The opening of Kennedy Hall’s walls to a permanent collection of art represents a remarkable milestone for Highlands University. In education, Highlands has in the past made a distinct contribution to art of New Mexico. Moreover, it is well known that over the past century, the state has been an important setting for the making of contemporary art. The newly established collection at Highlands consists of a donation of 200 paintings by the Santa Fe art collector, patron, author, and publisher Robert Bell, along with a donation of 100 paintings by the Santa Fe artist and author Eli Levin. Both donors have been important members of the Santa Fe and New Mexico visual-art community for decades.
The result of these donations is a wide collection of work done almost entirely by artists either native to New Mexico or residing in the state when the particular works were created. Robert Bell has long been a collector of New Mexico paintings, and the present donation comprises approximately one-fifth of his total holdings in the art of painting. Furthermore, since his teenage years, Bell has been an assiduous collector of fine-art prints, having now amassed a collection of over 60,000 prints from all periods of art history. In recent years, he has made a practice of donating study collections of original prints to various universities, for the benefit of student artists in familiarizing themselves with exemplary work in this medium by important artists of the past. Bell has been especially generous in constituting such a study collection at Highlands University, a collection which he periodically enlarges by contributing additional numbers of works. He is also the publisher of Bell Tower Editions, a series of books on New Mexico art and artists, including the titles Fifteen Santa Fe Artists, 100 Santa Fe Etchers, and A Fine Frenzy, New Mexico Highlands University Artists and Teachers in the 1960’s.
Eli Levin has been a fixture of Santa Fe’s art community since 1964, as a prolific artist and printmaker. His donation to Highlands University of 100 paintings from his personal collection consists of works by fellow artists whom he has known during a long and active career. Settling in Santa Fe when he did, he was able to meet and befriend several of the elder artists who first made Santa Fe known as a fine-art center. Having then hosted etching and life-drawing groups at his own studio for the past three to four decades, he has consequently associated both with his contemporaries and with younger artists working in Santa Fe over that period, up to the present time. These social and artistic connections lend to his Highlands donation a further New Mexican significance. Levin’s own paintings have been shown in many Santa Fe galleries over the years, and in 1999 he was given a museum retrospective exhibition in Nevada. His work is held in many private collections in New Mexico, throughout the United States, and abroad. Sixty-five of his paintings are included in Robert Bell’s donation to Highlands.
The paintings in the opening exhibition are a choice selection of the donation of Bell and Levin. The rest of the collection donated will be seen in future rotations. Overall, more than eighty different artists are represented among the 300 paintings, and the variety of styles represented is of the like magnitude. The preponderance of the work is New Mexican in setting and subject matter, in landscape and local color, giving a strong sense of the region as seen through the artists’ eyes, interpreted by their expressive perceptions, and rendered by their technical skill. The balance of the work is of more general character, some of it international in scope, some invoking art history. The collection is expected to grow in the coming years, as it develops recognition, and as other collectors and artists in turn contribute to it. Immediately it establishes for Highlands University an ample and eminent addition to its academic environment. The power of art to animate the human spirit will speak, through this collection, to present and future generations of students and the wider public alike.