Collector: Juris Ubans
by Suzette McAvoy
Photography Irvin Serrano
A “fantastic” art collection reflects a forty-year career in the arts
“Collecting is an expression of friendship,” says artist, educator, and collector Juris Ubans. “The pieces are surrogates for the people.” Given his expansive personality, inquisitive nature, and general zest for life—his favorite word is “fantastic!”—it’s not surprising that Ubans’s art collection is as diverse and numerous as his wide-ranging circle of friends.
Earlier this year, a large retrospective exhibition of works from his collection, along with selections of his own art, was shown at the Art Gallery at the University of Southern Maine (USM) in Gorham, where Ubans was a professor of art for more than forty years. For twenty-seven of those years—from 1968 to 1995—Ubans also served as director of the gallery, organizing over 150 shows and forming long-standing friendships with other artists whose work he admired and sought to collect.
Some of those artists include former students Alan Bray, Wolcott Dodge, Eric Hopkins, Marc Pelletier, and Richard Wilson; others are contemporaries such as Dale Chihuly, Italo Scanga, Vija Celmins, and Paolo Soleri; and still others were colleagues—Michael Moore, Fred Lynch, Eugene Kain, and Dennis Gilbert, to name but a few.
A native of Riga, Latvia, where his father Konrad Ubans was a highly regarded painter, Juris came to this country in 1950 and settled in Syracuse, New York, where he later received his bachelor of fine arts degree from Syracuse University and began his collecting habit by trading works with fellow art students.
Now numbering more than 500 prints, works on paper, photographs, paintings, and sculptures, including a large holding of works by his father and other Latvian artists, the collection has outgrown even the ample confines of the large 1893 John Calvin Stevens Victorian on Portland’s Western Promenade that Ubans shares with his wife, Mara, and has required off-site storage for “the really big canvases.”
“The mistake I made early on was getting everything framed,” Ubans says with a laugh, as he gestures to the stacks of framed works filling an upstairs room. But given his affection for each and every piece of art he owns, it doesn’t seem to be a mistake he regrets.