Before the girls made Martinsdale their permanent home in 1934, they had lived all over the country, attending colleges in Missouri and Pennsylvania, living in Portland for years as well as in California in the winters. These experiences led to their desire to collect, to bring pieces from their fantastic adventures back home with them, and to be able to share with their Montana friends the treasures that the world had to offer.
The Bair sisters soon joined the elite club of becoming private collectors. There is an amount of freedom that private collectors take pleasure in that museums often do not have. When building collections, museums generally aim to obtain works in a systematic approach specific to periods and movements, or particular themes and eras are explored through acquisition. Private collectors, on the other hand, are free from being bound to patterns of collection and can draw from their own particular inspirations or passions. The strength of the private collection is in expressing the collector’s creative interests. Therefore, an appreciation of a private collection requires an understanding of the collector’s vision.
The Bair vision was of eclectic origin. Alberta and Marguerite Bair traveled to Europe 20 times over the course of their lives, finding treasures that not only were significant in documenting historical periods, but which shaped the vision the two sisters designed for their final gift to the people of Montana. The vision was to not only show Montanans the treasures the world had to offer, but to integrate them with the beautiful pieces executed by Montanans and westerners as well.
Lee Rostad referred to a world-renowned collection when describing the visions that Alberta and Marguerite had when organizing their own collection. The Wallace Collection, a London house museum, holds one of the most significantly eclectic private collections in the world. Lady Wallace bequeathed the collection to the British government, one that holds everything from French 17th and 18th century furniture, objets d’art, to paintings by old masters and modern French artists, exhibited alongside arms and armour, medieval objects, bronzes, ceramics, clocks, miniatures and porcelains. When looking at the Bair collection it is clear that the intentions were very similar between a nineteenth century English noblewoman and two twentieth century women from the farmlands of distant Montana.