Editor’s Note:

I’d been away in college and graduate school between 1964-1970, returning to Cincinnati married and seeking employment while interviewing for what became my first job here (Coordinator of Cultural Affairs at The University of Cincinnati).  Two names kept surfacing as visionary arts leaders; Irma Lazarus and Phyllis Weston.  I’d known various Lazari (as we called them jointly) for years, and my mother’s close friend Ruth Rosen was Phyllis’ sister.  And so began my understanding that who you knew in the arts blurred in importance with what you knew.

Phyllis was away that first year, living in Rome (see below), and my then wife took a job at The Closson Gallery downtown, absorbing some of the implementation of exhibitions which Phyllis had planned.  Once we were all in Cincinnati together, Phyllis’ natural abilities at bringing people together catalytically brought us into her orbit for parties, dinners, wise counsel, and a lot of laughs: she is one of the most astute judges of character I’ve ever met.  Elegance, conviviality, wit and more than a touch of the Jewish mother defines the woman to this day.

I also believe that I’ve never known anyone in the art business who so enjoys the act of selling more than Phyllis.  Her enthusiasm for the arts is legendary, as is her warmth and concern for people.

We have had an outstanding mystery or joke between us for decades: Phyllis has, in her entrance hall closet, a blanket of mine so old that it still has a name tag on it sewn (an amazing fact, that) by my mother before I took it to Camp Thunderbird in 1957.  Since Phyllis’ son John Cobey and I were not camp mates, we cannot fathom how the blanket got to her house, but it comforts me to know that she has it, a remnant of my own childhood, tucked away in case I may need it yet.

–Daniel Brown

“It was some years ago that I met Phyllis Weston on a visit to Cincinnati, when she graciously took me through the Procter & Gamble art collection. I remember how impressed I was with it then, and I am even more so now, reviewing all the marvelous acquisitions she has made. Corporate collections are, perhaps, not rare, but collections which combine such quality with perceptive focus are. Here is a wonderful group of works by artists associated with Cincinnati, some superb painters of only local or regional reputation and others who are nationally celebrated. Indeed, some of these pictures by artists such as James Beard, Robert Blum, Elizabeth Nourse, and John Twachtman regularly appear in my own lectures as among the finest examples of the achievements of those painters. Phyllis has a combination of an incredible eye and a marvelous focus on the artistic heritage of Cincinnati. She has been a treasure, not only of Procter & Gamble, but the city itself, and beyond that the American art community.”William H. Gerdts, Professor Emeritus of Art History, Graduate School of the City University of New York, September 1999, from the dedication for the “American Paintings at Procter & Gamble” Catalogue


Very few people in Cincinnati have not heard of Phyllis Weston or The Phyllis Weston Gallery, and much has been written about this diminutive and forceful woman. She was vice president of the A. B. Closson Company and ran the art gallery for over 40 years when the store was downtown and the destination for the best in everything domestic, from wedding presents to wool rugs, from antique furniture to old masters and contemporary art. She is still working five days or more a week in her own gallery in O’Bryonville as well as leading a busy life doing private and corporate art consulting. Many a collection hanging in houses and companies around the city has her artistic knowledge and buying recommendations to thank for its quality. Above all, Weston is a catalyst for bringing people together, both personally and professionally. Many wonderful connections between players in the world of the arts have been made over dinners at her house.

Early Life

Born in Galion, Ohio, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Armin Hornstein, Phyllis Jean Hornstein, from her childhood on, was drawn to the arts, begging her parents for repeat visits to the museum. One has only to look at pictures of her as a teenager to realize that she was a beauty, and underlying that has always been a keen mind operating on a large stage. And, indeed the stage did call her in the mid 1940’s when she went to Hollywood after a screen test conducted by none other than Orson Welles.

At that time, living in Guilford, Connecticut, she had been interspersing motherhood duties with attending classes at nearby Yale University – the drama school and other offerings. “A woman spotted me and asked me if I studied there, and she wanted me to sign on with Warner Brothers.” Ultimately with the promise of contracts from Columbia Pictures, RKO, Warner Brothers and Paramount, she says she was worried about what Hollywood did to marriages. Offered parts in ‘Cass Timberlane’ with Lana Turner and ‘Woman From Shanghai’ with Rita Hayworth, she says she turned them down. The ‘Shaker Heights Sun’ reported at that time: “The story of the local beauty who wins a Hollywood contract is getting to be as common as the dog bites man paragraph. But when the local beauty tells Hollywood to go hang and goes home to hubby and the kids – that’s worth telling.” Weston did go home and subsequently acted in many plays at the Clinton Playhouse, such as “Angel Street” with Francis Lederer and Bramwell Fletcher, in which she played the maid, Nancy.

