Arlene Schnitzer

The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art mourns the loss of Arlene Schnitzer, a long-time, devoted patron of the arts and education. Schnitzer passed away on April 4 in Portland, at age 91.

“The impact Arlene Schnitzer had on the arts in Oregon was profoundly positive, deep, and lasting” said John Weber, the JSMA’s executive director. “She was a passionate, fearless champion of the visual arts, and also of performing art, education, and civic life. Her gallery was the cornerstone of the Portland art world we know today, and through her savvy philanthropy and arts activism she helped create the arts ecology we all still benefit from. Something that was clear to me as a young curator starting out in Portland in the 1980s was that Arlene was really smart, really knew her artists and cared about them, and had a great eye. She loved art, and we are all richer for how generously she shared that love with the world.”

On the University of Oregon campus, her impact is most visible through her Influence on and encouragement of her son Jordan, for whom the UO’s museum is named.

With the opening of her Fountain Gallery of Art in Portland in 1961, Schnitzer helped elevate the status of art in the Pacific Northwest and became a formidable champion of the arts in Oregon. Her long legacy of commitment to regional art went hand-in-hand with her firm belief that the state’s artists should be able to make a living and support their families with their creative work. Through her work as a gallerist, patron, and collector, she put together the pieces of a vital supportive environment that allowed artists to thrive.

Schnitzer’s generosity encompassed nearly 40 years of giving to the University of Oregon, benefitting the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, College of Arts and Sciences, Athletics, College of Design, and university initiatives. At the JSMA, Schnitzer supported educational programs, exhibition research and catalogues, capital campaigns, and special projects. 

The JSMA was honored to exhibit works from Arlene’s personal collection in an exhibition organized by Lawrence Fong and Danielle Knapp, Provenance: In Honor of Arlene Schnitzer, presented in the Harold and Arlene Schnitzer Gallery of American and Regional Art in 2012.  As part of that project, the curators conducted interviews with Arlene, during which she discussed how deeply she invested in the success and well-being of the artists in her community.

“Arlene shared with us then that a regional museum’s ‘real job was to promote and be active in the work of the region,’” said Knapp, the JSMA McCosh Curator.

The exhibition engaged three graduate students in the History of Art and Architecture in the research and interpretation of the works on the exhibition checklist, which included not only Oregon artists whose work was known regionally, nationally, and in many cases, internationally, but a number of artists from outside the state  area whose work was special to Arlene.

Arlene Schnitzer also generously loaned work from her collections to JSMA exhibitions, including a particularly beloved sculpture by the late Rick Bartow, Bear with Humor (For Walt Come a Sunday), for the artist’s traveling retrospective in 2015. Most recently, during the 2016-17 academic year, Schnitzer loaned paintings by Kehinde Wiley and Robert Colescott in support of the museum’s first “Common Seeing,” exhibition, mounted in response to Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a UO Common Reading selection. The exhibition was used by hundreds of students in their academic work.

Hope Hughes Pressman, Arlene Schnitzer, and Jordan Schnitzer at the opening of ProvenanceArlene’s devotion to art, collecting, and philanthropy was inherited by her son, Jordan D. Schnitzer, who made the naming donation to the UO Museum of Art in 2005. Forging his own distinct legacy, Jordan has become a major, nationally active collector of prints.  Funding exhibitions and publications for museums around the country, his generosity is adding a wonderful new chapter to the family tradition of philanthropy.

Together with her son Jordan, Arlene Schnitzer made an indelible mark on the University of Oregon that will touch the lives of students and visitors for decades to come. Her passing is a huge loss for the state and the UO community, but her legacy as a tireless patron of regional art and artists will continue to motivate and inspire the work of the JSMA.

Photos, top to bottom: Arlene Schnitzer; the curatorial team behind Provenance with Arlene Schnitzer; and Hope Hughes Pressman, Arlene Schnitzer, and Jordan Schnitzer.

View the exhibition Provenance: In Honor of Arlene Schnitzer

Download the book Provenance: In Honor of Arlene Schnitzer