Sally Ryan (1916-1968) was an American sculptor, and co-founder of the Garman Ryan Collection, which was donated to the people of Walsall in 1973.
The collection of 365 works, developed in London during the 1960s, was formed by Sally and her close friend, Kathleen Garman (1901-1979). Kathleen was the widow of renowned British-American sculptor Jacob Epstein (1880-1959). Kathleen had grown up in the Black Country, and wanted the collection to come to the region, believing it was important for culture to exist outside the capital. (The gift led to the creation of The New Art Gallery Walsall, which opened in 2000.)
It exists as a biographical legacy to these two phenomenal women and is the only public collection known to feature’s Sally’s work, though their sculptures are easily mistaken for those of close friend and mentor, Epstein.
Much has been written about the extraordinary Epstein/Garman families but Sally has always been a more mysterious presence on the periphery of the collection.
Sally was the grandchild of an important American tycoon, Thomas Fortune Ryan. Their inheritance afforded many luxuries, including the opportunity to study in Paris, and move to London, where they became acquainted with Kathleen and Epstein. They travelled extensively, working between Europe and America, and purchased the majority of the European masterpieces in the collection, by artists including Constable, Degas and Monet. They were openly gay, wore their hair short, and dressed in masculine clothing, at a time when it was unusual to break from traditional gender norms.
Sally developed incurable cancer, and spent some of her later years in a suite at the Dorchester Hotel, with the collection’s Van Gogh hanging on her wall. Sally left artworks and a considerable sum of money to Kathleen in their will, to form their joint legacy.
Despite a few leads and research, Sally’s story remained largely unchanged over the last 50 years. However, recently Professor David Goldbloom contacted the Gallery, as he was undertaking a biography of his great-aunt, the famed Canadian concert pianist, Ellen Ballon (1898-1969). Ellen and Sally had been in a long-standing relationship, and Ellen’s family had a lot of new information about Sally, as well as photographs and artworks.
This online discussion between The New Art Gallery’s Collections Curator, Julie Brown, and Professor Goldbloom, will share the family’s knowledge and discuss Sally’s relationship with Ellen, as well as presenting examples of before unknown photographs and correspondence.
Join us for this free event via Zoom, for what will be a fascinating insight into the lives of Sally and Ellen, and the making of the Garman Ryan Collection.