Phyllis Jean Hornstein was then the wife of Herbert Cobey, who ran a steel company and as an avocation, wrote books and plays, and they had two boys, John and Todd Cobey. “I was very young then; I got married at eighteen,” she says. Among her network of acquaintances in the East were Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky, whose wife Vera, a contemporary painter, would be featured in Weston’s first show at Closson’s in March of 1964.

“I was married to my first husband and kept an apartment in New York; I made wonderful friends there. My husband had written a show with Abby Mann, who was a poor boy and a beautiful writer. My home, wherever I was, was like his home. He wrote ‘The Nuremburg Trials’ and created Kojack. He just died a couple of years ago (2008 at 80 years old). I also met some Russian friends, and they got to be my home away from home. Mme. Lucia Davidova really had a salon in her home, and there I met Balanchine. Every New Years he’d have a party. Then there was Eugenia Delarova who was a dancer with the Ballets Russes, and she married Leonide Massine, the choreographer. They were divorced, and then she married the head of Schlumberger (now the world’s largest oilfield services company, employing over 110,000 people). Between those two women, I got to know a lot of people.”


At the Closson’s opening

“The Stravinskys were friends of mine,” she says of the 1964 show. (Stravinsky identified himself as an ‘inventor of music.’) “Vera had just had a show in New York. So, I said to her, ‘would you want to have a show here?’ She said yes, so they came out, and we had the show in March of 1964. So many people came!”

She is quoted as saying, a while after she arrived in Cincinnati in 1963 to live, that “I always thought Cincinnati was where you saw, maybe family . . . where you changed planes . . .” Weston did indeed have family here: her sister, Ruth Rosen and brother, Bernard Horn. She pauses now and says, “You have to live out of town and then come back to know how great Cincinnati is. I particularly love the people and the abundant arts.” It was in 1963 that she married Leo Weston, “who was a wonderful, wonderful man,” she adds.

Weston says, “I have always been involved in the arts. It’s just part of my life and part of me. I believe all the arts are connected . . . if you relate anything to quality, you’ll see art.” In 1987, Weston was nominated (and later elected) a Cincinnati Enquirer Woman of the Year. There were dozens of letters supporting her, among them one from Burton Closson, Jr., who said, “I should like to recommend Phyllis Weston as exemplifying the best in what a woman can do with her life on top of a full time career by ‘volunteering again, and again, and again’. As her employer, I speak first hand, for I have watched her work miracles with our Art Gallery over the last twenty-two years. I have also watched her use lunch hours, days off, not to mention after hour meetings to start projects, assist good causes . . . and simply be the compassionate, creative sort of citizen that helps make good cities great cities.”

In talking about artists she has represented, Weston remembers Harry Shokler (1896 – 1978) and the show she mounted at Closson’s. Weston more recently had a show of his work at her gallery, in 2008. Shokler was born in Ohio, and studied at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, the Chester Springs Academy (Pennsylvania), and the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts. He developed with Edward Landon silkscreen printing (known then as seriography). His serigraphs are held in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum, the Syracuse Museum, the Carnegie Institute and the Princeton Print Club. He was a WPA artist. Weston meditates that “congress now should use the WPA, and people would have jobs.” She pauses and says, “When you think of the WPA, so much was done. Look at Columbia Parkway. Look at the art produced under that program. These people got a check every month.”

Constant Arts Involvement

Weston helped found Young Friends of the Arts with Irma Lazarus and Patricia Corbett. It existed for over ten years and in 1980 morphed into Enjoy the Arts. This initiative helps students experience the arts first hand by offering discounted tickets. Other organizations that Weston was involved in founding include the Cincinnati Commission on the Arts, the Cincinnati Post-Corbett Awards, and she was instrumental in creating the Arts Administration Course of Studies at the University of Cincinnati, CCM. She has been on the board of trustees of The Contemporary Arts Center, The Cincinnati Ballet and currently of the Cincinnati Opera.

Weston says of the Post-Corbett awards, behind which she was the creative force: “I named it for the Corbetts, because they had done so much for the city.” The purpose of the awards was to honor individuals and institutions for achievement in the arts.

She is currently a trustee of the Cincinnati Opera. Cathy Crain, who is co-chair of the Opera board, says of Weston: “Simply put, Phyllis makes you care about art. Whether she’s describing a 20th-century Russian painting at her gallery or seeing a performance of Tosca at Cincinnati Opera, when you experience art with Phyllis, you discover that life is more vibrant and beautiful than you’d ever noticed. (And yes, we all have collections under her guidance.) The Opera family is ever bigger because of her enthusiasm for the Company, and I am blessed everyday knowing that she is a dear friend.”

