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Late Collector's Dream of Making Townhouse an Art Gallery Becomes Reality

By Jeff Mays | May 16, 2014 11:56am
 Frank Hall's townhouse will host ArtCrawl Harlem's Tribal Art Week Uptown, where several of Hall's museum quality pieces will be on display. "He had dreamed about this," said Carl McCaskill, a close friend of Hall and the executor of his estate. "He would have loved opening the house up to the public."
Will Marion Cook House Hosts Tribal Art Week Uptown
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HARLEM — Frank Hall died before he had the chance to see the landmarked Strivers' Row townhouse he was renovating turned into an art gallery and salon filled with his massive collection of African tribal art.

Now, little more than a year after Hall's death from stomach cancer, his townhouse will host Tribal Art Week Uptown where several of Hall's museum-quality pieces will be on display.

"He had dreamed about this," said Carl McCaskill, a close friend of Hall and the executor of his estate. "He would have loved opening the house up to the public."

Hall purchased the 1891 Will Marion Cook House on 138th Street between Frederick Douglass Boulevard and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in 2011 to hold his 1,000 pieces of African tribal art, rare Bedouin feast plates, Moroccan tapestries and 13,500 architectural postcards.

The idea was to use the space as a gallery and salon in addition to calling it home. But Hall fell ill and never finished the renovations on the townhouse once owned by Cook — one of the most important African-American composers of his day who influenced other great artists such as Duke Ellington.

Although he visited the townhouse often, Hall, an architect who originated from a wealthy Detroit area family, never slept a night there.

"I'm excited to be a part of making someone's dream come true," said Jacqueline Orange, executive director and co-founder of ArtCrawl Harlem, which is organizing the event independently of, but to coincide with, New York Tribal Art Week, an event that takes place mostly downtown.

"There is art in Harlem," Orange said. "You don't always have to go to Soho or Chelsea."

The show will take place this weekend and next and include tours of 50 pieces of art that are expressions of village life and fertility, among other topics. Architectural historian John Reddick will also lead tours of the Will Marion Cook House, which is a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Hall also dreamed of having his art in museums. The British Museum accepted 350 of Hall's Syrian architectural postcards from Aleppo, which was nearly destroyed during the recent conflict there.

McCaskill said the Metropolitan Museum of Art is in the final phase of accepting 15 of Hall's Bedouin plates that are no longer handmade in Syria.

The townhouse is also being sold. Hall purchased it for $1.5 million and it was put on the market last year for $2.5 million. The home is currently under contract for an above-list price of $2.88 million, McCaskill said.

Once the sale is complete, McCaskill, chief branding officer for the Soul of the South Network, said some of the funds will be put toward continuing the legacy of arts education in Harlem that Hall was hoping to launch.

"Frank was the flip side of gentrification," McCaskill said. "He showed how new people can mingle with existing residents and enrich the community and the conversation."

Tribal Art Week Uptown will be available to the general public at the Will Marion Cook townhouse, 221 W. 138th St., from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 17-18 and May 24-25. Tours for youth groups are available everyday through May 24. Admission is $5 per person or two tickets for $5 if purchased online.