SIOUX CITY | Although Ritch LeGrand said he couldn't draw a stick person if his life depended on it, the Sioux City man developed a passion for fine art that dates back to his college days as a student at the University of Colorado.
He purchased his first piece of original art from a roommate's friend, who painted a portrait of Albert Einstein on their bedroom wall. Forty years later, LeGrand had amassed a diverse collection of more than 70 contemporary artworks from around the region and the world, which filled his home.
Now retired after a decades-long career in commercial real estate, LeGrand and his wife Kathy decided to donate 50 of those pieces and 200 fine art books to the Sioux City Art Center's permanent collection for the public to enjoy. The LeGrand Collection: A Regional Reflection opened on Saturday. The exhibition runs through Feb. 5.
"Sioux City has been so good to me and my family that this was a way that I could repay Sioux City in some small way for all the things that it's done for me," said LeGrand, who served on the Art Center Association of Sioux City's board for three years and donated the building now known as the Orpheum Theatre. "I guess the arts are just something that I really enjoy and really believe in very strongly."
Curator Todd Behrens said the Art Center selected artworks from the collection that connect directly with its mission of exhibiting artists from Sioux City and the Upper Midwest.
All the artworks come either from artists who live and work in or near Sioux City or from artists who've exhibited their work at the Art Center.
"That is what makes the collection amassed by Ritch and his wife Kathy so important for the Sioux City Art Center -- it's a homecoming, a celebration of what the Art Center has been doing throughout its history," Behrens said.
Amassing a collection
LeGrand watched with fascination as a friend of his roommate stood in their bedroom painting a portrait of Albert Einstein on the wall, while drinking beer and listening to rock ’n' roll at a University of Colorado fraternity house.
During these "mini parties" throughout the school year, LeGrand said an elaborate painting began to take shape, and his interest in art, which he said he was "absolutely clueless" about, grew.
"I was just fascinated by how intricate it was and how he could stand literally a few inches away from the surface he was painting and make all these little brush strokes and then step back and it would be perfect," he said. "I thought, 'Man, that is so cool!'"
LeGrand purchased his first commissioned painting for $500 from the student artist.
After college, a different roommate went on to become a talent agent in Hollywood. LeGrand visited his apartment, where art the man collected was displayed. LeGrand loved looking at the contemporary artworks. As the two toured several museums in Los Angeles, LeGrand's friend shared his knowledge of art with him.
"His parents were also very involved in Hollywood. They had a lot of money and collected contemporary art from all over the world," he said. "He had a running start of knowledge because of his parents that he helped pass on to me."
Back in Sioux City, LeGrand made a trip to the Art Center. He was pleased to learn art was being produced right in his home community. He said he liked the art produced by local and regional artists just as much as the art he saw in L.A. and other parts of the country.
LeGrand began collecting art on a small scale. He bought paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints and photographs as he traveled with his wife. He also purchased art books.
"I was just all over the map. The thing that tied it all together and made it consistent was that it was all contemporary-type art," he said. "You either love contemporary art or you don't because it's not for everybody."
A diverse contribution
It wasn't long before LeGrand ran out of room.
He purchased local artist Jan Hyden's untitled canvas, intending to hang it in his office. When it didn't fit, he brought it home, where the majority of the collection was displayed.
"I had to move one time because we ran out of walls and decided we wanted to keep collecting. We actually moved to a bigger house," he said.
Once LeGrand began collecting in earnest, he started visiting group exhibitions of local and regional artists at the Sioux City Art Center. He turned to Art Center staff and their chosen jurists to act as "volunteer curators" as he continued to grow his collection. He purchased works by Sioux City artists such as Jeff Baldus, Karen Chesterman and Terri Parish McGaffin.
LeGrand loves all of the art in the collection, but his favorite is a corten steel and stainless steel sculpture titled "Boulders." He commissioned the piece created by artist Larry Lightbody. The sculpture's title holds special significance to LeGrand because the city of Boulder, Colorado, was the place where his interest in art was sparked and where he met his wife.
"It's a really large, massive piece that sits in our front yard. The Art Center's actually going to install it outside on their lawn somewhere down the road," he said. "The boulders kind of fall down the hill just like the boulders in the mountains would fall down a hill."
Art Center director Al Harris-Fernandez said all of the artworks in the Art Center's permanent collection have come through direct donation or through the gift of funds used to purchase art. He said Ritch and Kathy LeGrand's gift is the largest single donation of artworks in the Art Center's history.
"This catalog, the exhibition of the work and, most important, the promised donation of the artworks, takes their commitment to the cultural well-being of the community to new heights," he said.
LeGrand said the donation of his collection wouldn't have been possible without the vision and efforts of the late Margaret Ann Martin Everist, who in 1985 established a building endowment fund to build the current Sioux City Art Center, which is more than three times the size of its former home. He said he hopes the artworks and art books will inspire others.
"You don't have to go far to find art that's really high quality and visually appealing," he said. "You can enjoy the art that's made right in our local community."