And it hasn’t been just organizations that have benefited from Weston’s keen eye and sound judgment; many artists have been part of her galaxy, among them John Ruthven, Jens Jensen (a show of his work has just finished at her Gallery), Eric Franke, Constance McClure, Pat Renick, Jack Meanwell, Cole Carothers, John Stobart, David Miretsky, Frank McElwain and Michael Scott.

Weston’s private consulting is best described by Sara Vance, collector, benefactor, and owner of SMV Media: “I first met her about 12 years ago when she was at Closson’s downtown. I just had started to become interested in collecting art, and someone told me to go there. From the moment we met, I knew that she would be more than just an art advisor. We later would become the best of friends with so much in common. Phyllis told me that day we met that I had an uncanny eye for art. She still tells me that today. I had always heard that Phyllis Weston was the art maven of not just Cincinnati, but the entire state of Ohio. She is so smart, fun and interesting. I can talk to her for hours. She helped me build my Cincinnati artists collection, and I think it is a great mix of living and deceased artists that all works well together. She has provided guidance on life, not just art. The greatest compliment she gave me was to compare my eye for great art to hers.” Weston adds, “Sara’s collection is wonderful.”

In 1970, Leo and Phyllis Weston generously gave up their house overlooking the Ohio River to the newly arrived conductor of The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the young Thomas Schippers and his wife Nonie. “When the Schippers came here, I was asked, since they couldn’t find a house, to give ours to them for a year. We had just bought this house, and it took me a year to get in. My husband then said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to live in Europe for a year?’ I loved that idea. We lived in Rome for a year, right on the Piazza Navona with the Bernini fountain. Rome is a wonderful city. The antique part of Rome nobody ever goes to is lovely. We travelled around Europe.”

Says Weston’s long-time friend, Jani Gardner of Martha’s Vineyard, “There was a point when I felt that she had never been introduced to the word ‘no,’ and what a blessing that was to her throng of friends and relations.” She adds, “Her advice usually started with ‘Well, you know . . .’ and then she would quickly and deftly operate on the subject, leaving most of what you thought you already knew flying off in totally different directions, and it was always way ahead of any knowledge or thoughts you may have ever had on the subject.”

One award that meant a great deal to a woman whose vast knowledge of the arts is self-taught is the honorary doctorate conferred by the Art Academy of Cincinnati in 2005. “It was a great moment for me,” she says. “It meant a lot.” In 2008, Weston was also honored with The Fine Arts Fund (now ArtsWave) Rosa F. & Samuel B. Sachs Fund Prize.

The Procter & Gamble Collection

Having been a consultant to diverse private and public collections as well curating for the Ohio Governor’s Residence in Columbus, “in 1981,” according to a press release of the time by The Taft Museum of Art, “(John) Smale asked Phyllis Weston, the city’s foremost authority on Cincinnati artists, to begin putting together a collection for the P&G executive floor. Phyllis attended auctions and diligently traced and found Cincinnati paintings from around the country. The result was not merely another collection of Cincinnati art, but a group of paintings that includes masterpieces of American art in general.” Weston worked with the collection, a total of 78 paintings, over a ten-year period. She went all over the country, and as word spread, she would receive phone calls about the project. The resulting collection spans the years from 1840 until 1950 and stopped there due to Smale’s leaving Procter & Gamble and a new administration taking over.

John Smale, recently deceased, wrote a dedication in the catalogue of the collection: “Procter & Gamble’s Cincinnati office complex was built in three stages between 1957 and 1985. The executive floor of the original building was paneled in English oak and this treatment was carried into the extension built in 1972. While we had a few paintings, including portraits of the founders and a couple by Herman Wessel, for the most part the walls were unadorned. It seemed to me there was an opportunity to celebrate the close relationship between the city of Cincinnati, its rich heritage of fine artists, and Procter & Gamble. Certainly over the generations, Procter & Gamble and Procter & Gamble people have been intertwined with the growth of our city. So, we decided to begin collecting art by Cincinnati artists. About 1981, Phyllis Weston, who was the city’s foremost authority on Cincinnati artists, agreed to begin putting the collection together. Over the next several years, Phyllis attended auctions and diligently traced and found Cincinnati paintings from around the country. In a very real sense, this is as much a Phyllis Weston collection as it is a Procter & Gamble collection.”

“In the late eighties, I found a very tall Duveneck and excited about it, I tried to reach John Smale who was traveling. By the time I got hold of him it was sold,” says Weston. “Today with cell phones, the story would have been different.” She pauses, “Then I was at Christies one day and there was a big painting ‘attributed’ to Duncanson – large and very dark. I kept looking at it, as it was so huge, and I had a feeling that it was indeed a Duncanson. I call Lowy, the conservators, and asked if it could be cleaned. I thought, ‘If P&G doesn’t want it, I’ll take it.’” The painting was cleaned, and Duncanson’s signature was revealed. “I was asked later why I hadn’t just bought it for myself, and my answer was simple. I had such a passion for the collection that I wanted them to have it; it was my way of giving back to Cincinnati.”

