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“Other” Koch’s “Real West” Engulfs Palm Beach Museum

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William-Koch-Recapturing the West-Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach

William Koch stands in front of an authentic Western saloon, which has been installed in a gallery at The Society of the Four Arts as part of the exhibition “Recapturing the Real West: Collections of William I. Koch”

Every nook and cranny of Palm Beach’s Society of the Four Arts is bursting with over 500 paintings, photos, artifacts and antiquities for “Recapturing the West: The Collection of William I. Koch.”

Recapturing the West William Koch The Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach

“Recapturing the West: Collections of William I. Koch” at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach.  This painting is “Mountain Lake” by Albert Bierstadt. Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

Items are hung Salon-style, cascading down the walls.

Recapturing the West William Koch The Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach

William Koch at “Recapturing the West: Collections of William I. Koch” at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

There are even garments hanging from the ceiling.

Recapturing the West Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach William Koch

Items are hung from the ceilings for “Recapturing the West: Collections of William I. Koch” at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

Outside, the front lawn is littered with wagons.

Wagons-Four-Arts-Palm-Beach-Recapturing-the-West-Koch

Wagons on the lawn outside Palm Beach’s The Society of the Four Arts as part of “Recapturing the West: Collections of William I. Koch” Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

“Unfortunately,” the billionaire collector noted during a preview on Friday, “the poor Four Arts just doesn’t have enough space.”  This he remarked while standing in the midst of his hurriedly scurrying, large curatorial and handler staff, four Palm Beach police officers and a private security firm equipped with state-of-the-art surveillance rivaling the Secret Service.  All were readying for Saturday’s opening.

Recapturing the West William Koch The Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach

William Koch at “Recapturing the West: Collections of William I. Koch” at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

Koch has been referred to as the “other” Koch because he’s often upstaged by his twin, David, also a billionaire art collector, who, along with their older brother Charles, runs Koch Industries. (Earlier this week The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that David Koch is funding the renovation and restoration of the fountain area in front of the museum on Fifth Avenue.) But in 1983 he escaped their shadows, sold them his share of the business, which they all inherited from their father, for a reported $470 million, and started his own Fortune 500 company, Oxbow Group. His current net worth is estimated at $3.5 billion.

Recapturing the West William Koch The Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach

William Koch at “Recapturing the West: Collections of William I. Koch” at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

The brothers had a long-standing legal feud as a result of the sale that lasted until 2001, when they settled. Now, Bill acknowledges David as his best friend.  Yet, while David and Charles are highly involved in conservative politics,  Bill prefers the less incendiary pursuit of collecting — mostly art and wine — voraciously.  Koch likes to amass things.

Recapturing the West William Koch The Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach

William Koch at “Recapturing the West: Collections of William I. Koch” at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

“My wife thinks I should be on hoarders,” he joked, referring to his third wife, Bridget Rooney Koch, granddaughter of Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney.

Recapturing the West William Koch The Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach

William Koch at “Recapturing the West: Collections of William I. Koch” at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

Inspired by his father’s legacy, he began collecting Western Art thirty years ago. He tears up, and momentarily pauses, as he shares his fond memories of working on his father’s ranch, outside of Wichita, Kansas, where he often performed grueling, physical labor. “It wasn’t a dude ranch,” he explained. Koch became enamored with the cowboy lifestyle and discovered he had more of an affinity with the working man than his country club peers.

There are items within “Recapturing the Real West” that have unrivaled historical significance, such as the only known photograph of Billy the Kid, which Koch nabbed at auction last year for $2.3million.

Billy the Kid Recapturing the West Willliam Koch The Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach

The only known photograph of the legendary Billy the Kid, which was purchased at auction last year by William Koch for $2.3 million. It is part of the exhibit “Recapturing the West: Collections of William I. Koch” at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

There are the over 150 guns from historic outlaws and lawmen, including ones that belonged to General Custer and Sitting Bull.

Recapturing the West William Koch The Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach

William Koch stands in front of a display case containing artifacts that belonged to Sitting Bull, including the gun he used, as part of “Recapturing the West: Collections of William I. Koch” at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

There are Charles Marion Russell paintings, Frederic Remington bronzes, antique cowboy hats, saddles, bowie knives, Jesse James’s gun, Jesse James’s killer’s gun, women’s apparel, Native American Indian artifacts, branding irons and a restored U.S. Mail stagecoach.

Recapturing the West William Koch The Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach

William Koch stands in front of an authentic, restored U.S. Mail stagecoach that is part of “Recapturing the West: Collections of William I. Koch” at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

There’s Wyatt Earp’s vest and his star, which reads, “Constable.”

Wyatt Earp Recapturing the West William Koch The Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach

Gears and guns belonging to Wyatt Earp, including the star badge he wore, which reads, “Constable” on display as part of “Recapturing the West: Collections of William I. Koch” at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

There are photographs of Jeremiah Johnson, Annie Oakley and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Jeremiah Johnson Recapturing the West William Koch The Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach

A photo of the real Jeremiah Johnson (who didn’t look at all like Robert Redford) is part of “Recapturing the West: Collections of William I. Koch” at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

There’s Custer’s guide-on, made by his wife, which is thought to be the flag flown at Little Big Horn.

Custers Stand Alone Flag Little Big Horn Recapturing the West William Koch The Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach

William Koch stands in front of General Custer’s Stand-Alone, the flag thought to be the one flown at Little Big Horn, which is included in “Recapturing the West: Collections of William I. Koch” at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

The exhibit is organized into groupings, each creates an environment.  One nook contains a general store.

General Store Recapturing the West William Koch The Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach

A recreation of a general store, with authentic artificats is part of “Recapturing the West: Collections of William I. Koch” at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

An entire gallery houses a Western saloon, equipped with a fully restored, authentic bar, which you enter through the original swinging wooden doors.

Saloon Recapturing the West William Koch The Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach

William Koch in the Saloon at “Recapturing the West: Collections of William I. Koch” at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

In the corner, there’s a brothel containing erotic images, aids and corsets.

Brothel Recapturing the West William Koch The Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach

The recreation of a Brothel at “Recapturing the West: Collections of William I. Koch” at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

Koch quipped, “My wife hates this stuff.”

Brothel Recapturing the West William Koch The Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach

The Brothel at at “Recapturing the West: Collections of William I. Koch” at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

Throughout his guided tour, Koch, who has a Ph.D. in engineering from M.I.T., demonstrated vast historical knowledge. At one point, Elizabeth Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwich Gallery, remarked, “I’m from Independence, Kansas — home of the Jesse James Gang.”

Koch replied, “No, that’s the Dalton Gang and I have Bob Dalton’s gun.”

Broun later said, “I am blown away. We have a wonderful collection, but this puts it to shame.”

Recapturing the West William Koch The Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach

William Koch at “Recapturing the West: Collections of William I. Koch” at The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

Where will the Koch collection go when the exhibit ends in mid-April? “I shouldn’t tell you this, but I am building my own Western town in Colorado,” said Koch. He then explained that the town will only be for family, friends and historians because, at his age, he doesn’t want to deal with the legal and accessibility hassles of opening a public institution.

He remarked, “I want to have a compound for my kids, and structured in such a way that they get along and not fight the way that I did with my brothers.”

Recapturing the West William Koch The Society of the Four Arts Palm Beach

The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Photo: Jenifer Mangione Vogt

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