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Opinion: Here's to art, businesspeople and universities

Eyes & Ears

Posted online

Ever wonder where the artwork comes from that hangs in the halls on university campuses?

Alumni, wealthy donors and the artists themselves are known sources.

Case in point is a recent donation by Sam and June Hamra of Hamra Enterprises in collaboration with two national artists. Eight paintings are headed to four colleges in Springfield after a Dec. 8 announcement and news conference hosted by the Hamras.

The donation is valued at $125,000, Sam Hamra told the crowd of academic presidents, board members and friends at his office, who applauded when the sum was announced.

Ten paintings were on display – two each for Drury, Evangel and Missouri State universities, and Ozarks Technical Community College. The heads of each school were on hand and took pictures with the Hamras next to the artwork heading to their campuses.

I asked Drury University President Tim Cloyd where the paintings would be displayed on the campus.

“Sam and June have been generous contributors to the O’Reilly Enterprise Center and Breech School of Business, so I imagine these will hang in there,” Cloyd said.

The Hamras have a home in Naples, Florida, where they’ve bought fine art for years at the renowned Harmon-Meek Gallery. Two artists on display there, San Francisco-based Gary Bukovnik and Miami-based Reynier Llanes, agreed to the Hamras’ request to donate the pieces to their selected institutions.

There are 14 paintings in all, with another two apiece going to University of Missouri, Ohio Wesleyan University and University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music. Here are the connections: Sam Hamra is a Mizzou business and law school graduate, June Hamra studied vocal music at Eastman, and their son, Mike, is an alum of Ohio Wesleyan.

“Most of the paintings we have in our Naples home we have acquired from the Harmon-Meek art gallery,” Hamra said.

The artists are nationally recognized – Bukovnik for his watercolors, which hang in more than 50 public collections, and Llanes for his use of coffee grounds to paint sepia-toned watercolors.

Evangel received one of Llanes’ coffee-medium pieces, called “Exodus.” Seems appropriate for the Christian school offering biblical studies, right?

I wondered if there’s a more tangible impact for the students. Evangel’s interim president, George Wood, was on hand with Michael Kolstad, the school’s vice president for university advancement, so I chatted with them.

Kolstad said yes, the paintings would give students the chance to study the artists.

“We will look for opportunities if the artists ever come to town, we would host them. Sam has done that in the past,” he said.

Cloyd also said Drury art students have studied the techniques of Llanes, who apparently has quite the story of defecting from his native Cuba. Hamra describes his journey as escaping the country in a small boat to end up in Miami and pursue a painting career in the United States.

Kolstad said the two new paintings likely would hang in Evangel’s Riggs Hall.

“We have a beautiful gallery in our administration building,” he said.

It’s not the first art donation to local universities by the Hamras. Six years ago, they gifted some $520,000 worth of artwork to several schools.

On this morning for the latest donation, the Hamra Enterprises’ lobby was turned into a small art gallery. Looking back, the only thing missing was wine and cheese.

Nonetheless, cheers to an art donation that will impact generations.

Springfield Business Journal Editor Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.

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