Lecture Series Expands in Honor of Wayne Thiebaud’s UC Davis Legacy

Wayne Thiebaud
Wayne Thiebaud (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

After more than 40 years of teaching and service at UC Davis, centenarian Wayne Thiebaud continues to create art and inspire others. His influence will be felt by many future generations thanks to a $500,000 endowment from the Wayne Thiebaud Foundation. The gift will build upon and rename the already popular Betty Jean and Wayne Thiebaud Endowed Lecture to the Betty Jean and Wayne Thiebaud Lecture in the Theory, Practice and Criticism of Painting, Drawing and Sculpture.

With the expanded name comes a broadened focus and array of visiting speakers. Going forward, the lecture series – hosted by the Department of Art and Art History – will feature, along with practicing artists, more critics, curators, writers, historians and museum professionals to provide cultural insights and context for contemporary art. The Thiebaud Endowment also aims to bring more than one guest per year and/or extend the length of their UC Davis engagement.

The Wayne Thiebaud Foundation shared in a statement that "it is proud to enhance its support for the Betty Jean and Wayne Thiebaud Lecture Series at UC Davis. It is important for students, teachers and the general public to be engaged with intellectual and cultural context that artists, critics, historians and museum professionals can provide. Hopefully, this series will continue to inspire and promote the creative spirit. 

UC Davis founding art department chair Richard Nelson originally created a popular lecture series that has evolved through the years. Nelson came to UC Davis in 1952 and hired the first art professors — among them Robert Arneson, Manual Neri, William Wiley, Roy De Forest and Thiebaud, all artists who developed international reputations.

The series was further developed by Thiebaud over his years of teaching at UC Davis from 1961 to 1991. Thiebaud, who celebrated his 100th birthday in November 2020, will help shape the goals and themes for the expanded series, which is set to launch in fall 2021.

Thiebaud is known for his colorful works depicting commonplace objects — pies, lipsticks, paint cans, ice cream cones, pastries — as well as for his landscapes and figure paintings, his luscious paint application and extensive work in printmaking. His art is in the collections of nearly every major art museum in the United States and many other countries.

Thiebaud’s latest gift complements a larger “arts renaissance” taking shape within the College of Letters and Science, and is part of the UC Davis five-year Expect Greater comprehensive campaign. From premier visiting artists and a new home for contemporary Indigenous artworks, to a new endowed art history faculty position and more, this arts renaissance is positioning UC Davis as a leader among public universities in the arts.

“We’re incredibly grateful for this gift, which will have a transformational impact on the way future generations think about the theory and practice of art in different media,” said Interim Dean Ari Kelman.  

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