Expanding the Collection: A Gift from Richard and Esther Willham

Today’s blog post is written by Dr. Bruce Crauder, interim director of the OSU Museum of Art project and Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Crauder recently visited Dr. Richard Willham in Iowa in order to collect a donation of artwork to the museum, and in this post he shares his experience of that visit.

Recently I had the very great privilege of meeting Richard and Esther Willham at their house in Ames, Iowa.  Among their many virtues, Richard and Esther collect and appreciate art.  Prompted by their son Lee, they have generously given to the OSU Museum of Art Collection three paintings and two aquatints by Doel Reed, J. Jay McVicker, and Mary Elizabeth Young. McVicker and Reed are faculty emeriti from the OSU art department, and Young was one of Reed’s students.

Richard and Esther Willham at their home in Ames, Iowa.

Dr. Richard Willham is the son of Susan Willham and Oliver S. Willham, who was OSU’s president from 1952-1966. Richard and Esther met in high school in Stillwater and married in 1954.  One of their wedding presents, a gift from James Berry (then Oklahoma’s Lieutenant Governor), was the Doel Reed aquatint they have given to OSU.

Doel Reed, "Untitled (landscape)," ca. 1954. Aquatint, gift of Richard and Esther Willham.

One of the paintings given to OSU by the Willhams is McVicker’s 1965 acrylic/collage titled Red, Orange/Green #2. This painting was used as the cover of the 1966 OSU commencement program. In honor of his retirement that year, President Willham gave the commencement address.

J. Jay McVicker, "Red, Orange/Green #2," 1965. Acrylic on canvas board, gift of Richard and Esther Willham.

Richard Willham received his PhD in 1960 from Iowa State University and spent the majority of his career at Iowa State, retiring as Emeritus Professor of Animal Science and C.F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor.  Richard and Esther remained interested in McVicker’s work; indeed, in the 1970s they purchased McVicker’s “Green Diagonal,” which McVicker brought out of his hen house to show them!

J. Jay McVicker, "Green Diagonal," 1976. Acrylic on canvas board, gift of Richard and Esther Willham.

At Iowa State Willham worked closely with Lynette Pohlman, Director of the University Museums at Iowa State University and chief curator of the Brunnier Art Museum, the Farm House Museum, and the Art on Campus Collection and Program at ISU. Willham even served as curator of an exhibition entitled, “Centuries of Fascination:  Art About Livestock,” which filled the Brunnier Art Museum on the Iowa State University campus with a record number of visitors.

Cover of exhibition catalogue for "Centuries of Fascination: Art About Livestock," July 25-October 25, 1990, Brunnier Gallery and Museum. Guest curated by Richard Willham.

Art and OSU have both been a major part of the lives of Esther and Richard Willham.  We are delighted that they have chosen to share their art and so part of themselves with us.  In many ways, the art they have donated is coming home, and the OSU Museum of Art Collection is the richer for it.

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About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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