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Artist Wayne Thiebaud donates major works of art to new UC Davis Museum
Three Treats, c. 1975-76, oil on panel (promised gift of Betty Jean and Wayne Thiebaud)/UC Davis photo by Gregory Urquiaga.

By Karen Nikos-Rose

DAVIS, CA.- Wayne Thiebaud — the legendary painter known for his colorful paintings of landscapes, portraits and good-enough-to-eat desserts — presented to the University of California, Davis, some of his treasured paintings.

The works delivered, each a major example within his painting oeuvre, are:

• Unfinished Portrait of Betty Jean, not dated, oil on linen with pastel and charcoal (gift of the Wayne Thiebaud Foundation)

• Yosemite, 1969-2010, oil on linen (gift of the Wayne Thiebaud Foundation)

• Grey City, 2000-2010, oil on canvas (gift of the Wayne Thiebaud Foundation)

• An additional promised gift of Three Treats, c. 1975-76, oil on panel (gift of Betty Jean and Wayne Thiebaud)

The gifts put UC Davis’ new Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art well on its way to becoming a primary repository of the former UC Davis professor’s work, with pieces from every phase of his development as an artist. Wayne Thiebaud is the largest donor of art to date to the Manetti Shrem Museum, having donated 72 of his own works and more than 300 additional works by other artists.

“It is so perfect that an American icon who was a professor here for four decades is now bringing his art home to UC Davis,” said Ralph J. Hexter, acting chancellor of UC Davis. “This gives students, faculty and staff, as well as the public, the benefit of Thiebaud’s teaching here in perpetuity. We welcome this tremendous opportunity.”

The museum opens to the public Nov. 13.

A painter comes home
Thiebaud, 95, is among the artists for whom UC Davis is known, and whose work is already in the current collection.

Those who worked and studied at UC Davis beginning in the early ’60s include such noted artists as Thiebaud, Robert Arneson, Bruce Nauman, William T. Wiley, Manuel Neri, Roy De Forest, Deborah Butterfield, Eve Aschheim, Kathy Butterly, Squeak Carnwath and Cornelia Schulz.

The Unfinished Portrait of Betty Jean and Grey City will hang in the Paul LeBaron Thiebaud Collections Classroom in the Gallery Pavilion of the museum. The Thiebauds’ son, Paul, was a respected art dealer who operated galleries in the San Francisco area.

The portrait never has been shown in public, and it is Thiebaud’s intent to give students insight into his process of building a painting. Betty Jean Thiebaud, Wayne’s late wife, was a filmmaker and teacher and served as the model for many of her husband’s paintings.

Wayne Thiebaud’s work has shown in most major museums in the United States, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Art and teaching combine
The design of the museum — a modern, open and permeable structure — is built on a legacy of artist-led education that puts education out front with teaching spaces designed to accommodate informal learning and classroom space. The roots of the museum lie in the university’s long legacy of art-making. It will be the first university museum in the country to house a working art studio visible to everyone who visits the museum.

“A full third of our floor space is devoted to education,” said Rachel Teagle, founding director of the museum. “True to our core mission of education, art-making will happen in the museum — the art studio, for example, is meant to be a messy place where art will be created. Visitors can, if they wish, become students again.”

A 125-seat lecture hall will provide additional classroom space for any class — from math to physics to history.

Located on a main UC Davis thoroughfare, Old Davis Road, the museum offers a visible portal onto the campus. The front entrance is across the street from the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, allowing an easy path for those who want to take in a live performance and see art on the same afternoon. The building’s wide main corridor visually links with campus, leading to the main walkway to the administration building, library and quad. On the back side, it links to a view of Interstate 80, the place drivers catch their first glimpse of the museum’s 50,000-square-foot “Grand Canopy,” a roof displaying perforated aluminum triangular beams supported by steel columns.

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