The story of Farley and Germaine Berman reads almost like a novel, romance and espionage set against the backdrop of a war torn world. The story of the extensive art and weapons collection, once crammed mostly into the basement of their Anniston home, features its own intrigue. How did the more than 6,000 eclectic pieces find their way to a small town in northeast Alabama?
Farley entered the world in 1910 in Anniston. A half world away, Germaine was a week away from celebrating her second birthday in her native Paris, France. Decisions made by others they did not know and would never know set the stage for their lives to intersect and make their remarkable journey possible.
When Farley, a practicing attorney in Atlanta, received the call to active duty in World War II, German tanks had already rumbled into Paris. He started in the Ordnance Corps but was soon moved to intelligence. Germaine Kenne, who excelled in learning and speaking foreign languages, worked with the French Resistance, also in intelligence.
Both operated in the North Africa region when they met, not exactly by accident. Information was leaking out and an intense effort was made to ferret out what was thought to be a double agent. Farley was assigned to spy on Germaine and Germaine was assigned to spy on Farley. Neither was the culprit. They fell in love and married in New York after the war.
They settled in Farley’s hometown of Anniston and spent the next four decades amassing their collections. Farley preferred weapons and interesting articles of history while Germaine set her sights on various forms of art, including paintings and bronze sculptures.
After his beloved Germaine died in 1993, Farley began thinking about what would become of their collections. When a museum was suggested, he latched on to the idea. Several community leaders set about to make that happen.
The Farley L. Berman Foundation was established and ownership of the combined collection was transferred to the Foundation. The city completed the structure and in 1996 the museum opened with great fanfare. For the next few years, Farley paid regular visits to the museum and often lectured about pieces from the collection, especially spy weapons. He would load the trick flute, tire gauge, pen, screwdriver or a host of other such weapons with blanks and then without warning fire them, to the delight of his audience.
In the summer of 1999, Farley died after living a rich, exciting life. The Farley L. Berman Foundation Board continues to promote the legacy of Farley and Germaine and with an eye toward the future expanding the gift the Bermans left.
The addition of the Dr. Oliver and Pei-hwa Foo Asian collection enhances what the Bermans started. The Foo collection contains over 1,000 artifacts from China, Japan, Thailand, India, and other Asian regions that represent more than 2,000 years of history. The gallery housing much of their collection bears their name. It is a peaceful place, celebrating the opulent beauty reflected in artifacts of those cultures.
Now the board turns its thoughts and plans to the next 25 years. It will continue to honor Farley and Germaine, possibly in a way that would give future visitors a more intimate glimpse of the Bermans and why they collected what they did.