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Generosity on Display

The Mulvane’s growth continues thanks to gifts-in-kind

Joyce Tenneson, Path and Trees, 2016; archival pigment print. Gift of David Becker, part of the 2021 Summit Art Advisory donation.

(Joyce Tenneson, Path and Trees, 2016; archival pigment print. Gift of David Becker, part of the 2021 Summit Art Advisory donation.)

From Bell Tower - 2021
By Chris Marshall

The Mulvane Art Museum is home to more than 6,000 works of art, but curating pieces that are worthy of the gallery’s 9,000 square feet of exhibition space requires much more thought than simply throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks.

While Connie Gibbons, director, and a team she calls “small but mighty” devote significant time and resources to seeking out pieces that meet their standards, a growing number of donors have approached the museum in recent years to help expand the Mulvane's collection. Whether through financial contributions or donated artwork, these kinds of gifts have been transformative for a museum that will soon celebrate its 100th anniversary.

“Our collections have been built on donations and gifts-in-kind from the very beginning, when the museum was first established in 1924,” Gibbons said. “Our collection wouldn’t be what it is today without the generosity of donors.”

In 2017, award-winning artist Rita Blitt, H '19, gifted a legacy collection of her paintings, drawings and sculptures, along with a cash donation to build a state-of-the-art gallery and fund for the collection’s presentation. In 2020, a group of donors teamed up to purchase Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Brian Lanker’s photo series, “I Dream A World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America.” Those gifts helped establish an expansive photography collection and put the museum on the map for future donations, which paid dividends earlier this year when the Mulvane was approached with one of its largest contributions yet.

Summit Art Advisory, an organization in New Jersey specializing in the management of art collections, arranged for nine donors to contribute more than $2 million worth of photographs from notable artists, including former Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss Jr. and Joyce Tenneson, whose work has been published on the covers of Time, Life and Newsweek.

Several of the 500-plus pieces donated by Summit are already on display, further bolstering the Mulvane’s ability to attract more visitors and recognition for Washburn. And, along with the Lanker collection, it further establishes the Mulvane as a suddenly important regional site for fine art photography.

“The community sees we utilize our collection to engage with the campus, greater Topeka and the Shawnee County region, and that builds trust,” Gibbons said.  “People feel positive about making a gift to an institution that is going to utilize and care for the work that comes to it.”

As the museum’s reputation grows at a national level, significant gifts continue to come from local donors. One example is Matt and Judy Veatch, a Lawrence, Kansas couple who recently donated 84 pieces on behalf of their late friends, Jack and Ann Ozegovic.

Judy became the executor of the Ozegovics’ estate and substantial art collection after they passed away, just three days apart in December 2018, and dispersed a few initial pieces at the Ozegovics’ request to various Kansas museums, including the Mulvane. While at the Veatch house to accept the initial donation, Gibbons and Rebecca Manning, the museum’s collections manager, were amazed to see the works by both Ozegovics and their friends on the walls of the Veatch house. Much of the collection aligned perfectly with the Mulvane’s collecting priorities.

Jack Ozegovic, Bad Moon Risin’, 2007; woodcut. Gift of Matt and Judy Veatch in memory of Jack and Ann Ozegovic.

(Jack Ozegovic, Bad Moon Risin’, 2007; woodcut. Gift of Matt and Judy Veatch in memory of Jack and Ann Ozegovic.)

“The timing was good because Rebecca and Connie were looking to enhance the print collection,” Judy Veatch said. And their friend Jack, who had founded the printmaking department at Northwestern Michigan College, had been both a creator and collector of significant prints and paintings. 

Neither of the Ozegovics attended Washburn, but as passionate art collectors, they were familiar with the Mulvane and knew their gift would be in good hands. The Veatches came away from the initial exchange pleased by how pleasant and streamlined the donation process was. So when they decided to downsize later in 2019, the Mulvane was the right place for their donation.

“They took the time to get to know the art and get to know Matt and me,” Veatch said. “We believed Ann and Jack’s collection was museum-worthy, and the artwork spoke to Rebecca the way it’s always spoken to me.” 

Whether it’s a collection of hundreds, as Summit provided; dozens, like the Ozegovics’; or even just a print or two that carries special significance, the Mulvane is always accepting of quality artwork, or financial gifts that can make future acquisitions possible.

Every contribution plays a part in raising the museum’s profile and building momentum that helps attract more high-profile donations down the road. It’s a prosperous cycle, and as illustrated by the rise in significant gifts-in-kind, one that’s helped add a growing number of picture-perfect additions to the Mulvane’s collection.

Blitt Gallery front

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1729 MacVicar Avenue
Topeka, KS 66604 Phone: 785.670.4483