Friday, April 22 marked the end of a project that took years to complete. President Michael Lindsay was in attendance, along with former Taylor University presidents Eugene Habecker, Lowell Haines and Paige Cunningham. Each had played a pivotal role in this undertaking, and now they were soaking up the celebratory atmosphere inside Helena Memorial Hall.
At 4:43 p.m., Bill Anton’s “A Step Ahead of Winter” was unveiled to a round of applause. The Boren Art Gallery was officially up and running.
“It’s been a long time and process,” Special Assistant to the President Ron Sutherland said. “When you see something that took so long to come to fruition, it’s especially rewarding.”
The Western and Native American art collection of Leland and LaRita Boren includes over 500 quality pieces, and they range from vivid oil and watercolor paintings to bronzes. The subject matter ranges from portraits of Native Americans to the wild, untamed vistas of the West.
John Vanausdall, who is the president and chief executive officer of the Eiteljorg Museum, was present for the opening of the gallery. The Eiteljorg Museum is located in Indianapolis, and it also focuses on Western and Indigenous art. For Vanausdall, just the sheer size of the collection is worthy of recognition.
“(Leland and LaRita) put together extraordinary works, and when they really liked an artist, they would buy multiples of that artist,” Vanausdall said. “Imagine a private collection of 500 works; it’s extraordinary.”
According to Vanausdall, Western art is popping up at more and more galleries across the country. It’s no longer the case that destinations like the Eiteljorg Museum or the Autry Museum in Los Angeles are the only places dedicated to authentic Western masterpieces. The Boren Gallery is proof of that.
Vanausdall also pointed out that this style of art has a special ability to connect with viewers. It’s an ability that some genres lack.
“Almost every one of these paintings tells a story,” Vanausdall said. “And the artist doesn’t necessarily reveal to you what that story is, but you can make your own story out of what you’re looking at.”
With the Boren Art Gallery now just a short walk away from Metcalf, the art scene, here at Taylor and throughout Grant County, continues to grow.
For Gallery Director Kenton Stiles, Helena Memorial Hall will not only serve as a space to appreciate great art, but it will also be dedicated to nurturing, educating and engaging the community.
“The future at this point is unlimited,” Stiles said. “It’s just finding ways to get people in at a time when a lot of schools don’t have the opportunity to do field trips anymore.”
The gallery includes a classroom on the third level, with the plan being that it will host students at all levels. Aside from Taylor University, Grant County is home to a number of schools ranging from elementary to higher education.
“Something that the Taylor art department was really adamant about is that when we take this project on, it needs to be educational,” Stiles said. “We want a classroom. We don’t just want it to be art for art’s sake and that’s the end of the dialogue.”
Vice President for Intercultural Leadership and Church Relations Greg Dyson has already been in contact with Stiles in order to discuss how the gallery can impact students and different groups on campus.
Taking in the scene of students, grandparents and faculty on the third floor, former president Cunningham reflected on how Helena Memorial Hall was the perfect home for the Boren collection.
“It’s just a beautiful setting to display an incredible collection; a very focused collection of art,” Cunningham said.
The Boren Art Gallery was a project that spanned many years and multiple changes in leadership; however, the gallery serves as a reminder that all involved persevered to turn dreams into reality.
“Now, the whole collection is here in a space designed for art, and I think (the Borens) would say, ‘Well done,’” Cunningham said. “... I think they’d love it.”