Sask. native donates Picasso ceramics to gallery

Frederick Mulder's desire to make a contribution to his home province prompted him to donate a collection of Picasso ceramics to the Remai Modern Art Gallery of Saskatchewan.

Mulder, a University of Saskatchewan alumnus who grew up in Eston, is donating 23 pieces for the new gallery that is under construction at River Landing.

"For me, it's really a privilege to be able to do something for the province where I grew up and a city that means a lot to me," the philanthropist and specialist in European printmaking said Wednesday in an interview.

Mulder, who lives in London but travelled to Saskatoon for Wednesday's announcement at the Mendel Art Gallery, explained the $500,000 ceramics collection is closely related in themes and imagery to the linocut collection donated to the gallery by the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation.

That's no coincidence since he's the one who acquired and then sold the 406-piece linocut collection to the foundation. Ellen Remai, who donated $15 million of the $74.2-million cost of the gallery as well as the $20-million linocut collection, said Saskatoon is lucky to have such an impressive collection of Picassos.

"The ceramics add another dimension to the collection," Remai said. Mulder acknowledged that many may not think of Pablo Picasso as a ceramics artist, but the medium reflects the iconic figure's desire to reach everyone.

"Picasso wanted everyone to own a Picasso," said Mulder. Picasso made about 500 pieces of ceramic art. The Remai collection includes plates, tiles, vases and sculptures. One of the vases has been sculpted to look like an owl.

"He's obviously the great artist of the 20th century," said Mulder. "He was a great printmaker. He loved making prints.

"The ceramics are lovely because they're incredibly innovative. They show the genius of Picasso's imagination." Mulder said the collection also reflects a history of artists who work in ceramics in Saskatchewan.

But acquiring the collection was not easy. Mulder obtained pieces at art sales in New York, London and Switzerland. Finding pieces connected to the linocuts made the task even more difficult. "It's not difficult to buy 23 ceramics," he said. "It is difficult to buy 23 ceramics that are closely connected to Picasso's linocuts."

Mulder first became interested in prints while studying in London because as a doctoral student he could not afford more expensive types of art.

Gregory Burke, the gallery's executive director and CEO, said the announcement marks the start of an exciting time for the gallery. The Mendel gallery, which will become the Remai Modern, celebrates its 50th anniversary with a fundraising gala Nov. 1.

The gallery board is also expected to announce the chair of its fundraising campaign to help collect the $1.6 million needed to complete the gallery, which is supposed to open in the spring of 2016.

"We're confident that we will raise that," said Burke, who would not reveal how much has been raised so far. Remai said she's been impressed watching the structure take shape along the riverbank.

"It's bigger than what I thought it was," she said. "It's so huge when you walk by it."

ptank@thestarphoenix.com @thinktankSK

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