Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.
– Albert Einstein, one of numerous framed quotations on the walls of Imagine Museum
Trish Duggan sees light emanating everywhere, through everything. Not just art in glass, about which she’s passionate, but in people. In thoughts and ideas, in beliefs and practices and in positive action.
Lately, Duggan’s been reading Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, by Swedish statistician Hans Rosling. “Bill Gates said it’s one of the top books he’s ever read in his life,” she enthuses. “It’s such a positive-thinking book. It really duplicates how I feel about life.”
The 35,000-square-foot Imagine Museum, which opened a year ago at 1901 Central Avenue, is her baby: A longtime artist and enthusiastic collector, she decided she wanted to showcase the relatively new American glass art movement.
Because she could afford it, Duggan purchased the entire block, and hired a well-connected curator to help her buy up every piece he deemed beautiful or historically significant (although they did quibble about one or two objects; “I have a very discerning eye”). It is a stunning facility, and it has attracted attention from the media, and inquiries from other galleries, the world over.
The Imagine Museum’s first year was a resounding success, Duggan says, and she’s got big plans for the second. “I want to build an international museum. I have a huge collection that’s going to be so significant … it is the most significant international collection probably that’ll exist on the planet. It’s fabulous. Just fabulous.”
This will require putting up another building on the 1900 block of Central. “It’s an abstract idea right now, but it’ll happen eventually,” she explains.
Also in the works: Augmented and virtual reality exhibits. “Put together with art pieces, it’s going to be unbelievable.”
Her goal, she says, is to “uplift and inspire” people through this “magical” art form. “And I want to educate people, in a lot of different ways. Not only that glass is an American movement. I wake up every day proud to be American, happy to be American. OK, in the press we’ve arguing, we’ve got this viewpoint and that viewpoint … but look at what we can create.”
She was born Patricia J. Hagerty in Arlington, Virginia. Her grandfather and her father were Navy men during World War II; Trish grew up in Guam, enthralled with Japanese art and culture. She studied sociology, religion, culture and woodblock printmaking at a Jesuit university in Japan.
At the University of California at Santa Barbara, studying political science, she met her husband, Robert Duggan, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist who would go on to make billions later in life.
She spent many years working in the financial sector, but never lost her sense of wonder and discovery when it came to art.
“I feel like I’m definitely part of the American dream,” she says. “Because I lost a son, and I ended up adopting five sons and a daughter. I mean, where can you do something like that but America? Taking those kids that would have been in foster care and shuffled around, and giving them an opportunity.”
In 2015, Robert Duggan sold his company, Pharmacyclics, for $21 billion, after it developed a “miracle drug” for treating chronic lymphocytic leukemia. As shareholders, he and Trish took in $3.5 billion.
“So it doesn’t matter the president, it doesn’t matter the Congress – what matters is that we’re Americans and that we can all flourish and prosper in our own way,” she says.
“And we can have our own opinion. We can have our own viewpoint. We can create whatever art we want to create.”
The Duggan family relocated to the Clearwater area a decade ago. The work of local artist Marlene Rose, who specializes in sand-casting glass, left Trish breathless. “I saw a piece of her glass in someone’s home,” she recalls. “The light was on it, and it looked alive. I said ‘Oh my gosh, what is this? Who did this?’ That was the first time I’d seen it. If you have light on glass, it totally changes. If it’s backlit, frontlit or sidelit, the lighting has so much to do.” Unlike elegant blown glass, sand casting gives the work a gritty, organic look.
She introduced herself to the artist, and promptly bought a half dozen pieces. And then some more.
Rose taught her the sand casting process, too, and Duggan has created more than 5,000 pieces herself in just five years, plus more than 5,000 woodblock prints. “I’ve got that creativity inside me,” she smiles, “and it’s coming out.”
Whereas Rose uses a Buddha head as a recurring motif in her glass work, Duggan is partial to a likeness of Guan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of compassion.
It’s a hot, sweaty, dangerous process, dealing with hand-pressed molds and molten glass. But she absolutely loves creating art this way. “There’s something really earthy about it,” she says. “Like you can’t tell if it’s old or it’s new.”
In July, Duggan will travel to Sweden to work with Bertil Vallien, who’s considered the father of the sand casting movement. They’ve become friends, and are collaborating on “an enormous human rights piece that will be eventually be in the Peace Museum in Costa Rica.” She sits on the museum’s board.
Vallien will be the subject of a one-man Imagine Museum show next January.
Duggan is a major contributor to Youth for Human Rights International, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, the Foundation for a Drug-Free World and numerous other charities.
Her philanthropy extends to art – she loves what she loves, and thinks how she thinks, and she’s invested in giving back every way she can.
“Peggy Guggenheim did the Guggenheim Museum and really helped all those modern artists become famous,” she says. “I want to do a similar thing for glass art. Especially because, in my mind it’s such an American movement, and we should be celebrating all that we’re doing here in the United States.
“Instead of focusing on how we’re not getting along, let’s focus on how we can create a better future.”