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SLAM receives major gift that includes 81 works by contemporary black artists

Monique McRipley Ollie and Ronald Maurice Ollie are based in New Jersey. They donated 81 works to the art museum.
Adger Cowans

The Saint Louis Art Museum today announced an extraordinary collection gift from New Jersey-based collector Ronald Maurice Ollie and his wife Monique McRipley Ollie that adds significant depth and breadth to the museum’s holdings of works by African-American artists.

Ronald Ollie grew up in St. Louis. His parents, Thelma and Bert Ollie, were frequent visitors to the museum and instilled in him and his siblings a deep appreciation of art. Ronald Ollie’s childhood fascination with abstract art grew into a passion when, as an adult, he began to acquire abstract works by artists he admired and, often, befriended.

“My wife and I share the Saint Louis Art Museum’s commitment of advancing knowledge while introducing art to people of all ages and backgrounds,” said Ronald Ollie, who is retired after a 30-year career in business development that included leadership positions at major Fortune 500 firms and top architecture and engineering firms across the country. “The museum’s collection helped ignite my passion—we are delighted to know works we have stewarded might do the same for future generations.”

The gift of 81 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and sculpture includes significant works by such American artists as Terry Adkins, Benny Andrews, Robert Blackburn, Chakaia Booker, Ed Clark, Nanette Carter, Adger Cowans, Herb Gentry, Sam Gilliam, Bill Hutson, Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis, James Little, Al Loving, Jack Whitten, Stanley Whitney, Frank Wimberley, and William T. Williams. Works by British artists Winston Branch and Frank Bowling also are included in the gift.

“This transformative gift is a testament to years of passionate collecting that is both focused and far reaching,” said Brent R. Benjamin, the Barbara B. Taylor Director of the Saint Louis Art Museum. “I am deeply grateful to Ronald and Monique Ollie, whose generosity will help our visitors enjoy a richer and more diverse understanding of postwar American art.”

Among the highlights of the collection are important groupings of work by Clark and Loving showcasing these artists’ fascination with formal experiment; Whitney’s richly colorful “Out into the Open,” in which the artist invigorates a long modernist tradition of the grid in abstract painting; and Gilliam’s radical draped painting, “Half Circle Red,” where the canvas stretcher has been removed.

Works on paper number among the great strengths in the collection. Blackburn’s iconic lithograph “Faux Pas” places him squarely at the origin of post-war printmaking in America. Numerous drawings and collages represent multiple generations of artists ranging from Lewis and Gentry, whose careers began in the mid-20th century; to Gilliam and Clark, who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s; to Whitney and Little, who are at the heights of their careers.

The Ollies strongly believe in the power of museums to educate. To that end, the couple also has given an extensive collection of related resources—including a library of relevant books and an archive of ephemera and other research materials—that will support the study of the collection and provide a basis for future scholarship.

Ron Ollie graduated from the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy—now known as Missouri University of Science and Technology—with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering. Ron Ollie is a member of the Newark Museum’s board of trustees. In addition to collecting art, he also is an avid book collector whose library includes over 2,100 titles on black history and culture as well as volumes of Negro Spiritual sheet music.

Monique McRipley Ollie works in the life sciences and pharmaceutical industries. She received a bachelor of science degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree and a doctorate in biomedical engineering from Northwestern University. She serves on the board of the Newark School of the Arts.

An exhibition of selections from the collection and an accompanying publication will be organized in 2019; visitors may access the educational resources in the Richardson Memorial Library beginning next year.