WHEN THE DONALD BETZ STEM RESEARCH and Learning Center opened on the Central campus in 2018, the building made an immediate impact for two distinct reasons. First, it became a think tank for the university’s interdisciplinary research efforts, housing the UCO College of Mathematics and Science programs and providing a space for symposiums and academic gatherings.
The second impact was to the overall look of the campus. With floor-to-ceiling windows, sleek glass elements, stark white walls and an abundance of natural light flooding inside, the STEM building was a clear testament to a modern design aesthetic and a striking addition to campus, garnering national recognition for the buildings design in Interior Design magazine’s 14th annual Best of Year awards.
It was just missing one thing – color.
The design left a blank canvas of walls, ready to facilitate an introduction between science and art. The Westmoreland Art Gallery opened in the STEM building in January, the result of a collaboration between UCO faculty, staff, Chicago-based artist Julie Richman and Larry Westmoreland, Ph.D., UCO professor emeritus, who served the university as a chemistry professor for 25 years.
The gallery is fittingly named after Westmoreland, whose passion for science, the arts and UCO came together for this special project. Westmoreland is a fervent supporter of Central students, and his connections to the university only grew after he retired from teaching. He serves as a UCO Foundation trustee, an advisory board member for the UCO College of Fine Arts and Design and member of the UCO Emeritus Faculty Association. He and his wife, Leah, also founded an endowed scholarship and the Westmorelands are avid supporters of KUCO Classical Radio, UCO’s classical radio station.
“Most of our friends, including several of my former students, have a UCO connection, and we attend many UCO concerts, plays, art exhibits and other events,” said Westmoreland.
The STEM gallery project was a perfect fit for Westmoreland, and he was more than willing to provide the financial support needed to create the space. Next, artwork.
In many ways, the artwork came together through coincidence and perfect timing. Pamela Richman, UCO adjunct instructor of basic music skills and aural skills in the School of Music, mentioned during a meeting that her mother, Julie Richman, is an accomplished artist and might have work that could be displayed in the STEM building. Julie’s art career spans more than 30 years, with her main areas of interest in painting and printmaking. Her artwork tends to center around bright, abstract flowers and images. According to Pamela, Julie reached a place in her life where she was looking to downsize her collection and wanted to offer a portion of her collection to the university.
Pamela and her husband graciously offered to drive to Chicago and transport the art back to Edmond, but the Richmans found that moving pieces that were already framed would be challenging, and could damage the artwork. The project was nearly derailed until fate stepped in. A tube of 10 neatly rolled large pieces of artwork were located in Julie’s home. The pieces were created by Julie in the 1970s and had been sitting in the tube since then. Interestingly, these pieces seemed destined to find their way to the walls of the gallery. Julie mentioned an article from the 1970s that included a quote about her work during that time frame. “I am experimenting with ordinary pencil crayons and ink to see if I could develop another kind of art that is associated with children’s paintings and science.”
Julie’s 10 pieces of art now grace the walls of the Westmoreland Art Gallery on the second floor of the STEM building. The project came together with the help of many university personnel. Nicole Willard, assistant director of the Max Chambers Library, assisted with framing and hanging the artwork. UCO development personnel, Tara Simmons and Mary Matlock, helped facilitate the donations.
Bob Brennan, Ph.D., associate dean for the College of Mathematics and Science, is pleased with the results of the project. “I love the shapes and colors, the type of art fits in perfectly in our building,” Brennan said. “We are extremely grateful to the Westmorelands and Richmans for bringing rejuvenating and lively color to our faculty, staff and students in the STEM building.