“Anita’s Bar” by Eli Levin.
Las Vegas, N.M. — The New Mexico Highlands opening for the Dr. Robert Bell Permanent Art Collection featuring New Mexico painters and printmakers is Oct. 18 from 4 — 5:30 p.m. in the Margaret Kennedy Alumni Hall, 905 University Ave.
The newly established collection at Highlands includes 200 paintings donated by Bell, a Santa Fe art collector, art patron, author and publisher. He is also a longtime Las Vegas ophthalmologist. Renowned social realism painter, printmaker and author Eli Levin of Santa Fe also donated 100 paintings for the collection.
“The power of art to animate the human spirit will speak, through this collection, to present and future generations of students and the wider public alike,” Bell said. “We have absolutely fantastic contemporary artists in New Mexico who rarely get museum shows. There are so many wonderful pieces in this collection.
“The underlying purpose of this collection is to be a teaching collection that’s available to the university’s students, faculty and the community. I want this collection to be accessible for viewing on the walls for people to enjoy,” Bell said.
“Dr. Bell and Eli Levin’s extraordinary generosity and vision in donating this permanent art collection to Highlands University will enrich our university and the Las Vegas community for generations to come,” said Highlands University President Jim Fries. “We are very grateful.”
Levin will give a gallery talk on New Mexico regionalism at the exhibit opening. His work is among the 30 New Mexico artists featured in the show, which continues through Dec. 18.
“Eli is an internationally known master painter who lives his art, painting every day,” Bell said. “After moving to Santa Fe in 1964, he founded the Santa Fe Etching Club, which is active to this day. Over the years, Eli has inspired and taught so many artists. He’s extremely generous in sharing his vast knowledge, materials and studio space.”
Acclaimed poet, art critic, and art curator James Mann, a longtime friend of Bell’s, will curate the opening exhibit. He was the curator of the Las Vegas Art Museum in Nevada from 1996 — 2005, where he originated more than 50 exhibitions.
Mann, who holds a Ph.D. in English and is a Fulbright grant winner, taught American literature at universities in the United States, France, Argentina and Brazil. His book, Art After Post-Modernism, is in process and he has authored other art books.
“This new collection at Highlands spans more than five decades of art produced in Santa Fe and New Mexico,” Mann said. “The subject matter encompasses New Mexico’s landscapes, people, architecture and culture. The work is truly exceptional for its time and place. The artists employ figural imagery, which is one of the characteristics of advanced contemporary art.
“It’s very rare for a collection of this size, excellence and variety to be donated to a university. Highlands is fortunate indeed to have such a resource for its students and the community,” Mann said.
Bell said the permanent art collection will be rotated through future exhibits. In addition, the goal is for Highlands University fine arts faculty and students to be involved with future juried art shows.
“In collecting art, I was inspired by a New Deal-era Works Progress Administration program that made art available in small museums in rural areas,” Bell said. “People love art. When it’s available, they take advantage of studying it, viewing it, and enjoying it. Highlands is a perfect place to have an art collection of this kind.”
Since 2001, Bell has donated more than 2,000 fine art prints from his own collection to Highlands University, ranging from the work of contemporary Northern New Mexico printmakers to masters such as Rembrandt, Renoir, Goya and Picasso.
This collection has been housed in an art viewing room in Donnelly Library, where Bell presents a popular fine art print lecture series for students and the community.
The university’s fine art print collection will now be housed in a secure viewing room adjacent to the Margaret Kennedy Alumni Hall. The room is being named for two physicians, Sheryl and George Talbot, who have made donations to the university’s fine art print collection. They plan to continue to support the installation and maintenance of the collection.
The Talbots have been friends with Bell since they met in medical school.
Bell is the publisher of Bell Tower Editions, a series of books on New Mexico art and artists. Some titles include Fifteen Santa Fe Artists, which Mann authored, and 100 Santa Fe Etchers, which the two co-authored.
In 2013, Bell published and edited Elizabeth Orem’s book, A Fine Frenzy — New Mexico Highlands University Artists and Teachers in the 1960s. The book is available at the exhibit opening through the Highlands University Foundation.
Bell grew up in Pontiac, Mich., the son of public school teachers who were also amateur artists. He said he has the “collection gene,” and became fascinated with fine art prints as a teenager — spending his paper route and lawn mowing money buying prints for 50 cents to a dollar at old book stores in Detroit.
While fine art prints and paintings are his passion, medicine is Bell’s profession. He graduated from the Yale University School of Medicine in 1975 and has been an ophthalmologist in Las Vegas since 1980.
“My philosophy is that it’s important to give back to the community that has supported me,” Bell said.