From childhood, Roger Hollander was blessed with a keen sense of curiosity. His time as a student at Yale in the 1950s, where he graduated with a degree in English, only enhanced his existing appreciation of art, literature and culture. He formed enriching lifelong friendships there.
During that time it was his passion to climb mountains, and this love later compelled him to live at high altitude in the Rockies of Wyoming for years.
But Roger Hollander was also a restless soul and he was often on the move. Following college, he made a journey to Europe, much in the style of ‘The Grand Tour’, visiting Roman and Greek archaeological sites, museums and art galleries along the way; this is how he began to collect works of art that spoke to him, an approach that served him well. From the Classical Mediterranean antiquities he acquired on that journey we can discern a fine eye already operating from an early age, with a natural instinct for gravitating to the finer pieces.
Besides enjoying things old, as above, Roger was always attracted to the newest scientific advances in technology. When he returned from abroad, Roger went home to Minneapolis to take over the family business that his parents had started. Simply stated, the Hollander firm handled the marketing of information. Roger’s introduction of computers into the business brought much greater success. At just the right moment Roger sold the concern, thereby providing himself the means and the time to pursue his passion of collecting with new focus and discipline.
Roger bought and read books on every topic he was interested in, creating a 15,000-volume private library on diverse subjects. These included contemporary architecture and Neolithic tomb finds in Siberia; mid-20th-century furniture design; and ‘flat art’ – photography and textiles.
He had a keen interest in the historic movements of people and goods as evidenced in the Wild West or 15th-century trade in the Indian Ocean. The Hollander curiosity knew no bounds. For Roger, all things were connected and it was just a matter of picking up the thread and following it to find the link.
He loved old rugs, wines, photographs, mid-century and cowboy furniture, Buddhist, Hindu and Jain art from India, in addition to his building the greatest collection of Chinese minority costumes in the United States. It was clear from the beginning that he was attracted by early material as an expression of personal taste, but also that he loved his textiles the most. They were his crowning achievement and the synthesis of all of his interests; to them he devoted his greatest attention and resources.
Roger identified with Indian trade cloths of the types preserved in southeast Asia because of his background in business. He appreciated how such cloths were used as a form of currency and took great interest in the tremendous role they played in economics, not just in the trade dynamics of the region but throughout the world. Their many varied decorations could be puzzled over, teased out and ultimately decoded; this was a man with a background knowledge of archeology and a gift for motif interpretation.
Plus, there was opportunity. Roger began to collect before the rest of the world had truly caught on. He bought only in the west and exclusively from the finest dealers. When necessary, he was willing to pay top dollar for the best pieces.
Competition heated up for fine things following the publication in 1998 of John Guy’s worthy tome Woven Cargoes. In that book, certain textiles were published for the first time with
secure early dates, insights gained from radiocarbon dating. This appealed to Roger’s scientific bent and he became on early adopter of the technique, building up a significant archive of C-14 test results data. These new dates moved the subject from the category of decoration arts to that of antiquity.
It should be acknowledged that the late Mary Hunt Kahlenberg and I brought him his finest pieces and that he blessed us with his generous patronage. The quality and breath of the Hollander collection of Indian trade cloth has few comparisons, most of its rivals being now in museums, public and private.
Roger Hollander always envisaged that his collection would be shared with others; he desired that it be studied, published and exhibited. It was his belief that it found just the right home at the Asian Civilizations Museum of Singapore. This dynamic city is right at the heart of southeast Asia. People from neighboring countries – Indonesia, Malaysia and India – will be able to visit and develop their connoisseurship, while local residents of Indian ethnicity will develop a deep pride in their artistic and economic heritage.
I close this tribute to the late Roger Hollander and his trade cloth collection by paraphrasing his own words. Besides his great joy in his family, his sons Sprague and Scott Hollander, and the blessing of being grandfather to their children, as well as the satisfaction of having found true meaning in his work during his professional career, nothing brought him greater reward than the pleasures of the chase in building his textile collection. To this he would add the gratification that comes from knowing that everything he so loved will now bring a rich awareness to many future generations, thanks to the shared vision of the Asian Civilization Museum.
Roger continued to travel the world; he was a born explorer. I had the privilege to accompany him on a tour across the Silk Road of western China in 2000. The next year we journeyed with Wenhua Liu in a four-wheel-drive jeep along the ‘forbidden road’ from Yarkand across western Tibet over 6,000-meter passes to Mounts Kailash and Everest, on to Lhasa, and finally through Sichuan and Yunnan. It was an unforgettable trip of a lifetime for all of us.
Roger Hollander, my patron, mentor and friend, has now embarked on yet a greater sojourn: as the Tibetans inform us, he has passed into the bardo state. I will miss him greatly, as will all who knew and loved him.
[This article was printed in Hali Magazine, a London Publication, and reproduced here on January 24, 2019]