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UW celebrates ‘simply remarkable’ donation from artist

Neltje’s gift believed to be largest ever from estate to school

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CHEYENNE — The University of Wyoming has received its largest estate gift ever, UW officials announced this week.

The bequest from Wyoming artist Neltje will transform the university’s role in the arts in Wyoming and across the United States, according to a media release.

Neltje is a prolific abstract expressionist whose works have been described as an “exploration of making the sensed visible.”

The gift includes all financial and land holdings except for those going to her children and a select few personal donations.

Additionally, the gift includes a world-class collection of contemporary, tribal and ethnic arts collected by Neltje over a lifetime of travel across the globe.

“If ever there was tangible evidence of the power of philanthropy, this is it,” UW President Tom Buchanan said in the release. “We can’t thank Neltje enough for her vision and her commitment to the university and to the arts in Wyoming. It is simply remarkable.”

The gift will enhance the UW Art Museum and the university’s visual and literary arts programs, and it will enable UW to provide talented students with once-in-a-lifetime arts education opportunities unmatched in the United States, the release said.

UW spokeswoman Jessica Lowell said there is no value of the estate gift available at this time.

“We believe it is the largest estate gift the University of Wyoming has ever received,” Lowell said Thursday in a phone interview. “We’re delighted with gift. It will do great things for art.”

The largest estate gift to UW to date is the $16 million bequest of UW alumnus Clara Toppan.

When Toppan died in 2001, she left UW her 160-acre property known as the Lodge Pole Ranch, in Wilson, near Grand Teton National Park.

In late 2006 the sale of the Toppan property yielded more than $16 million for UW programs.

Recipients of the Toppan bequest included the UW American Heritage Center’s rare-books collection, the UW College of Business and the college’s accounting department, and UW’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics.

The gift from Neltje coincides with the university’s groundbreaking for the new $33 million Visual Arts Center next to the UW Centennial Complex, which is home to the art museum and the American Heritage Center.

When the gift is realized, Neltje’s home in Sheridan County will become the heart of the UW Neltje Center for the Visual and Literary Arts, a place to honor and showcase the contemporary visual and literary arts and an educational facility.

“My heart belongs to Wyoming,” Neltje said. “The incredible and vast landscape and the independent people have given me the inspiration to become who I am. My gift to the University of Wyoming is a gesture of my caring for future generations.”

The gift includes a partnership with Jentel, a private foundation established by Neltje in 2000 that is located adjacent to her home. Jentel provides on a working ranch a residency program for visual artists and writers from across the country. The foundation aims to protect the pristine natural environment of the Piney Creek Valley.

Neltje was born in New York City and raised in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Essentially self-taught, she took a few classes at the New York Studio School of Drawing and from 1979-80 she took a few classes at the Art Students League in New York City.

In 2005, she was recognized as one of Wyoming’s preeminent artists with the Governor’s Arts Awards.

She served on the Board of the Wyoming Arts Council from 1985 to 1988.

Neltje’s work has been featured in collections at the Smithsonian; the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings; the IBM Corp. in Denver; and the Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne, among others. In addition, her work is in private collections in California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

Contact Joan Barron at joan.barron@trib.com or 307-632-1244.

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