Fond memories follow donations to Towson State Couple's gifts of art are newly displayed

February 24, 1993|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,Contributing Writer

There is a story behind every work of art, a story of inspiration, of creation and, for Sidney and Mignon Lieberman, of memory.

Several years ago, at a dinner with the late Baltimore artist Herman Maril, the Park Heights couple admired one of his oil paintings, but the artist was reluctant to sell.

"Mignon said, 'I'm not leaving without it,' " Dr. Lieberman recalled.

She didn't.

Today, the painting hangs in Towson State University's Lecture Hall and is part of the Lieberman Collection.

More than 40 oil paintings, sculptures, ink drawings, lithographs, photographs and art books, worth an estimated $250,000, cram the walls in the Lieberman Room of the Honors College.

Works by Picasso, Chagall, Miro and those by familiar Baltimore artists Amalie Rothschild, A. Aubrey Bodine and Herman Maril are lovingly arranged throughout the brightly decorated room.

It is dedicated to the memory of the couple's two children, Ronald and Richard, who died more than 20 years ago.

The couple also has given art to Richard's alma mater, Miami University of Ohio.

Richard was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin in 1968 when he died at age 23 in a scuba diving accident. Three years later, 29-year-old Ronald died, the victim of a heart defect.

"All the art there is art we accumulated over the years. The boys were familiar with it," said Dr. Lieberman, a retired dentist who volunteers in the Maryland Attorney General's office. "We wanted this to be a memorial gallery."

For years the Liebermans, both 1932 graduates of what was then the Maryland State Normal School, have been donating art from their 100-plus piece collection to their alma mater.

However, not until 1983 were they given a room at the university to furnish with art.

Even then, the collection was relatively unknown to much of the campus community.

The room on the Cook Library's fourth floor was usually locked because of the art's value. People in the library viewed the collection through a glass wall.

Last spring, Towson State officials found space for the works in the Lecture Hall.

The Liebermans rebuilt, furnished the room and armed it with a security system. Today, the Honors College uses it for meetings, study and classes.

"It is now getting the use and the appreciation that was not readily available in the other location," said Dan McCarthy, vice president for Institutional Advancement at Towson State. "I think [the Liebermans] enjoy having other people enjoy their art."

Still, the Liebermans wish more students, faculty members and Towson residents knew about the collection. Dr. Lieberman has also volunteered to give community tours of the room.

The university has no plans to open the room, which is used by more than 200 honors students and faculty members, to the rest of the school, said Elizabeth Zoltan, associate dean of University Undergraduate Studies and the College of Liberal Arts.

A walk through the Liebermans' Park Heights apartment reveals the treasures acquired from years of roaming art galleries. Paintings cover the walls. Sculptures are displayed on the tables. Ask them about a piece and they reply with an anecdote about buying the work or meeting the artist.

Dr. Lieberman, who also makes jewelry, said he once traded one of his pieces for a painting he had admired for years.

"We happen to have a feel for art," said Mrs. Lieberman, who coordinates the internship program for the university's sociology department. She also said she and her husband have established a scholarship endowment at Towson State.

The Liebermans aren't drawn to a work because of a famous signature.

Often they have bought pieces, now worth thousands of dollars, for just a few hundred dollars. Lately, however, they have abstained from buying art.

"There's no point in buying it to give it away," said Dr. Lieberman.

Though they would like to leave more of their collection to the university, they first need more display space.

"The best things we had, we gave to Towson," said Mrs. Lieberman. "We gave the heart of what we had."

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