For more than 55 years, local historian Leonard McKay assembled a distinctive body of work comprised solely of historic paintings by Santa Clara Valley artists. McKay began collecting as early as World War II when he served with the U.S. Army First Infantry Division in Germany after the Battle of the Bulge. While overseas he collected several European art works, however by 1960 he began focusing exclusively on work created by Santa Clara Valley artists.
In 1956, McKay purchased the Smith-McKay Printing Company from his grandmother Bessie Smith, who founded the company with her husband Clifford, and her son Leonard Sr., in 1919. One of McKay’s clients was the de Saisset Museum. While working with the Museum’s Director Father Joséph Pociask he met numerous local artists and began collecting their work.
McKay began attending art exhibitions and auctions to build the collection. Sometimes he purchased pieces outright, and other times he traded printing work for them. He said, “One of the things I like so much about these paintings is that they are a record for San José.” The resulting collection is wonderfully rich, diverse in styles and is indeed a record of San José that the Museum is proud to share with the public.
This collection has not been exhibited since 2010 when History San José celebrated the 5th anniversary of opening the Leonard and David McKay Gallery. While the McKay Collection is the basis and inspiration for this exhibition, additional works from the permanent collection have been added by the same local artists to enhance and expand appreciation of their artistic legacy.