“Coming Together Through The Art of John Lennon” runs from August 16 through September 1.
This event is so rare because Yoko Ono, Lennon’s widow, is so protective of his legacy and doesn’t want any of his original drawings photographed in full. Some of the works are fragile and worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Also, if the works were to be photographed, then they could be counterfeited and sold on the internet.
So for the first time the public will get to see 27 pencil and pen drawings along with five lithographs and serigraphs — all authenticated — at the Waukesha County Historical Society Museum in suburban Milwaukee.
A retired man in his 50s — who wants to remain anonymous — loaned the art and other memorabilia, like the microphone Lennon used to record “Imagine,” to the museum.
Paul Jillson, who has represented Lennon’s artwork since 1988, said Lennon didn’t sell his works through galleries and didn’t catalog them, so for someone to have collected so many originals is a coup. Ono has 1,700 of Lennon’s original drawings, he said.
The museum’s executive director, Kirsten Villegas, won’t release many details about the benefactor for security reasons. They refer to him as Mr. Kite, after the song “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” on the 1967 Beatles album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
He wants the attention on the art and microphone, worth more than $600,000.
Villegas said the collector’s stash is purported to be the third-largest public collection of original Lennon drawings, with Ono holding the most.
Lennon, who was shot to death outside his New York apartment in 1980, drew all his life and went to Liverpool Art Institute for three years before the Beatles took off.
The dates of the drawings range from the early 1960s to 1978.
Lennon created many versions of one image — four in the Waukesha collection are similar to some in the famous “Bag One” portfolio. Those were a series of limited edition lithographs, signed by Lennon, inspired from the pair’s wedding ceremony, honeymoon and subsequent “Bed-In.”
The “Bag One” series was first exhibited in London, Detroit, Chicago and New York in January 1970. Three hundred bags created by designer Ted Lapidus — with a lithograph inside — were also created and sold.
Police confiscated some of the more risque lithographs in London, Detroit and Chicago. Many of the lithographs were destroyed by mishandling and Lennon was discouraged from showing his artwork in public for many years after.
The Waukesha museum will have some of his nude drawings in a separate area.
Jillson, who’s also the owner of the Pacific Edge Gallery in Laguna Beach, Calif., said he has more than 120 lithographs and serigraphs for sale through the gallery and on exhibition tour but only two original drawings on loan from Ono. The Waukesha area collector bought one serigraph from him, he said.
Prices can range from $15,000 to $1 million for an authenticated drawing and song lyrics, he said.
“His art really speaks to people on a direct emotional level because, although it’s simple in form, it has a lot of emotional meaning,” he said. “It reminds people of why John was significant and what he stood for.”