Tag Archives: Anne Levine

Renowned Westport Art Collection Finds New Home

Quietly, creatively, and very efficiently, Bob and Anne Levine built one of the world’s most extensive collections of American folk art.

Through flea markets, antique shows, auctions and eBay, they amassed over 600 wood carvings — of everyone from Pocahontas and Knute Rockne to Charles Lindbergh and Hillary Clinton.

Remarkably, it was stored not in a museum, but in their Westport home. Every room — and 2 former garages — overflowed with American historical figures, events and icons.

A visitor to the Levines’ home is greeted by an array of Uncle Sams.

It was was their own personal museum.

Now — fittingly — they’ve donated their collection to an actual museum.

And not just any one. It’s Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, known for its collection of works by self-taught artists.

Anne and Bob married in 1987. She’s a 1964 Staples graduate; he’s a Brooklyn native who’s lived here since 1969.

A month after their wedding, they went to a Westport Arts Center exhibit on folk art. They knew  nothing about the subject. But Bob — who in addition to being a neurologist, Yale professor, author, former owner of Anacapri restaurant and marathon runner, was a woodcarver in his youth — and his wife were intrigued.

They bought a couple of inexpensive pieces. Then they added a few more items. Soon — without even realizing it – they had a world-class collection.

Bob Levine with a wood carving of General Custer.

Now, Bob says, “We’re old.” (He’s 81 — and as active as ever.) “If one of us dies, the other would have a major task getting rid of this.”

Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum would be a natural choice. But even though Bob and Anne were giving their collection away, the oldest continually operating public art museum in the US could not afford the insurance and transportation.  A friend of a friend introduced them to The High.

The museum will keep 114 pieces. They’ll sell the rest — and use the proceeds to build up the rest of the collection.

The couple is keeping 15 or so pieces (including 3 whirligigs) for their children to inherit. Regretfully, one of those works is not the fantastically detailed diorama of Franklin Roosevelt’s cabinet, bought at a Christie’s auction. Each member is individually carved. An electric chandelier shines overhead.

It takes up one entire room in the Levines’ house.

President Roosevelt — and each cabinet member including Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, the first-ever female — is carved in exquisite detail.

“Auctioneers and other people we bought from have never seen anything like this collection,” Bob says. “It’s all wood. And it’s all dedicated to American history.”

As the couple scoured the country for items — learning plenty along the way — Bob says, “we got a lot of bargains. And we paid excessively for others.”

It was a wonderful experience, made better by sharing it together. Now, they’re sharing it with the High Museum — and the world.

Anne Levine stands with a life-size carving of Uncle Sam.

But that’s not all the Levines’ news. After cutting down on his medical practice, Bob began writing. He just published his 6th book.

The Uninformed Voter” examines how that cohort is responsible for the decline of American democracy. Bob also offers suggestions for improvement (for instance, ranked-choice voting and the revamping of primaries).

It’s earned great reviews, including Kirkus, Booklife and Sybil Steinberg, the former Publishers Weekly book review editor whose reading list is followed avidly by Westport Library patrons.

Bob is hardly slowing down. He’s finishing his next book — “An Epidemic of Privilege” — and then begins work on another (on “the joy and heartbreak of collecting”).

Robert Levine

Previous books include “Aging With Attitude: Growing Older With Dignity and Vitality” and “Aging Wisely: Strategies for Baby Boomers and Seniors.”

So how is Bob Levine aging?

During COVID, he stopped working with Americares. He no longer runs marathons (he’s done 9). His “jump shot is not what it used to be.”

But besides writing and overseeing the donation of his and his wife’s collection, he still sculpts wood. He’s always lookin for new projects.

“You can’t sit around waiting to die,” he says. “That kind of life is not much fun.”

The Levines will keep some of their whirligigs — movable wind toys.

Finding America’s Best Folk Art, Right Here At Home

You’d expect one of the world’s most extensive collections of American folk art carvings to be housed in a museum — the Wadsworth Atheneum perhaps, or the Smithsonian.

It’s not.

