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Patron saint 

Though the Cass Corridor Artists’ Workshop pretty much ran its course by the 1970s, industrialist James Duffy — a generous and savvy art collector — helped to preserve much of the genius that this progressive group produced.

The collector, who once turned his pipe- and valve-fitting company into a makeshift museum, is widely known as one of the few people who helped to save art in this town. In fact, to members of the local art scene, Duffy is often revered as major force in the nurturing of an entire generation of artists.

His acquisitions range from 18th century furniture to paintings by old masters. But what’s significant to folks in these parts is his interest in Detroit. Duffy has been collecting works from Detroit artists since 1967, and while the full significance of his generosity may not be known for many years, those who understand the importance of preservation know that his presence in the art community is invaluable.

For example, in 2001 Duffy donated several works from the Cass Corridor movement to Wayne State University. The generous gift resulted in the release of Up From the Streets: Detroit Art from the Duffy Warehouse Collection by Wayne State University Press. The book contains biographies and artwork from these instrumental and innovative artists and looks to be a historical reference for years to come.

But in addition to being a dedicated patron of many a starving artist, Duffy has his own talents. Now through April 16, nearly 200 of Duffy’s original photographs will be displayed with the work of fellow artists Gordon Newton and Benjamin Hoy at Ferndale’s Susanne Hilberry Gallery. The black-and-white snapshots, which were taken between 1974 and 1978, are mostly urban landscapes that focus on such things as handmade signs, local businesses and mysterious locations. As the gallery’s Web site describes them, “His photographs are panoramic landscapes depicting an urban environment that hasn’t much changed in 30 years.”

This may be the time to dish out a little support for the supporter. Spreading the wealth, monetary or otherwise, is the best way to keep art alive.


At 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday, Susanne Hilberry Gallery (700 Livernois Ave., Ferndale; 248-541-4700).

Eve Doster is the listings editor of Metro Times. Send comments to

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