Goodyear’s boxing squirrels — and a lot more — are getting knocked out.
We’re talking about artwork that the Akron tire maker accumulated and created over the decades, starting in the early part of the 20th century, that won’t make the move from Goodyear’s old buildings on East Market Street to the new headquarters.
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. is making a nearly clean break with its artsy past as employees settle into the ultramodern $160 million corporate headquarters on nearby Innovation Way in East Akron.
Since last September it’s been the responsibility of Green resident Ron Beahn, Goodyear’s former art curator, to find and catalog hundreds of pieces of art — paintings, sculptures, ceramics, antiques, old maps and more — in preparation for proper disposal.
“I’m documenting everything we do,” said Beahn. “A lot of them, we don’t know how [Goodyear] got them, but we got them. All these little odds and ends things, we’re going to dispose of them.”
Goodyear retained him to spend a couple of days each week over months searching offices, nooks, crannies, closets and storage rooms at the old headquarters and Goodyear Hall in pursuit of valuable and sometimes forgotten artwork. This is actually the second time the 65-year-old Beahn’s been pressed into this kind of duty at Goodyear.
As Beahn wraps up his work, Goodyear is nearly finished figuring out what to do with the 700-plus pieces he has found and sorted, including an antique rifle found just in the past couple of weeks. The company will say farewell to most of it, including four small glass-fronted cases of stuffed squirrels mounted to depict a boxing match that were made in the early 1900s in Great Britain.
Much of the valuable art, including well-known artists as well as a significant vintage map collection, is being billed as “The Goodyear Collection” and will be auctioned off in September by Cleveland-based Rachel Davis Fine Arts. (The boxing squirrels will be among the pieces put up for auction.)
Some of Goodyear’s legacy artwork is being retained for display at the new global and North American Tire headquarters on Innovation Way.
Goodyear employees will have a chance to buy the art not being kept or put up for auction at a company-only sale, probably in June.
Beahn is a watercolor artist who owns a custom frame shop on Portage Trail in Cuyahoga Falls. For 25 years or so he has been heavily involved in the annual Boston Mills Artfest, where he is the director.
Beahn has strong ties to Goodyear. Beahn began working at Goodyear right after high school in the early 1960s as an apprentice electrician. His father was a manager at Goodyear’s old Plant 1. Beahn also served in the Navy as an electronics technician, repairing computers and working on anti-submarine warfare P3 Orion airplanes. He also liked to draw and paint.
In addition to working as an electrician and being Goodyear’s art curator, he also oversaw the large Gault conference room in the former headquarters and more.
“I took care of the model room and models,” Beahn said. “They had me doing a lot of different things.”
Beahn first catalogued Goodyear’s art collection 15-plus years ago before leaving the company.
He was first assigned the task of cataloguing the company’s art while he was working as an electrician; a company manager noted his artist background and shortly after he was put on special assignment.
“They didn’t know what they had,” he said. “I went and got drawings of all the buildings and I started scouring from the basement up ... and just started looking for whatever might be lying around.”
It took him upwards of a year to complete that work including having photographs taken of each piece he found, Beahn said. “I was real thorough.”
Goodyear had a large amount of advertising-related material created by people in its art department over the years.
“You had paintings for the ads,” he said. The company sometimes commissioned artists from outside Goodyear to do ad-related artwork as well, he said.
“We kept the original paintings,” Beahn said. “Some of these guys, as time went on, became well known. ... Now they’ve got a big name. Now the art is worth something. Some of the portraits of the past Goodyear people were done by famous artists. Goodyear never went out and bought artwork, per se, to have an art collection. The only thing they really went out to buy was their maps.”
Goodyear also has portraits by George Peter Alexander Healy that will be included in the upcoming auction.
“He was known as the painter of presidents,” Beahn said. “He has more presidential portraits in the White House than any other painter. Now here we are, sitting with four or five of his paintings.”
Goodyear published an annual Christmas newsletter decades ago that traditionally had a Norman Rockwell illustrated cover, Beahn said. But he never found a Rockwell painting in Goodyear all those years ago and does not know if the company ever commissioned Rockwell (who died in 1978 at the age of 84) to paint the covers, he said.
Beahn said he located Goodyear paintings by Dean Cornwell, an illustrator and muralist who was a contemporary of Rockwell. “He was doing artwork for ads,” he said. Cornwell died in 1960.
Some of Goodyear’s art “had a way” of disappearing from the company’s buildings years ago and he needed to find those pieces and get them back, Beahn said.
“[About 15 years ago] I found four of the Cornwell paintings in somebody’s basement,” Beahn said. “He bought them for $150 apiece and was going to restore them.”
Beahn said he went to the person’s home and picked up the paintings. “I went back and got them appraised — $93,000.”
He cautioned that it is difficult to put values on art. What was considered collectible years ago may not be so highly prized now, he said.
The Cornwell pieces are his favorites in the Goodyear collection, Beahn said.
Since starting on this latest project last September, Beahn said he’s been retracing many of the steps he took years ago.
Some valuable pieces he cataloged years ago at Goodyear are now at places such as Stan Hywet and the University of Akron, he said.
Goodyear refurbished, reframed and installed a number of pieces in the global headquarters portion of the new building, said Pete Buchanan, director of human resources, Akron operations.
“We’re an international company, so a lot of what is already installed came from our international collection. It’s a group of oils from all over the world,” he said. “Some pieces of this collection may find it into the North America [Tire] business unit areas of the building that tell a story.”
The company is still figuring out what else it should retain and display, Buchanan said. Old Wingfoot basketball team trophies will be among the items kept, he said.
The architect of the new headquarters has been selecting pieces to bring to the building, Buchanan said. “It’s rather fluid but we’re getting our arms around it.”
Preparing for auction
Auctioneer Rachel Davis just started looking over The Goodyear Collection.
Davis said it will take several months to do research, photograph and catalog the pieces, establish pricing and more in preparation to put them up for auction at an as-yet undetermined date in September. Davis said she needs to figure out a “game plan” for the auction and the best way to present the Goodyear items. People from around the world will be able to go online to bid on items.
“There’s so much varied stuff,” Davis said. “There’s historical, there’s lots of Cleveland School artists, a lot of Akron, there’s decorative art, there’s a nice collection of maps. … There’s 80 to 100 maps.”
Most of the maps were purchased for display in Goodyear’s former Mahogany Row executive suite offices.
There is a strong market for those kind of vintage maps, Davis said. “Hopefully we’ll get the attention of map collectors all over the country, even globally,” she said.
As for the boxing squirrels, Davis will put those up for auction, too.
“Some guy in England became noted for doing these things,” Beahn said. “These boxing squirrels are worth a couple grand or something.”
The squirrels at one point were displayed in a Goodyear lunch area “people in the past used to frequent,” Beahn said. “Sometimes it’s not so much what the art itself is valued at, it’s the history behind it, the stories it has behind it. Those sat there and watched a lot of people chew on food, I guess, at one time.”
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org.