June 29, 2019

Originally Published in the Cincinnati Business Courier

Art can exist for art’s sake, as the expression goes, but two of Cincinnati’s largest law firms believe in a corollary: art for the sake of business.

Both firms offer good examples of how an effort to beautify work spaces pays off in a variety of ways, but each took a different path to the payoff.

Timothy Hurley, a longtime partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister, recalls the story of the firm’s efforts to establish an art collection and beautify its offices:

In the early 1970s, he said, the staff included a recently hired young lawyer named Cynthia Fisher Blank. She later became the firm’s first woman partner and the first woman named as a partner at any of the city’s large law firms. But that’s another story.

The firm decided it needed to display outstanding artwork in its offices, which were then in downtown Cincinnati’s Dixie Terminal building. It sought something beyond standard law-firm issue English hunting prints.  

Knowing she had a keen interest in art, its leaders turned to Fisher Blank, set up a budget and told her to go to town and find the firm some attractive artwork. The town she went to, mostly, was New York City. 

Its galleries sold and exhibited some of the most famous artists in the world and some not so famous but destined to become so. Starting in the early ’70s and into the mid-80s, Fisher Blank found and purchased works by an extraordinary number of them.

The firm’s Cincinnati offices, which are now at 425 Walnut St., and offices in Covington, Columbus, Cleveland and Dayton together display more than 450 works of art, most of them chosen by Fisher Blank. They include many signed lithographs by artists including: Marc ChagallAlexander CalderJoan MiróRene MagritteSalvador Dali, Saul Steinberg, Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Keith Haring and many more.

“The partners who asked Cynthia to find some art for the firm weren’t sure what they would get, and some no doubt were a little skeptical of what she found,” Hurley said. “It was almost all contemporary art. They probably expected something a little different.”

But Fisher Blank knew what she was doing. Hurley said the collection has been appraised, but “we cannot divulge that number.” 

“Art curators who have looked at the pieces have told us it is the best collection of such prints in the region.” Hurley said the collection is much more than what’s displayed on the walls. “It is living testimony to the impact that one person can have on our firm.”  

Hurley said the firm has no economic stake in the art, because if for any reason Taft  chose to no longer own it or could not own it, all the works would become the property of the Cincinnati Art Museum. 

Fisher Blank’s taste for Calder is evident by several of his works. Cincinnatians might know Calder for his playful mobile hanging outside the Terrace Cafe at the Cincinnati Art Museum and casting its shadow on a large wall mural by Miró that was commissioned for the now closed Terrace Plaza hotel downtown. 

The Taft collection includes 21 works by Calder, 11 by Miró, four by Magritte, seven by Chagall, five by Picasso, thirteen by Dali, and an original commissioned painting by Cincinnati-area wildlife artist John Ruthven, “Golden Eagle,” in a large conference room. 

With the exception of the Ruthven, these works are not originals, which would be worth many millions, but all the prints display the artists’ signatures, adding considerably to their value.

Hurley said Fisher Blank, who died in 2015, had one great champion in her quest to purchase art for the firm, and he was an important one – Charles Lindberg, a former managing partner.

Hurley said the artwork gives the people who work there and visitors something beautiful to look at. But it goes beyond making the Taft offices attractive. It’s a statement about the beauty of art. The people who come in here who have a knowledge of modern art are amazed by what they see.”

He said that as of now, the firm has no plans to accommodate small groups for tours of the offices, but he would like to see that happen.

“It would be nice to share this with more people,” he said.

Not every area business is lucky enough to have had a Cynthia Fisher Blank on its staff or the budget to turn their workplaces into near museum-quality spaces.

Another area law firm, Graydon, which moved to the Scripps Center at 312 Walnut Street in 2016, is also dedicated to making artwork a prominent part of the message it sends to clients, visitors and staff.

Graydon has taken an approach very different from Taft and of course got a later start. It focuses on displaying local artists, and its collection was curated by Litsa Spanos of Art Design Consultants. The firm also worked with Kolar Design. 

Kelly Kolar, president of Kolar, said, “We work with several businesses on their collections as a part of branding their spaces. The artwork becomes a key design ingredient for inspiration, storytelling and connection to their mission vision and values.”

James Whelan, Graydon’s chief business development officer, said, “When we moved to the Scripps Center, part of our vision was to create a vibrant environment that inspires creativity and collaboration. All the pieces were selected or commissioned to create that environment.” 

The art displayed at Graydon includes works by some 20 local artists and was selected or commissioned specifically for the Scripps Center offices. The works are in a variety of media, from painting to glass blowing to sculpture and furniture design. Prominent themes or motifs in the works are rivers and bridges.

On the firm’s website, you can find photos of the work from each of the artists used in the offices and a short bio of each artist. 

As Graydon states on the website: “Our history in inextricably intertwined with the history of Cincinnati, and as Cincinnati is an arts-loving city, we are an arts-loving firm. Love for the arts is part of our DNA.”