Major gift by late philanthropist caps 18-year legacy of Wolfsonian support


Palm Beach philanthropist Jean S. Sharf and her late husband, collector and scholar Frederic A. Sharf, have gifted more than 650 items to The Wolfsonian–FIU.

A longtime trustee and benefactor of museums across the United States, Fred Sharf initiated the donation in early fall 2017, just a few months before his death in late November. His final gift to The Wolfsonian is the culmination of nearly two decades of institutional support and features rare, under-studied material from the late 19th century through the Second World War relating to aviation, national fairs, the rise of the modern Japanese empire and colonialism in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

“Fred Sharf dedicated his life to ensuring that the items he collected were made available to the community,” said Francis Luca, Wolfsonian chief librarian.“He actively and prolifically published in order to share his knowledge and sought out permanent homes for his finds in public museums and gallery spaces. We are honored that the Sharfs have chosen The Wolfsonian as a permanent repository for a large part of their private library, knowing that the extraordinary artifacts Fred amassed over a lifetime would ‘not collect dust on the shelves,’ but rather be preserved, displayed and made accessible for generations to come.

Significant highlights of the Sharfs’ gift include:

  • Japan and Her Exhibits, a rare catalog from the 1915 San Francisco Panama Pacific International Exposition, containing more than 400 pages of information, photographs and advertisements on Japanese industries, art and attractions;
  • An original photograph album (1919–26) documenting a British traveler’s seven-year trip around the world, with an elaborate mother-of-pearl inlay cover design of a bird with outstretched wings;
  • A 5-ft framed tapestry (1927) commemorating Charles Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight from New York to Paris, and his single-engine monoplane Spirit of St. Louis;
  • Early aviation magazines, including issues of The American Aviator (1929) and Flight (1932);
  • Our Wonderful Women by Cecil Hunt, a Second World War-era book published in London to commend women’s contributions in the war effort as nurses, members of the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) and ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service);
  • 1950s British fair publications, featuring colorful cover artwork and ads for products such as chocolate, shampoo and diamond rings.

The Sharfs’ relationship with The Wolfsonian dates back to 1999, when they began contributing toward exhibitions and publications. From 2001 to 2006, Fred Sharf served on the museum’s advisory board; and, in 2010, the couple’s focus homed in on the collection and initiatives of The Wolfsonian–FIU Library, where they have underwritten an associate librarian position dedicated to accessioning, cataloging and preparing their extensive donations for digitization and display. Rochelle T. Pienn, in this role since its inception in 2011, has since processed thousands of items gifted by the Sharfs.

“A rare combination of historian, art collector and humanist, Fred Sharf had a keen understanding of what was both beautiful and meaningful,” Pienn said. “Whether donating period books from the Russo-Japanese War or original British colonial photograph albums, Fred understood the importance of relating artifacts of the past for the purpose of new scholarship. He was invigorated by the study and exhibition of these materials here on Miami Beach.”

The Sharf Collection held by The Wolfsonian–FIU Library contains more than 5,000 rare photograph albums and other unique materials providing first-person perspectives of historical events and places across the globe. Major periods and moments covered by the collection include – the building of the Panama Canal; British colonial initiatives in India and Burma; and wars and uprisings ranging from the Boxer Rebellion (1898–1901), Spanish-American War (1898), Second South African War (1899–1902), Philippine American War (1899–1902), and Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) to various Japanese military conflicts in Manchuria, China. Other materials also housed at The Wolfsonian include architectural drawings and illustrations.

“The Sharfs’ latest gift is a keystone donation,” said Wolfsonian director Tim Rodgers. “We’re saddened that Fred’s many years of fruitful collaborations with the Wolfsonian team have been cut short, but look forward to celebrating his legacy in the true spirit of the Sharfs—with endless curiosity, the heart of a scholar and a passion for the overlooked and unsung.”

The Wolfsonian is planning an installation of lacquered photograph albums from the Sharf Collection for 2019 and will continue to research and display material from the collection in other upcoming projects. Past installations that have heavily drawn on Sharf materials or were supported by the Sharfs include Styled for the Road: The Art of Automobile Design, 1908–1948 (2009); Visions of Victory: Picturing the Spanish-American War (2012); Wonders Never Cease: The 100th Anniversary of the Panama Canal (2014); and An Artist on the Eastern Front, Feliks Topolski, 1941 (2015).