it’s portable, we want everyone to bring what they collect so they can explain what they like about it and it will make a mini-museum,” Chu said. Inspector collector Harley Spiller will be at the event, which is geared toward families.

“You collect what you love,” Witzig said. “This is what Barbara loved and we thought this would be a great way to show it.”

Tracy Cate agreed. “We looked for things that we liked and that spoke to us,” he said. “It was a wonderful way to spend our lives, looking for things we enjoyed.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic