University receives collection of thousands of bags to exhibit

AKRON, Ohio (AP) – An unusual new collection is in the bag at the University of Akron.

Roughly 12,000 bags — made of paper, plastic, metal and even glass — and bag-related pieces comprise the Lee L. Forman Collection of Bags.

The big batch of bags donated to UA includes shopping bags autographed by artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, and at least one bag from every presidential election since 1948.

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987) “Campbell’s Soup Can (Tomato),” 1966, screenprint in colors on shopping bag from edition of unknown size, signed in pencil lower right “Andy Warhol,” published for a Warhol exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers and New Orleans Auction/St. Charles Gallery Inc.

There’s a cheeseburger bag signed by Elvis Presley and a 100-year-plus saddle bag made to sit on a horse.

Sometimes Forman, who lived in McLean, Virginia, and died in 2009, had a loose definition of bag — the assemblage includes a 45 RPM record sleeve signed by all four Beatles.

“Bags are an everyday item that some people don’t think about,” said Jodi Kearns, director of UA’s Institute for Human Science and Culture. “But they are such a significant part of our cultural lives.”

And the collection fits perfectly into the institute’s mission of exploring “what it means to be human,” she said.

The institute is on the third and fourth floors of the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology, which also includes the National Museum of Psychology, which opened last year and showcases the largest collection of psychological material of its kind in the world.

Forman, a graphic artist, began collecting bags in the 1970s, initially saving Bloomingdale’s department store limited-edition bags featuring various artists’ designs.

She also was a fan of Bloomingdale’s signature big, small and medium “Brown Bags,” introduced in the early 1970s.

Twenty or so years ago, her collecting really took off, when she began to buy bags online, and go after collector’s pieces. Her husband, Howard Forman, who retired from the family wholesale liquor business in 1999, helped her pursue items.

Roy Lichtenstein (American, 1923-1997), Turkey Shopping Bag. Screenprint in colors, 1964, signed in pencil, edition of approximately 125, published by Bianchini Gallery, NY. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers and Forum Auctions

The collection also includes non-shopping bags — a body bag, the saddle bag-related, air sickness bags, as well as clothes, paintings and scarves featuring images of bags and more.

She did not, however, collect purses, Kearns said, knowing that others were amassing large collections of them

Howard Forman, now married to Elaine Weinstein, said his first wife was interested in bags for their artistic appeal, as well as how they are cultural icons.

“Our tagline for our museum was ‘cultural icons,'” he said.

The couple founded their private Museum of Bags — open by appointment — in an apartment above their garage next to their house in 2002.

Howard Forman continued to collect bags after his wife died, but not nearly so aggressively as she did.

One bag he acquired is a somewhat crinkled brown bag signed by guests who appeared on the Conan O’Brien show in the 2011 season. O’Brien had his guests sit on the bag and then sign it; he later sold it to raise money for a charity.

So how did UA bag the collection?

Howard Forman had been searching for a new home for the bags and bag-related items when Phil Lloyd, the chairman of the University of Akron Foundation, put Forman in touch with David Baker, who heads the Cummings Center at UA.

Baker came out to look at the collection in 2018 and, Forman recalled, said, “I will take them all.”

Forman said one of his concerns was that the collection “would be separated into different pieces… there’s lots of different types of bags.”

Baker “undersood what the point was,” Foreman said. “They tell a story of how we as humans think, and what we do.”

He also likes knowing that at UA, the collection will be used by students as they prepare to work in museums and archive professions. The institute offers a certificate in museums and archives studies. The archived bags were sent via truck to UA.

Now, a small part of the collection is on display at the institute. A full-scale exhibit of some of the collection is planned for May.

Rose Stull, who graduated from the University of Akron last week with a degree in history and a certificate in museums and archives studies, created the current display, which features about two dozen Bloomingdale’s bags, as well as an exhibit that looks like a living room.

The room boasts just some of bag-related items Lee Forman collected, including a wood cabinet that looks like a bag, a painting of a bag, a rug made from plastic bags and a frame shaped like a bag that displays a picture of Forman and her family.

“The collection meant so much to her,” Stull said.

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By KATIE BYARD, Akron Beacon Journal

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