Fairfield U. museum gets 'transformative' art donation

Stephen Pace dedicated his life to growing as an artist. The Missouri native began painting at 17 and worked right up until the day he died at age 91, said Cathy Claman, president of the New York-based Stephen and Palmina Pace Foundation.

“He was always learning,” Claman said. “He was always trying new things. He always had these goals he was working toward.”

So it seems fitting that the foundation has donated more than 130 works by this lifelong learner to the Fairfield University Art Museum. The donation is the largest the museum has received since it opened 10 years ago, and includes oil and watercolor paintings, as well as pencil and ink drawings.

For a young museum such as Fairfield University’s, the gift is “truly transformative,” said Carey Weber, the Frank and Clara Meditz executive director of the art museum. “We have no acquisitions budget and we grow our collection through donations. To have major paintings from the 20th century added to our collection is truly fantastic.”

Claman said someone from the museum reached out to the Pace Foundation, and the donation was deemed “a good fit.”

“They really are just starting out,” she said. “And, as a small foundations, we are looking to expand the legacy of Stephen Pace.”

The pieces in the donation to Fairfield’s museum span Pace’s life and career. Some of the collection can be viewed on the museum’s website, and all of it should be posted later this year, Weber said. She said she hopes to have an in-person exhibition of Pace’s work at the museum some time within the next five years.

“(The collection) shows his entire oeuvre,” Weber said. “It’s got every period he worked in, which is exciting.”

After starting his formal training in his teens, Pace continued to develop his skills while serving abroad during World War II. He painted local European landscapes during his service, and after the war, he studied art on the GI Bill at the Instituto Allende in Mexico. He eventually made his way to New York City, where he continued studying art.

Pace began to reach prominence as a painter in the 1950s, when Claman said he was known primarily as an abstract expressionist. Gradually, Claman said, Pace’s work became more impressionist in nature. His subjects ranged from houses and gardens to nudes and, arguably his favorite subject, horses.

Weber said one of the best things about the donation to the museum is that it includes early sketches of some of Pace’s paintings.

“You can see the artistic process,” she said. “Watching the idea go from concept to execution — I think that’s going to be an amazing resource for our faculty.”