New Yorker Takes the Art of Giving to New Level

James Berry Hill, a New York City art dealer, wanted to give his wife Nancy something special for their 35th wedding anniversary. So he asked William Wegman, who’s famous for his photos of weimaraners, to photograph the couple’s two cavalier King Charles spaniels.

“Our dogs, along with our children and grandchildren, are the loves of our lives,” Mr. Hill says. “I couldn’t resist the notion if Bill would do it.”

Mr. Wegman typically photographs only his own dogs, but he has a friendly professional relationship with Mr. Hill and agreed to the project. The resulting photo shoot made for a memorable anniversary celebration for the Hills. Not only that, they came away with 16 amazing portraits, one of which they’ve donated to Cleveland Clinic.

Mr. Hill says he’ll always be grateful to the “brilliant surgeon” who operated on him in October, 1998. “I had a very, very defective valve.” It took “classic Cosgrove magic” to fix it, he says, referring to the work of Delos M. Cosgrove, MD, now CEO and president of Cleveland Clinic.

Puppy Love
Mr. Hill’s wife was with him during his two-week stay in Cleveland. “When I returned to New York after my surgery, I wanted to buy her a present.” He was thinking jewelry; she wanted a puppy. They both like the cavalier King Charles breed. “We got an absolutely precious little baby cavalier,” Mr. Hill says. “What was more appropriate than to name him Cosgrove? “What Dr. Cosgrove did for me was restore my health. My intention is to continue to give art, which is what I know, to Cleveland Clinic.”

Mr. Hill’s first gift to the institution was a print titled “Six Hearts,” by American pop artist Jim Dine. The Wegman photograph, which Mr. Hill gave in honor of the 10-year anniversary of his surgery, is a “beautiful, sensitive” portrait of Cosgrove the canine and the Hills’ second dog, Mischief.

An Afternoon to Remember
The photo was taken about four and a half years ago. “It was a very amusing afternoon,” Mr. Hill says, adding that he and his wife had brought an armload of dog toys to the studio with them in hopes of keeping their dogs occupied. “Our dogs paid no attention to them,” he recalls. But Mr. Wegman’s weimaraners, who were also on hand, “were playing with everything we brought.”

The Hills’ two spaniels weigh only about 19 pounds each, compared to weimaraners, which weigh between 50 and 70 pounds. “They’re a fraction of the size, but they were getting along famously. It was puppy heaven,” Mr. Hill says.

“It was fascinating to watch Bill at work. He had the dogs mesmerized. He had them responding to everything that he wanted them to do. They could have been hypnotized, they were so well-behaved.”

Taking a lighthearted approach for some of the shots, Mr. Wegman even dressed up the Hills’ dogs, putting a wig on Mischief – “she looked like Madame Pompadour” – and turning Cosgrove the dog into “an impresario of the theater,” in black rimmed eyeglasses and a Hermès scarf wrapped around his neck, says Mr. Hill. Altogether, “It was a really cool experience, and I shall never forget it.”

Compelling Art
Mr. Wegman works in Polaroid, so his photographs are all originals, Mr. Hill says. “He did 16 photographs in this session. When I saw them, I had to buy all 16.”

In addition to the photo he gave to Cleveland Clinic’s art collection, which is overseen by the Arts & Medicine Institute, he gave one to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, N.Y. “I do not plan to give any more away,” says Mr. Hill, president and co-owner of the Berry-Hill Galleries, which deals in American masters, French Impressionists and modern masters. He has been an art dealer for 45 years.

He has one son in the business, David Berry Hill; his other son, Charles Berry Hill, is a banker in California. The Hills have two grandsons, Robert Berry Hill and Lincoln Berry Hill.

The two little spaniels, Cosgrove and Mischief, round out the Hills’ immediate family. “I play with the puppies and look at them,” Mr. Hill says. “They represent health, good fortune and everything wonderful.”

To make a gift supporting the Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute, the Arts & Medicine Institute or any area of Cleveland Clinic, visit iSupport, our secure online giving site, or call Institutional Relations and Development at 216.444.1245 or toll-free at 800.223-2273, ext. 41245.

Photo credit:
© William Wegman,
"Cosgrove and Mischief," 2005
Gift of Nancy R. and James B. Hill
in honor of Delos M. Cosgrove, MD.