Donor Story

To UNM, with Love: The Bequest of Two Friends Brings Art to the People

Jonathan Abrams, MD, and Fay Abrams have the kind of intimacy one finds in a Gabriel García Márquez novel: They were married for decades, have been divorced for several years, and are now close friends. She calls him a rare “renaissance man”; he says she approaches various “consciousness-expanding endeavors… with gentleness and care.”


Fay Abrams and Jonathan Abrams, MD.

Over the past four decades, Jon and Fay have amassed an art collection of more than 400 pieces. They also have done much to promote contemporary art in Albuquerque. Fay owned Mariposa Gallery for 31 years and is the past president (2004-2009) of the Capitol Art Foundation in Santa Fe, which oversees an extensive collection of work by New Mexico artists at the State Capitol Building. Jon helped to establish the UNM Health Sciences Center Art Program and founded the Contemporary Arts Society in Albuquerque more than 25 years ago. In 2000, he received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.

Jon and Fay are culminating their generosity by establishing a bequest to the UNM Art Museum. The Jonathan Abrams and Fay Pfaelzer Abrams Art Collection will consist of 80 works of art.

“Jon and Fay’s dedication to the arts is exemplified through their vision and passion for contemporary art,” said E. Luanne McKinnon, director of the UNM Art Museum. “Their generosity to the museum is indicative of this commitment. We are extremely grateful.”

“We want [the collection] to be available to as many people as possible,” Fay said. “Jon has said the art doesn’t belong to him personally; he is a custodian of it while he’s alive.”

“Private collections are wonderful if you can afford them,” Jon added. “For me, it’s a stopping place until the works can be made available to the public.”

Pursuing Their Passion

art-to-people-2Fay holds art degrees from Mills College and UNM. Jon, who retired from the UNM School of Medicine in 2009 as a distinguished professor of medicine emeritus, had no formal art education but became interested in it in college. They began collecting art as a young married couple in the early 1960s, acquiring only pieces they both loved.

“We never went after names,” Fay said. Even so, the couple added some pieces to their collection that turned out to be major, such as a work by Dutch artist Karel Appel (1921-2006) and a limited-edition print of “Blue and Orange” by Ellsworth Kelly (born 1923).

Art Is Necessary

Fay and Jon came to Albuquerque in 1968 and lived on what is now Kirtland Air Force Base for two years during Jon’s U.S. Army service. After receiving a master’s degree in art education from UNM in 1974, Fay was pivotal in founding Mariposa Gallery, an Albuquerque icon of fine contemporary craft and folk art, which she sold in 2005. Jon joined the UNM School of Medicine in 1970 practicing and teaching cardiology, ultimately achieving the status of distinguished professor before retiring in 2009.

They believe strongly that fine art plays a vital role in all levels of education. Fay thinks it’s important for students to actually stand in front of a work of art: “There’s a different vibration that comes from seeing an actual piece of art rather than a representation.” Jon says that art education would be especially beneficial to medical students. “Doctors are often unaware about a lot of the outside world because so much of their time is taken up with learning about patient care, practicing and teaching. It would be better if they could be more broadly trained in literature and the arts.”

The Abrams’ gift will put remarkable art where it ultimately belongs: in the public eye. “It’s the only choice that makes sense,” said Fay.