January 6, 2010 16:59 Age: 4 yrs

The Art of History

By: Wendy R. Cromwell

Fred Bentley Sr. 49L explains part of his eclectic collection to visitors.

The walls are covered in art — so are the floors, counters and any flat surface.

The old Cobb County Courthouse in Marietta, Ga., doubles as the law offices of Bentley, Bentley & Bentley and as a treasure trove.

At its heart is Fred Bentley Sr. 49L, who gave Emory Law two paintings—a landscape and portrait of Benjamin Franklin—in November, adding to his impressive collection at the law school.

“I’ve been giving paintings and artifacts for 60 years,” Bentley says. “I’ve given away 2,000 paintings in that time.”

Of course, you wouldn’t know he’s given such a large part of his collection away.

“This is a piece of marble from the original U.S. Supreme Court building,” Bentley says, holding up a small white rectangle. “I’ve never argued before them. Never had to—I’ve never lost a case.”

Going around to the other side of his desk, Bentley holds up a grenade then a bayonet, both from the Revolutionary War.

“How would you like to have that coming at you?” he asks with a shiver.

At his office door, he holds up a flintlock—“Old Bessie”— also from the Revolution.
Sitting atop some rare books on his desk is a bronze of very large hands made from Abraham Lincoln’s hands.

“I just landed the original cast of his face!” Bentley says. “It’s plaster and was made at the same time as his hands.”

When he adds to his collection, he’s not as interested in the age of a piece as he is its historical significance.

He next picks up a small earthen lamp. “This is from Jerusalem from the time of Christ. People just took care of it.”

He points to a bookshelf in the corner of his office. “See that egg? It’s a dinosaur egg from 70 million years ago.”

There are three more dinosaur eggs tucked away in a box near a chair holding an Acoma Pueblo pot.

Bentley donates his art to the law school because “it’s pretty dull down there— it’s the truth.

“Emory Law was a good school,” he says. “It took me in and educated me, one of my sons and my granddaughter. She finished first in her class!”

His gifts grace the dean’s office, the rare book and archival rooms in the law library, faculty offices, common spaces in Gambrell Hall and the Center for the Study of Law and Religion office.

“I look for pieces that are beautiful and have historical significance for the law school,” Bentley says.
His favorite gift to Emory Law is a signed copy of the Declaration of Independence because “it’s one of the two most important documents ever produced in this country.”

Outside his office is another framed copy of the Declaration of Independence. Next to it is a framed copy of an invoice from the contracting company that cleaned the Philadelphia assembly room after the Continental Congress in 1787.

“I have a collection of all the newspapers from that time period that describe in detail the drafting and ratification of the Constitution,” Bentley says.

His love affair with art and history began when his Sunday school teacher invited him and his class over one afternoon.

“I was 7 years old and had never seen a painting before,” Bentley recalls. “She showed us three paintings she had done in college. I fell in love with art right then. I was smitten.”

One of those three paintings now is part of his collection— a gift from the Sunday school teacher when she turned 95.

“Nobody has as much fun as me,” Bentley says, turning toward a table full of pictures. “Of course, my real treasures are in those photographs.”

The photographs are of his family.

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