Living thousands of miles apart, art collectors Len Lewicki and Iver M. Nelson, Jr. have two key things in common: they are proud College of Law alumni and they strongly support Krannert Art Museum.
By providing significant contributions to KAM’s collection in the form of acquisition funds, gifts of art and estate gifts, Lewicki and Nelson have enabled generations of museum visitors to have a richer experience with art in our community.
A proud U of I alumnus, Len Lewicki got his start in business (BS Finance ’70) and law (JD ’73) in Urbana-Champaign. He confides that as a young man, he was fascinated by Plains Indians culture, but art held little interest until 1985, when he moved from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest. It was a shift that changed his perspective and opened him up to the world of art.
“As I learned about Native American culture and art in in the West, I began to collect. It was so different from Illinois — colorful and monumental. Gradually, I started to encounter contemporary art by Native American artists. The work of Preston Singletary, in particular, was the reason I started collecting glass. I saw his work, and I simply had to have it.”
Once he started collecting, he did so with enthusiasm. Lewicki’s home houses his impressive collection of contemporary art glass, sculpture, and Pacific Northwest Native art. He describes himself as an impulsive collector, but it is clear his collection is shaped by a highly tuned eye for form and design.
Residing in Seattle, a place he calls “the center of the universe” for art glass, Lewicki says it’s really relationships that shape his collecting. His friendships with artists and gallerists and his work as a board member for both the Seattle Artist Trust and the Pratt Fine Arts Center, have deeply immersed him in the Seattle art community.
Iver Nelson’s home is elegant and minimalist; his living space contains a few well-chosen furnishings and vibrant early to mid 20th-century American abstract paintings, framed by a brilliant view of the Chicago lakeshore.
Also a law alumnus (BS ’51, JD ’53), Nelson began collecting art modestly when he moved into first Chicago apartment after graduation. “I needed something to put up on my walls,” Nelson explains with a quiet smile, “so I bought a few Japanese prints. At that time, prints were quite affordable, so it was a good place to start.”
As Nelson grew as a collector, he took the time to learn. “I didn’t buy art to invest, I bought art because I wanted to live with it. I collected silver because I wanted to use it and thought it was beautiful.” With that said, he admits his first silver purchase was impractical. “It was a silver coffee pot. No one uses silver coffee pots. I bought it because I liked it.”
About collecting, he says, “I always ask myself when it comes to works of art or books or other things I collect, where will this go? I think sometimes people collect so many things, with no intention of where to put them. I live with mine for a while, and then I find another place for them.”
Over many years, KAM has benefitted from Nelson’s generosity. He has given a wide range of art to the museum, from prints and photographs to ceramics, silver, and paintings—from antiquity to the late 20th century. His Chinese ceramics are currently on view in Blue & White Ceramics: An Enduring Global Obsession and in the Moore Gallery of Decorative Arts.
Nelson selects art with care and attention to detail, often choosing works by lesser known artists. He loves the experience of learning about an artist who may be only locally or regionally collected. For him, the experience of an abstract painting (his favorite) can be about something as simple as color. Still, he keeps his art collection manageable. “I have to be able to live with it,” he says, “live with it for a while, but then give it away.”