If you want to meet the man with the largest collection of Nevada artwork, make the trek to Eureka — or catch an excerpt in Reno or Carson City this summer.
It's-a-small-state alert — Full disclosure: In 2003 I gave Wally a framed photograph for Christmas. That means that technically I'm represented in his art collection and therefore could not be considered an objective reporter.
Wally Cuchine is telling stories to a small audience in the visitors center in Rancho San Rafael Regional Park during a noontime lecture. In khaki shorts and hiking shoes, he looks like he could be a wilderness guide. But the way he slows down when he utters the words "gre-aat" and "amaa-azing," drawing them out so long he almost adds an extra syllable, suggests that his passion is for something other than identifying the desert willow or sage grouse.
Wally is an art collector. He lives in a mobile home in Eureka, a historic Northeast Nevada mining town, population about 600. Next to his mobile home is another one, which houses his Shed Gallery.
"Every single square inch is covered with art," he says. He's not exaggerating. In his home, there's art behind the toilet paper holder. And the gallery is packed from carpeted floor to corrugated ceiling with drawings, paintings, photos and sculptures, leaving hardly a glimpse of wood-paneled wall.
His collection, including around 1,500-2,000 works, is generally considered to be the largest collection anywhere of Nevada artwork.
Wally started collecting in 1979 in Hawthorne, where he worked as a community development planner. "As much as anyone driving through Hawthorne would think, 'there ain't nobody here,' " he recalls, he ran into a surprising number of artists there.
He soon found that there were artists in just about every town, city, ranch, nook and cranny in the state, and he continued collecting their work, visiting studios whenever possible. (In 2001-2004 I lived in Tuscarora, a remote town in Elko County with around 15 residents, about half of whom are professional artists. The town is about a three-hour drive from Eureka. During those years, a studio visit from Wally was a fairly regular occurrence.)
For most of his career, until he retired in 2011, Wally lived off his salary as director of the Eureka Opera House. Occasionally an artist would give him a piece; sometimes they'd offer a discount; often he'd pay full price. Many times he arranged $100-a-month payments to afford a piece.
As he was building his own collection over the years, Wally also amassed a separate grouping of artworks for the opera house. Retired University of Nevada, Reno art professor Jim McCormick advised and collaborated on getting that collection together, and the opera house supported their decisions and tastes.
"Everything I asked for, they gave me," Wally said gratefully. "There aren't too many rural Nevada counties that can write checks like that." He called the collection, "A woo-oonderful overview of some of the great Nevada artists."
The works in his own collection provide an even more expansive overview of Silver State artwork. They vary in style and media, spanning the time period between Craig Sheppard's paintings from the 1960s and the present. The selection includes pieces by well-known sculptors such a basket by Mary Lee Fulkerson of Reno and assemblages by Larry Williamson of Virginia City, Barbara Prodaniuk of Truckee, Calif., and Mimi Patrick of Gold Hill.
The strongest running theme of the collection is comparative landscape painting. A Jeff Nicholson watercolor of Eureka is Hopperesque and stark; a Ron Arthaud oil painting of the same town is more romantic, drenched in pastel morning sunlight. Sidne Teske's chalk drawings of the landscape are bright and bold; Max Bunnell's pencil drawings are rendered completely in grayscale. Other artists have depicted Nevada's bluffs, peaks, valleys, mills, shacks, depots, train cars, forests and farms in their own styles, which sometimes echo larger trends from their respective eras. Robert Cole Caples showed the landscape using angular geometry in the 1950s; Dennis Parks painted abstractions of Nevada's hills on ceramic plates using glazes in the 1960s and afterward; Sharon Maczko used nostalgic hyperrealism around 2009.
Together, these views add up to a good approximation of Marcel Proust's famous sentiment that the only true voyage of discovery is not in traveling afar, but in seeing your own back yard through 100 different eyes. Rural Nevada seen through the eyes of artists from every corner of the state, over several decades, is a beautiful sight, and as far as I know Wally's gallery is the best place to get the most comprehensive glimpse.
The Shed Gallery is open by appointment. Owner/Director Wally Cuchine welcomes inquiries by land line or email. (775) 237-5386, email@example.com
The exhibit, "Wally's World: The Loneliest Art Collection in Nevada," a selection of 35 works from his collection, is on tour through 2016:
- Rancho San Rafael Regional Park Visitor's Center, Reno — through July 17
- OXS Gallery, Nevada Arts Council office, Carson City — July 27- Sept. 18.
- City of Henderson — Sept. 28 - Nov. 20
- Churchill County Museum, Fallon — Nov. 30 - Jan. 22, 2016
- Humboldt County Library, Winnemucca — Feb. 1 - Mar. 21, 2016
- St. Mary's Art + Retreat Center, Virginia City — Apr. 4 - May 27, 2016