Donor Story

The Accidental Collector

Bud Johns Caps Off Longtime Appreciation for Tamarind Institute with Generous Gift

By Michelle G. McRuiz

Posted November 14, 2014

A former newspaperman-cum-Levi Strauss executive. An internationally known institute of fine-art lithography. A chance meeting that bloomed into a friendship. These elements formed the basis of Bud Johns’ decades-long admiration of Tamarind Institute, a division of UNM’s College of Fine Arts. Recently, Johns made a gift to Tamarind that will help it sustain its presence as a center of influence in the world of printmaking.

Tamarind Institute Director Marjorie Devon visits with Bud Johns during a gallery event.  Photo: Courtesy Tamarind Institute

Tamarind Institute Director Marjorie Devon visits with Bud Johns during a gallery event.
Photo: Courtesy Tamarind Institute

As a college student in Michigan, Johns, who now lives in San Francisco, found himself with an extra credit hour on his schedule, so he enrolled in an art appreciation class. He purchased his first piece of fine art from a fellow student, and his passion for collecting began.

Becoming a Fan

In the late 1970s, Johns was vice president of corporate communications at Levi Strauss & Co. He and the National Endowment for the Humanities were major underwriters of a series of conferences called the Institute of the American West. Clinton Adams, Tamarind’s director from 1970 to 1985, attended one, and he and Johns became friends. Soon afterward, Johns visited Tamarind Institute and was impressed by the quality of the lithography being taught and produced there.

Johns was one of the first members of the Collectors Club, according to Marjorie Devon, director of Tamarind since 1985. For an annual fee, members receive a specially commissioned print from a recognized artist whose name and work is not announced in advance. “It’s been a way to expand people’s knowledge about and interest in contemporary artists and to broaden their collecting habits a little bit,” Devon said of the club.

“Over the years, Johns’ collection has become so vast that he confesses he has no idea how many prints he owns. When he and his wife downsized from a large house to a small condo, they donated about 60 works, including many from Tamarind, to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. “It was hard to part with them,” Johns admitted.

Global Outreach

Johns served on the Tamarind advisory board when talk began of the Institute’s need for a new building, and was quick to offer financial support.

“Bud has been an avid supporter and fan of Tamarind Institute,” Devon said. “He respects the fact that one of the things Tamarind does is educational programs and how important they are in making lithography accessible to artists in many places in the world.

“We have the only systematic training program for master printers,” she continued. “We get students from all over the world. Students take what they’ve learned here and establish their own studios. It’s made lithography more accessible.”

“It feels wonderful” to be able to give so generously to Tamarind, Johns said. The new building he has helped support, which opened in 2010 for the institute’s 50th anniversary, “blew me away. It’s beautiful. The old building was pieced together. This building was designed for what Tamarind Institute does.”

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