The Tafts’ interest in collecting went beyond personal pleasure. As Charles had discussed in his lecture almost 30 years earlier, the couple sought to provide inspirational and educational models for artists and craftspeople to fuel the quality of items made in Cincinnati and to increase opportunities for skilled artisans in the local economy. By the turn of the 20th century, Cincinnati had become a center for art pottery, and the more than 200 pieces of Chinese ceramics the Tafts purchased were likely intended as a resource for the industry. Their ceramics may have influenced shape designs and glazes created by Rookwood Pottery, which released a Chinese-inspired pottery line in 1915. Cincinnati was also home to several watchmaking firms, and the Tafts may have acquired their collection of watches to inspire these artisans, who mostly crafted decorative watch cases. The paintings they collected provided excellent examples of old master European portraits, landscapes, and scenes of daily life—exactly the subjects in demand from Cincinnati’s own working artists.
Beginning in February 1903, the Tafts made their collection available for viewing by inviting artists, artisans, and others to their home on select Sunday afternoons. They also shared their collection with the wider public by lending it to the Cincinnati Art Museum for an exhibition in 1911. In 1927, the Tafts bequeathed their collection and home to the people of Cincinnati “in such a manner that they may be readily available to all.” This generous gift, along with an endowment that would support their newly created museum, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Conservatory of Music, and the Cincinnati Art Museum, left a legacy that continues to give back to the Cincinnati community generation after generation.
For the content of this article, the author gratefully acknowledges Lynne D. Ambrosini for her research and her essay “Charles and Anna Taft: Forming a Gilded Age Art Collection,” from Taft Museum of Art: Highlights from the Collection, London: D Giles Limited, 2020.