College accepts generous gift for Sonnenschein Gallery upgrade

The $60,000 donation from John Liebes, widower of Gail Liebes ’53, will translate into a long-needed renovation of the Lake Forest College Permanent Art Collection storage facilities, a part of the Sonnenschein Gallery in the Durand Art Institute. This renovation will provide more and better storage space for the College’s important 1,200-piece art collection.

The project, slated to begin this summer in time for the fall of 2014 semester, also will make objects more accessible for research by students, faculty and community members with the addition of archival quality storage systems and will provide students with tables and chairs to work. 

The new space will be named the Gail K. Liebes ’53 Study Area.

Eli Robb, chair of the Department of Art and Art History, said he was thankful to learn about John’s gift, which came at a pivotal moment.

“Most pressing is that many of the objects in the collection haven’t been stored properly for many years, so they’re starting to fall into a degraded state or disrepair,” said Eli Robb, chair of the Department of Art and Art History. “Stabilizing the collection and making it accessible and safe is really the top priority.” 

The next initiative will be securing funding for conservation of the pieces, he added.

Currently, the Sonnenschein Gallery is flanked by two storage corridors. The renovation will add a wall to connect those two corridors, forming a U-shaped space behind the gallery and nearly doubling the storage area. Although the proposal calls for losing several feet of floor space for exhibitions, Robb said the new layout of the gallery actually will create a more desirable space for displaying artwork along the new back wall.

To take full advantage of the timing of the gift the Department also plans to purchase an online archiving program to build a more comprehensive and up-to-date record of the collection pieces. Archiving work will take place during construction, when collection pieces are temporarily moved and stored in the Albright Gallery.

The College’s relationship with Gail began when she decided to attend Lake Forest College after she graduated from high school in Kankakee, Illinois. Later, she served on the Board of Trustees for three years and attended several reunions; John accompanied her to four of them throughout their 44 years of marriage. 

When they were newly married, Gail and John decided to start giving to charity. 

“She said to me, ‘That’s fine, but I’d like to concentrate on the arts and education,’” said John, who lives in California. “Those lines crossed with Lake Forest. We supported the school while she was alive. She died unexpectedly 13 years ago, but I decided to continue to support Lake Forest in her honor. It’s that simple.”

In recent years, gifts from the Liebes family have allowed the art department to purchase equipment to outfit a regular classroom into a printmaking studio.

All of these updates provide valuable opportunities for art students now, and help to pave the way for future programs. For example, the College is considering adopting an interdisciplinary museum studies minor in coming years. 

“Our own collection is an important on-campus resource for that,” Robb said.