Leroy Merritt Center for the Art of Joseph Sheppard to Open at UMUC

New gallery, sculpture garden and learning center opens with an April 20 gala

By Kerry O'Neill (koneill@mghus.com) |   March 30, 2010

ADELPHI, MD (Mar. 30, 2010)—University of Maryland University College (UMUC) announced today that it will host a formal gala Tuesday, April 20, 2010, at 6:30 p.m. to mark the official opening of the Leroy Merritt Center for the Art of Joseph Sheppard—a new, $6.5 million, 5,500-square-foot facility located on the east side of the university’s world headquarters in Adelphi, Maryland.  

The Center is particularly unusual in that it showcases the work of a unique, living artist—Joseph Sheppard—who not only paints and sculpts but also has written several books on art. Sheppard was born in 1930 in Owings Mills, Maryland, and educated at the Maryland Institute College of Art under Jacques Maroger, the former technical director of the Louvre Museum in Paris. One of Maryland’s most renowned artists, Sheppard stands now as an acknowledged master of a realism that recalls the style of the Renaissance masters. His credo, as put forth in the introduction to a recent major exhibition at UMUC, Beast of Burden, reads as follows:  

I believe that technical skill is still an important element in art.

I believe that there is no object to non-objective, that minimal is less, that junk sculpture is junk, and form in painting relates to the illusion of three dimensions.

My art is based on the return to those standards which demand the knowledge of composition, perspective, color, three dimensional form, draftsmanship and anatomy.

The Leroy Merritt Center for the Art of Joseph Sheppard will house a permanent collection of more than 20 of Sheppard’s finest bronze and marble sculptures, which have been donated to the university. The gallery will display a variety of paintings, on loan and in rotating exhibits, including a selection of Sheppard’s most notable works, many of which were showcased in earlier exhibitions at UMUC, including Beast of Burden and Fifty Years of Art. The study center will house Sheppard’s extensive personal collection of books about classical art and artists, along with a series of original drawings illustrating themes such as the male figure, still life, and head and portrait studies.

The Center features a state-of-the-art climate control system, a “green” roof planted with sedum, and custom lighting by specialist Cheryl Flota, of Light’n Up, whose extensive résumé includes the display lighting for one of the Smithsonian Institution’s most prized possessions, the Hope Diamond.

Designed by Baltimore architect James Grieves with an interior by Rita St. Clair, the Center has been fully funded by private donations—including a $3 million gift from the late Baltimore-area real estate developer Leroy Merritt, for whom it is named. The facility includes a gallery, study center, and indoor sculpture garden, all centered around a spacious, multilevel reception area. The design of the Center was influenced by Sheppard’s own artistic interpretations.

About Joseph Sheppard
Born in Owings Mill, Maryland, Joseph Sheppard attended the Maryland Institute College of Art from 1946-52 before traveling to Florence, Italy, in 1957 where he worked and trained through a Guggenheim Traveling Fellowship award. His work was shown at the Peale Museum when that historic site in Baltimore was still open to the public. Sheppard has won international acclaim and his work is part of a number of permanent collections nationwide and in Italy. Sheppard divides his time between Maryland and the region of Tuscany in Italy, a town called Pietrasanta, which is home to sculptors, quarries and bronze foundries.

About Leroy Merritt
Philanthropist and commercial real estate developer Leroy M. Merritt was born in Dundalk, Maryland, and attended Dundalk High School and Western Maryland College (now McDaniel University). During college, he earned tuition money and learned the building trade while working summers for relatives who owned a masonry contracting business. After graduating from college, he taught seventh grade for two years, then went into the construction business for himself. After a two-year partnership with developer Edward St. John, the two men divided their properties amicably, and Merritt went on to found Merritt Properties, of Baltimore, which today ranks as the largest property management firm in the Baltimore–Washington area, responsible for approximately 14 million square feet of commercial real estate. In 1977, he opened the Towson Court Club, for racquetball enthusiasts; today, nine Merritt Athletic Clubs are distributed across the Baltimore area. His philanthropic endeavors were equally impressive. In 2008 alone, he donated $3.8 million to nonprofit organizations, many of them educational. Mr. Merritt died in January 2010 at the age of 79.