WOU welcomes artist’s endowment

Polk County Itemizer Observer
Article by Craig Coleman
Photo by Pete Strong

MONMOUTH — Much of the art Alfred Maurice has created reflects where he was and what he was doing at a given point in his life.

While serving in the Army during World War II, he would send letters home decorated with sketches from what he saw in the South Pacific. Paintings stemming from residing in Chicago and the Portland area are colorful, three-dimensional depictions of urban architecture.

alfred maurice

It’s life experience, if you will.

As Maurice wound his way through a long career in higher education, the now 89-year-old said he was dissatisfied that instruction in colleges wasn’t following that concept.

“I had come to agree with students of mine who complained that they were sick of school,” he said. “They had gone to school since they were 5, thought college was different, and found out it was the same old stuff.”

When Maurice, a widower, began considering what to do with the artwork he had amassed and created over 73 years, he decided he would give it to students, with one condition.

Learn something.

Maurice is working with Western Oregon University to establish a contest for undergraduates by early 2011.

Per Maurice’s “challenge,” participants must find something they care about, whether it’s a need on or off campus, and complete a project to address it.

A panel will judge not only the work, but a description of what was gained from the endeavor. The winner will receive $5,000, but won’t necessarily be the person most successful at what they did. Rather, it’s what they gained from the process, said Tommy Love, WOU director of annual giving.

“It’s who is successful in thinking outside the box, challenging themselves and learning from it,” Love said.

Maurice has made a donation, and is allowing the university to sell his vast art collection and his old home in Vancouver, Wash. Proceeds will go into an endowment to perpetually fund the competition.

Love declined to give a dollar amount of the gift, noting simply “it’s substantial.”

“A gift of this magnitude … normally it’s something that somebody much closer to the university, an alum or former professor, would give,” Love said. “What makes this rare is that Alfred had no connection with us” until this year.

Maurice has worked as a professional artist, an art museum director and as a professor at several colleges, including the University of Illinois in Chicago (UIC) from 1971 to 1986.

He’s spent the past 20 years of his retirement in Vancouver. When his wife, Delores, died in 2008, Maurice pondered what he would do with his sizable collection and nobody to inherit it.

“I always assumed that would be my wife’s problem to figure out,” Maurice said with a laugh.

Maurice donated money to UIC to fund a real-world learning experience for undergraduates, and a contest was created in 2009. The winner was a girl who interned at a Chicago clinic for men with HIV/AIDS and was concerned about depression exhibited by patients.

“She set up a program of activities for them to build up their self-image and their own regard as people,” Maurice said. “It was amazing.”

The “challenge” was a success. But a proposal to UIC to allow students to sell his art — to go toward an endowment — wasn’t, Maurice said.

So earlier this year, a friend with ties to WOU put him in touch with Western President John Minahan.

“And what I was proposing to do at UIC was more readily received here,” said Maurice, who entered into an agreement with the school this summer and moved to Monmouth in September.

Maurice’s own work and that of others, his personal and academic papers — the items number in the thousands — are now at Hamersly Library. Much of it will be digitally archived and turned into an online portrait.

The art collection will be sold over time, and students will take part in that process through course work, Love said.

A few undergraduates from Western’s business department, meanwhile, are currently learning the ins and outs of real estate by assisting with the sale of Maurice’s home.

“This will challenge the faculty, administration and students working together to come up with other ideas of how a college education can really deal with one’s life,” he said.

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