My name is Derek. I am the curator of Collections and Preparator here at the LMFA. One thing that I do is catalog the artwork. One day I was working in the vault. I pulled out a very large portfolio that was bound in red, white and blue cloth. I thought that was unusual. I opened it up and I found work by a rather obscure East Texas artist named Velox Ward. As I dug down through this portfolio to see what was what was down there, I came across a print by an artist named James Rosenquist that was very, very bizarre because James Rosenquist was one of the four artists that started the pop art movement in New York City in the early sixties. I was a little confused, to say the least. But I kept digging down. I found a few more artists that I didn’t quite recognize. But then I found one by an artist named Roy Lichtenstein, who was another one of the pop artists in New York City in the early sixties. You would recognize his work instantly if you saw it. It’s a lot of images taken from comic books and and things like that. I was getting pretty excited being in art history, and this is kind of what I live for. So when I found one by Robert Rauschenberg, my favorite artist, and the person who opened the door for the pop artists in New York City in the fifties, I was taken aback, to say the least.
My heart kind of skipped a beat and I was wearing my gloves. So I picked up the print and I took it into Tiffany’s office. Tiffany is our executive director, and she took one look at my face and she said, “What’s wrong?” And I said, I kind of I think I kind of croaked out, “Rauschenberg”. And she her eyes got big, too. So I brought it over there and I put it on her desk. And we looked at it and it was signed in pencil by Robert Rauschenberg. It was undeniably his original work that he had made. So I went back and I did a little research on what I had found and what we have actually is a collection of 13 prints by artists done in 1976 to celebrate the bicentennial year of the United States. This is the 200th celebration of when the Declaration of Independence was was signed. Each print is marked with the letters “HC”, which stands for a French term “Hors de Commerce”. That is an indication that these prints were never made to be sold. These prints were actually done and given to each of the artists. Robert Rauschenberg was given a set of these. Roy Lichtenstein was giving a set, was given a set of these. James Rosenquist was given a set of these, and Velox Ward was given a set of these. The particular set that we have only 25 copies were made. This set of prints are owned by quite a few museums, but even the Museum of Modern Art in New York City has a later series of 200. As far as I can tell, we’re the only museum that has this copy of 25 sets. It’s really amazing and it’s been one of the highlights of my career as an art historian, and I really hope that you are able to appreciate it as much as I do.