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September 23, 2020

Major Phelps Gift Honors Work and Mission of Art Department

A PATRON'S VISION: A gift from the estate of the late Peggy Phelps will support the importance and long-standing reputation of CGU's Art program.

The Office of Development at Claremont Graduate University announces a significant gift supporting the university’s acclaimed Art Department from longtime supporter and trustee emerita Peggy Phelps, who passed away in May.

Phelps’s estate has bequeathed $350,000 to the Roland Reiss Endowed Chair in Art, which supports a senior faculty member in the university’s Art Department. David Pagel currently holds the chair.

Pagel said he was humbled by Phelps’s commitment to CGU’s art program and her decision to honor Reiss, an artist and former professor whom she considered an influential voice on the contemporary artistic landscape.

Peggy Phelps, says David Pagel, ‘was a benefactor in the best sense of the word.’

“Peggy took great pleasure in the arts. She truly was a benefactor in the best sense of the word,” Pagel said. “She didn’t do things to draw attention to herself; she just wanted those things to go on, and this gift makes perfect sense. She really believed in art that speaks to everyone; if she could help to make that happen, she was going to do it.”

First established in 2010 with a $2 million endowment, the Reiss Chair was previously held by the late Michael Brewster and by David Amico. Phelps’s gift reinforces that original commitment to the chair.

The gift also expands the Phelps legacy at CGU. One of the university’s two main art galleries is named after Phelps, and for many years she served as an advisory board member for the Kingsley & Kate Tufts Poetry Awards.

For Associate Vice President of Development Tony Todarello, the Phelps gift demonstrates the powerful impact that estate gifts in various forms—such as property, stocks, or retirement funds, for instance—can have on a university’s future.

“Peggy Phelps supported CGU throughout her lifetime, but many alumni aren’t able to do that,” he said. “They aren’t in a financial position to make cash gifts, but they do have the capacity to contribute through their estates. Her decision to make this bequest shows how you can strengthen programs that you believe in so that they help many future generations of students.”

Peggy Phelps in 2017

Pagel, who knew Phelps for some 20 years, fondly recalled her sense of humor, generosity, and an awareness and open-minded attitude that made it a pleasure to walk with her through grad shows and other exhibits in the CGU gallery that bears her name.

“It was so much fun to look at art with her because she was so energetic, and she wanted to be surprised by what she found,” he said. “The things that she’d zero in on as we walked through exhibit spaces together were really amazing.”

Her gift in support of the Reiss chair, Pagel said, can be seen as an extension of her enthusiasm for the CGU program.

“She wanted the program to keep doing what makes it so special,” he said. “Her gift is a way of helping our faculty to keep helping students find their own voices and do their own thing and find ways to delight people in surprising ways.”