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What's Mine is Yours

E.G Meyer entrusts valuable art collection to UW Art Museum

Volume 14 | Number 3 | May/June 2013

By Steve Kiggins
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As he watched out the window, E.G. Meyer could only admire the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s most dynamic cities. People scurried. Cars zagged. Lights flashed.

Everything in New York City was stuck on fast forward. Until the bus he was riding came to an abrupt halt at renowned Fifth Avenue.

“It’s about 4 or 5 in the afternoon, and we’re just sitting there,” recalls Meyer, wrinkling his brow as if he’s still frustrated all these years later. “So, I go up to the driver and say, ‘What’s the problem?’ and he says, ‘Look out there!’”

In the path of the bus, blocking one of Manhattan’s major thoroughfares, was a sea of people clad in every shade of green. They walked—or, in some cases, stumbled—along the roadway to the displeasure of the dozens of drivers who leaned on their horns to no avail.

Meyer was stuck, too. All because he took a trip to Sotheby’s to bid on a few paintings.

One of Wyoming’s foremost art collectors, a surprising distinction for a man who has made his living as a chemist and chemical engineer, Meyer boasts a remarkable amassment, highlighted by works from the Taos Society of Artists and the Cowboy Artists of America, that is valued in the millions and admired by art aficionados.

The many paintings, drawings and sculptures in Meyer’s collection are displayed today throughout his Laramie home. They’ll be a public attraction at the University of Wyoming Art Museum sometime in the future.

To cap an unparalleled career of service to UW and the state that began 50 years ago, Meyer has entrusted a significant portion of his collection, valued at $3.8 million, to UW upon his death. The gift includes original works by well-known artists such as Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell, Joseph Sharp, William Gollings, Thomas Moran, John Clymer, Edward Borein, George Inness and Marc Chagall.

“This is a truly extraordinary gift that will expand our collection in a fabulous way,” says Susan Moldenhauer, director and chief curator of the UW Art Museum. “The museum has a very limited number of works in our existing collection of Western art, mostly because it hasn’t been a focal point of our acquisitions, so this gift will fill a great void. And I think this sets the stage for other Western artists to come into our collection.”

Though Meyer vaguely remembers seeing artwork displayed at the home of his maternal grandmother, Anna Ilfeld, an early patron of the Taos artists of New Mexico, Meyer’s affinity for art didn’t blossom until his mother inherited some of her collection in the late 1920s.

“That’s when I started looking at them and becoming very interested in them,” he says. Years later, after his parents passed, Meyer and his sister, Betty Mae, inherited the artwork and he says, “That got me hooked!” It was his quest for art that led him to the Big Apple on that unforgettable St. Patrick’s Day.

“I couldn’t believe it when I looked out the window,” says Meyer, UW’s first vice president for research and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “The darn St. Patrick’s Parade was still going on. It started at 10 o’clock and these guys are still sauntering down Fifth Avenue.”

In a hurry to get to the train station—Meyer had traveled from Washington, D.C., for the auction during a break from an academic conference—the UW professor decided it would be faster to walk the last two blocks.

“I’m trying to get across the street and some gal comes up to me and she says, ‘Where’s your green?’” says Meyer, breaking into laughter. “I wasn’t wearing any green and she says, ‘Well, you can’t be with us without some green!’ and she pulls out a little paper flower and sticks it in my sweater.”

As he shares the rest of the story, Meyer can’t help but laugh again. “The next thing I know, I’m walking down Fifth Avenue with all these drunk Irishmen. And I’m trying to push my way to the station. It was a kick!”

It was a memorable experience, too, because Meyer bought one of his favorite paintings at Sotheby’s that day: a piece titled “Rio Grande” by Russian painter Nicolai Fechin. “It’s just a terrific painting,” he says, fondly. “I just love it.”

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