In 2001, 30 of the paintings were shown at the Taft, and in 2003 the whole collection was gifted to the Cincinnati Art Museum. Although Weston naturally would like to see the collection displayed as a whole, it was broken up, as explained by Julie Aronson, Curator of American Painting, Sculpture, and Drawings at CAM. “The gift from P&G is a vital part of the museum’s permanent collection, and we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Phyllis Weston for assembling such a stellar group of pictures. The arrangement we made with P&G is that we would not have a separate gallery dedicated to the collection, but we would integrate the paintings with our existing holdings to maximize their educational value.  As such, we rotate them on and off display as appropriate and with some regularity, depending on the thematic presentation in the galleries, and we lend them to other institutions with the same criteria as our other paintings.”

A Lifetime of Warm Personal Relationships

“A while back, I had a message from Paavo Järvi that he wanted to have dinner with me. So I had about six or eight people at my house, champagne and vodka, and he came in and loved the house, said it was very European. We sat down at the table, and he said, ‘Phyllis, do you want to know why I wanted to know you?’ I said yes, I would like to know why. ‘Well you know Stravinsky has been my mentor and means everything to me. You are the only living person I know who knew him. I want to know what kind of people he had in his everyday life. Then I’ll get to know the man better, and that will warm my heart, and I will know his music better.’

“So I know a lot of stories about Stravinsky. When he came with his wife for the show, I had the piano in the dining room, and on it, a basic book of duets. He began to laugh hard. He said, ‘I’m going through this book, and there is one of my songs here, written simplistically. That is like reading a comic book! I never sign a book, but I’ve got to sign this comic book.’ At another time, we asked him what we could do for him. He said, ‘You know, what I would really love is if you could get a navy blue robe with white piping.’ Just a simple thing he wanted. Leo spoke French fluently. He and Stravinsky, once when we were at the airport, were telling dirty jokes in French and laughing together.”

Underscoring her view that all good art is married and to be found across boundaries, at his invitation, Weston visited Jerry Kathman’s company, LPK, which does package design worldwide. “You can not believe what they do,” she says, her eyes lighting up. “Let’s say they do a package for a beauty product. They read about what beauty means. Then they look at pictures of people, and they will make whole designs from what beauty is. I’m making it simplistic, but it’s complicated.”

Is this recognized as art? “This just isn’t like commercial art; it’s art,” says Weston. “It fascinated me.”

And Phyllis moves on, busy weeks consulting, meeting with people, running her gallery, and living with energy, ever smart, ever involved, and above all, ever curious. What a treasure!

The Phyllis Weston Gallery

2005 1/2 Madison Road

Cincinnati, Ohio 45208

Tuesday – Saturday 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.,
or by appointment

Cynthia Osborne Hoskin

According to Julie Aronson, Curator of American Painting, Sculpture, and Drawings at CAM, the paintings presently on display are “(Some in the Cincinnati Wing, some in the American galleries on the 2nd floor): James Henry Beard, North Carolina Emigrants; Elizabeth Nourse, La Mère; John Henry Twachtman, Landscape; Robert S. Duncanson, Landscape with Waterfall; Robert S. Duncanson, Minneopa Falls; William Louis Sonntag, Landscape with Figures by a Lake; and Robert Frederick Blum, Silk Merchant, Japan

“We are unveiling our new ‘open storage’ exhibition The Collections: 6,000 Years, which includes the following: Worthington Whittredge, Landscape with Stream and Deer; Alexander Helwig Wyant, In the Adirondacks; William Louis Sonntag, Mountain Landscape; Lilly Martin Spencer, The Dogged Class; Lewis Henry Meakin, Eden Park; Robert Henri, Whistle; and Charles Meurer, The Power of the Press

“Blum’s Venice, The Grand Canal will be going on display in March in a one-gallery show in the Cincinnati Wing dedicated to the city’s painters working in Venice.


“Robert S. Duncanson, The Pass at Leny is on long-term loan to the Taft, where it is displayed with a group of Duncanson’s paintings.”


As an example of the loan program, says Aronson, “We lent eight P&G paintings, dating from 1911 or later, to the exhibition this past summer at Greenacres in celebration of Louise Nippert’s 100th birthday, giving these works wider public exposure. A commemorative publication is in progress that will include them. Nourse’s La Mère was lent to the exhibition Americans in Paris that traveled in 2006 to the Met, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the National Gallery in London.  It has been requested for a future exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay.”

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