Thomas Weisel, a legendary finance expert and businessman, has turned his efforts toward the artistic—and the philanthropic—in the past several years. Weisel, the co-founder of major bank Montgomery Securities and of Thomas Weisel Partners, has spent the past forty years indulging a passion for southwestern Native American art and amassing an impressive collection of rare pieces.
Thom Weisel has donated 200 items from his personal collection to the de Young Museum in San Francisco. He reports that he first fell in love with Native American art when he purchased his first item, a chief’s blanket, in 1973. Since then he has collected many priceless items, including Mimbres ceramics from the 11th century, Navajo weavings, and the first Plains ledger drawings.
“I think I can understand and appreciate good art, and when I started seeing some of the Navajo weavings, and some of the pottery, I really thought these were great artistic pieces,” Weisel says.
Matthew Robb, curator of the Arts of the Americas at the de Young Museum, said that Weisel’s donation will allow for the Museum to “present Native American art in a more holistic way. We will be able to tell a story about Native American art on the West Coast, really from Alaska to the Southwest.” 70 of the 200 donated pieces were featured in their own exhibit, called “Lines on the Horizon.”
In his own home, Weisel commissioned a contemporary totem pole from legendary Haida carver Jim Hart. It took him a year to find the right tree to begin the carving, and he and his family stayed with Weisel until the piece was installed. “Knowing the artists makes collecting so much richer,” Weisel says. After its completion, the totem pole stands at 50 feet tall and six feet around.
The carved piece joins the contemporary art and photos that decorate his home. His personal collection includes work from Joan Brown, Arshile Gorky, and Wayne Thiebaud, as well as an early-1970s piece by Richard Diebenkorn that cost Weisel about $15,000 to purchase.
Though Thom Weisel remains an investment banker, he now has more time to dedicate to his philanthropic efforts and collecting art. Next year, when the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art reopens, three of its California art galleries are to be named after Weisel.