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Nevadan takes art of collection to new level

They say the first step toward recovery is admitting you have a problem, and as he addressed Sunday’s gathering at the Nevada State Museum Wally Cuchine almost gleefully acknowledged his addiction. He is an unabashedly compulsive collector of art from Nevada and the West.

The Eureka-based bon vivant has amassed an astounding 2,000 pieces in his personal collection over four decades. Some of his Native American carvings are only slightly larger than a postage stamp. The metal horse and cow sculptures in his front yard are life-size. Between the two extremes, hundreds of paintings in a variety of media from the famous and nearly anonymous fill the walls of the single-wide trailer he long ago converted into a gallery.

“Because of the addiction, I should really introduce myself as, ‘Hi, I’m Wally. I’m addicted to buying art,’” Cuchine says. “I added 60 pieces to the collection just this past year. So I’ve gone over the top. But you’re the lucky recipients of being able to see just a little chunk of that.”

The collection is curated by University of Nevada, Reno art professor Jim McCormick, who met Cuchine in 1982 at a time the collector was working closely with the Nevada Humanities Committee. Before his retirement in 2011, Cuchine handled the programming and marketing as director of the remarkable Eureka Opera House and Eureka Sentinel Museum.

Nevada Smith readers are an adventurous lot, but not even they go through Eureka on a regular basis. The mining town is on U.S. 50 approximately 325 miles north of Las Vegas.

But these days you’re running lucky: A sweet slice of Cuchine’s gallery is on display at the state museum. It’s called “Wally’s World: The Loneliest Art Collection in Nevada.” It’s part of the Nevada Arts Council’s Nevada Touring Initiative traveling exhibit series.

Even in the abbreviated version, the variety of work presented in the collection is nothing short of astounding. There’s Craig Sheppard’s marvelous untitled watercolor of a wild horse that captures the spirit of the mustang. Contrast that with “Chicken,” Las Vegan Wally Wallace’s glazed ceramic, and you begin to get the idea.

Lovers of Nevada will appreciate the way the art captures the essence of our rural towns. Lovers of art will come away with a deeper appreciation of the caliber of artists working throughout the Silver State and the Great Basin. Robert Cole Caples’ “Tonopah Houses,” Ron Arthaud’s “Late Morning, Eureka, Nevada” and Cherlyn Bennett’s “Inside the Belmont Mill” are examples of these.

Whether the artists were working in oil, clay, watercolor, pastels, pencil, or wood and bone, the variety on display is truly an impressive thing.

Although the Montana-born Cuchine began collecting art in Puerto Rico while in the Air Force, “It didn’t kick into high gear until I moved to Nevada,” he says. From Reno to Las Vegas, Hawthorne to Ely, up to Elko and over to Eureka, Cuchine embraced our state. (For more information on the exhibit and the arts council, go to nac.nevadaculture.org.)

At the opera house, he became a magnet for artists and entertainers from throughout the region.

“I had a wonderful career running the opera house, and one of the things we did there was put together a fine arts collection for the opera house,” he says. “So we invited 23 Great Basin artists to come for a cultural event weekend. We had each one of them do a piece of art in whatever medium they work in, for the permanent collection, and one piece for sale.

“It cost me a fortune, but that’s fine. The other thing is, I met a few artists that way.”

After more than two decades in Eureka, his Nevada adventure continues. Thankfully for the rest of us, Wally Cuchine has no plans to quit his art addiction.

Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-383-0295 or at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com.

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