Bob Levine shows off a wood carving of General Custer.

Bob Levine shows off a wood carving of General Custer.

But you’d never guess that this amazing array of pieces — 800 wood carvings, of everyone from Pocahontas and Knute Rockne to Charles Lindbergh and Hillary Clinton — is right here in Westport.

In a private home. Whose owners have twice converted garage space into warm, artifact-filled rooms, now overflowing with American historical figures, events and icons.

Anne and Bob Levine married in 1987. She’s a 1964 Staples graduate; he’s a Brooklyn native who’s lived here since 1969.

A month after their wedding, they went to a Westport Arts Center exhibit on folk art. They knew  nothing about the subject. But Bob — who in addition to being a neurologist, author, former owner of Anacapri restaurant and marathon runner, was a woodcarver in his youth — and his wife were intrigued.

They bought a couple of inexpensive pieces. Then they added a few more items. Soon they were going to antique shows and auctions, and scouring eBay, building — without even realizing it – a world-class collection.

Today it spills through every room of their unpretentious home. From the outside, you’d never know it’s there. Once you step inside, it’s everywhere.

A visitor to the Levines' home is greeted by an array of Uncle Sams.

A visitor to the Levines’ home is greeted by an array of Uncle Sams.

The first thing you see is a collection of Uncle Sams, in every imaginable pose. A World War I piece shows Kaiser Wilhelm bowing at Sam’s feet.

One room contains perhaps America’s largest collection of whirligigs, along with frontier pieces. But the crown jewel is a fantastically detailed diorama of Franklin Roosevelt’s cabinet, bought at a Christie’s auction. Each member is individually carved. An electric chandelier shines overhead.

President Roosevelt -- and each of his cabinet members -- is carved in exquisite detail.

President Roosevelt — and each of his cabinet members — is carved in exquisite detail.

Most of the folk artists are self-taught. Few are well known. Most are dead. Woodcarving is a dying art, Levine says.

He and Anne show me John and Abigail Adams, Henry Clay, Sitting Bull. There are lots of Lincolns: Abe as a young man, as president, wearing classical garb. Nearby are Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, George Armstrong Custer.

“These are beautiful works of art,” Bob says. “But most of them were done just as a hobby, to give as gifts, or keep as decorations in the home.”

Each has a story. He shows off a carving of a Japanese soldier, surrendering in World War II. It was done by a disabled American soldier, as therapy. The piece rests atop a wooden box — where the soldier kept his medal.

There is great detail too in this carving of Pocahontas and John Smith.

There is great detail too in this carving of Pocahontas and John Smith.

In another room, Levine points to a carving of Ronald Reagan. It was created by a woman — a rarity in a male-dominated field — from Tennessee. In 2008, the Levines called her to commission a carving of President-elect Obama. They learned the artist — a full-time hairdresser — was semi-illiterate. She needed help sending it by mail.

The Levines commissioned another piece: a carving of the flag-raising in New York, after 9/11. That artist was losing his vision to macular degeneration. It was the last work he ever did.

The couple do not know every artist in their collection. Many are anonymous. But they know the story behind each piece — where they found this Thomas Edison, why there are so many carvings of show girls, how come William McKinley was so popular back in the day.

The Levines love their whirligigs -- movable wind toys.

The Levines love their whirligigs — movable wind toys.

There is hardly any room left in the Levines’ home for new works. Which is why Bob (who in retirement runs the neurology clinic at Norwalk Hospital, serves with Americares, and is writing 2 more books) and Anne (who after retiring from her job managing an architectural office volunteers for the Westport Historical Society, Westport Schools Permanent Arts Collection and Norwalk Hospital) are now giving away some of their precious collection.

It will go to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, for a show next year.

That’s the oldest public art museum in America. However, Bob says, it has almost no folk art.

No wonder. The best collection in the country is 60 miles away, right here in Bob and Anne Levine’s Westport home.

Anne Levine stands with a life-size carving of Uncle Sam.

Anne Levine stands with a life-size carving of Uncle Sam.