Published: November 7, 2006
Jeremy L. Banta, an important and much-loved collector of American folk art and folk pottery, died October 31 after a prolonged and heroic struggle with cancer.
He was born November 26, 1940, in Dixon, Ill., to George J. and Zelda M. Banta, and was a graduate of Cornell University, Class of 1962. He is survived by his brother, George E. Banta, and his wife, Phebe; a niece, Jane B. Fisher and nephew, George Banta Jr, and their families, all of Poughkeepsie. He is also survived by his longtime companion, Ainsley Roth of New York City.
Jerry was an energetic and keen businessman who, with his brother, following in the path of their father and uncle, owned motels and restaurants under Banta Holdings Company based in Poughkeepsie. The same attention to the fine points of quality-control that made Jerry Banta a success in that world eventually translated as connoisseurship in the world of collecting. In fact, as related by Ainsley Roth, Jerry’s first exposure to American folk art was the result of seeking out decorations for one of the Banta restaurants. By the 1970s, however, Jerry had made a quantum leap after he met Gerald Kornblau and then Barry Cohen, who exposed him to and placed in his hands some of the rarest American folk pottery, particularly early decorated stoneware, that has emerged in the last 35 years.
A few of these pieces are illustrated in Georgeanna H. Greer’s American Stonewares, The Art and Craft of Utilitarian Potters , but many more made the trip between Cohen’s Greenwich Village apartment and Poughkeepsie. One of the pieces illustrated in Greer, the extraordinary 1775 Crolius heart-shaped inkwell, is credited there to Cohen but eventually passed to Jerry Banta. Only occasionally would Jerry part with something to raise money to expand his collection, but when he offered the inkwell at Sotheby’s in 1991, it set a record at auction for stoneware at $148,000.
By the time Jerry had decided to sell most of his collection this past January at Sotheby’s, it was quite evident how much his collecting interests had expanded in the last 20 years: choice mini-collections within collections of toleware, painted furniture, game boards, paintings, sculpture and, of course, the finest decorated stoneware. His influences were many, but among the usual suspects were Helaine and Burt Fendelman, Gary and Diana Stradling and David Schorsch. What everyone on any list of Jerry’s contacts would agree on is that he was one of the most humble, most passionate and astute good guys one could know.
There are some collections that have value only because of the objects that are in them and there are others that have a value-added feature because of the character of the person who formed them. We will miss seeing Jerry Banta’s special eye at work, but we will miss his authentic gentle soul more.
— Don Walters and Mary Benisek
(Memorial gifts may be sent to Northern Dutchess Hospital Foundation, 99 Montgomery Street, Rhinebeck, NY 12572. A memorial service took place at Parmele Funeral Home in Poughkeepsie on November 6)]
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