UW Announces Landmark Gift That Transforms University's Role in the Arts

September 1, 2010
Woman smiling
Wyoming artist, Neltje

University of Wyoming officials said today (Wednesday) the university has received the largest estate gift in its history, a bequest that will transform the university's role in the arts in Wyoming and across the United States.

The estate gift is from Wyoming artist, Neltje, a prolific abstract expressionist whose works have been described as an "exploration of making the sensed visible."

The gift includes all financial and land holdings save for those going to her children and a select few personal donations. Additionally, the gift includes a world-class collection of contemporary, tribal and ethnic arts collected by Neltje over a lifetime of travel across the globe.

"If ever there was tangible evidence of the power of philanthropy, this is it," UW President Tom Buchanan says. "We can't thank Neltje enough for her vision and her commitment to the university and to the arts in Wyoming. It is simply remarkable."

The gift will enhance the UW Art Museum and the university's visual and literary arts programs, and it will enable UW to provide talented students with once-in-a-lifetime arts education opportunities unmatched in the United States.

The gift was announced just as the university is breaking ground for its new $33 million Visual Arts Center next to the UW Centennial Complex on the Laramie campus, which is home to the Art Museum and the American Heritage Center. Neltje's gift, combined with the significant investment in the new Visual Arts Center, promises to forever change the landscape for the fine arts at UW.

When this gift is realized, her home will become the heart of the UW Neltje Center for the Visual and Literary Arts, a place to honor and showcase the contemporary visual and literary arts and an educational facility for residencies, workshops, symposia, conferences, art exhibitions and literary readings.

"My heart belongs to Wyoming," says Neltje. "The incredible and vast landscape and the independent people have given me the inspiration to become who I am. My gift to the University of Wyoming is a gesture of my caring for future generations."

The Neltje Center will be open for UW activities related to the arts and also to the public for special events, conferences and celebrations. It will celebrate an expansive, sophisticated awareness of the arts and includes both the literary arts as well as contemporary art.

The gift includes a partnership with Jentel, a private foundation established by Neltje in 2000 that is located adjacent to her home. Jentel provides on a working ranch a residency program for visual artists and writers from across the country. The foundation strives to protect the pristine natural environment of the Piney Creek Valley.

"Neltje's extraordinary gift will transform the arts at the University of Wyoming, creating research and educational opportunities at the future Neltje Center and supporting the creative work of artists internationally through the artist residency program at Jentel," Susan Moldenhauer, director and chief curator at the UW Art Museum, says. "It will advance the Art Museum's mission through new collections, exhibition opportunities and museum-based research and education initiatives."

"Jentel will create a synergy of purpose with the Neltje Center, and the university," adds President Buchanan. "It will cultivate creativity and collaboration among artists in the residency program, students and artists from the university, and the public drawn to the Big Horns and this special place."

Neltje was born in New York City and raised in Oyster Bay, Long Island. In 1980 she took a few classes at the New York Studio School of Drawing and from 1979-80 she took a few classes at the Art Students League in New York, N.Y. She is essentially self-taught.

In 2005, she was recognized as one of Wyoming's preeminent artists with the Governor's Arts Awards. She received an honorary degree from Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont., and is the founder and benefactor of the Neltje Blanchan Literary Award in memory of her grandmother. She served on the Board of the Wyoming Arts Council from 1985 to 1988.

Neltje's work has been featured in collections at the Smithsonian, the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Mont., the IBM Corporation in Denver and the Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne, among others. In addition, her work is in private collections in California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

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