Deere & Company is fortunate to have a robust art collection. Though the company has owned some art for most of its history, William Hewitt, President and CEO, purchased the bulk of the collection between 1955 and 1982.
Hewitt had two purposes for collecting art. In 1964, the company built a new headquarters building that needed some decoration to liven up the interior. Hewitt chose to collect fine art from around the world. He said, “I believe people are more likely to achieve excellence in an environment of excellence.” Hewitt used fine art to create that environment. His second purpose was to use art created by a variety of different cultures and in cutting-edge styles as a tool to introduce company employees to new cultures and new
ideas. Hewitt generally collected abstract expressionist and mannerist art, the leading art styles of his day. Therefore, the art collection was an employee engagement project that promoted cultural diversity long before either of those terms became common.
As a collection of physical objects, the art collection fits nicely into the Deere & Company Archives department. Archival collections are very similar to art collections. Deere & Company’s archival collection tells the story of the company’s history and character, and the art collection tells the stories that artists convey through their art, and how and why the company came to own each piece.
Today, we continue to follow Hewitt’s original goals for the art collection. We use it to engage employees by providing them with an environment of excellence that encourages creative thinking. Many of the most important pieces in the collection hang in the entrance hallway of our world headquarters building. This hallway is the main thoroughfare and physical center of the building, and therefore in many ways the center of the company. As employees and visitors enter this hallway, the first painting they see is an illustration by Walter Haskell Hinton of a teenage boy driving a John Deere tractor, exactly the type of art one would expect to see in the headquarters of a company famous for its tractors.
However, as they progress down the hallway, the art gradually changes from figurative and agriculturally–themed to abstract, and from American to international. In the center of the hallway are two very large abstract paintings, one by Columbian artist Alejandro Obregon and the other by Italian artist Danilo Prete. Both demand attention due to their size and the boldness of their imagery. Some employees and guests love them, some do not. Either reaction accomplishes the goals of engagement and inspiring creative thinking, as viewers tend to express their opinions, which leads to conversation, discussion, and ultimately, new understanding.