An East Aurora family has donated $4 million, the largest ever one-time gift to SUNY Buffalo State College, to support the college's distinguished Art Conservation Department.
The gift was made by Richard E. and Patricia H. Garman family. Richard Garman is the former president and CEO of Buffalo Crushed Stone and ABC Paving Co. Patricia Garman taught psychiatric nursing at D'Youville and operated a private practice before her death in 2014.
The family’s donation, the largest onetime gift to Buffalo State in its history, will be used to support students who enter the competitive and internationally recognized Art Conservation graduate program, one of only four such programs in the country.
“The gift will allow us to offer fellowships to the most talented individuals across the country interested in pursuing art conservation careers," said Patrick Ravines, director of the Art Conservation Department. "The entire department is very excited, and I'm sure our 400-plus alumni will be very excited, too. We are all tickled pink beyond belief, and extremely grateful to the Garmans.”
The gift "solidifies our ability to provide graduate students with fellowship funding so they can live and not have to take out horrendous amounts in student loans," said Ravines.
“I sincerely appreciate the impact of this gift for our Art Conservation program," said SUNY Buffalo State President Katherine Conway-Turner. “When members of the community, such as the Garmans, recognize the important work that our faculty and students pursue on a daily basis, I feel like we are achieving our objective as an institution.”
The Art Conservation Program "was one of my parents' dear loves, especially Mom's," said one of the couple's three daughters, Melissa Garman Baumgart. "And the amazing thing to me is that we have something like this here in Buffalo, and nobody really knows about it!"
The college will rename the department the Patricia and Richard Garman Art Conservation Department, pending official approval by the State University of New York Board of Trustees and the Buffalo State College Council. Conway-Turner said the renaming ceremony is being tentatively scheduled for February, pending those approvals.
The Garmans' other daughters are Michelle Parrish and Kathy Gleason, both of East Aurora.
Baumgart said her mother had long appreciated the work of the innovative department, but the warm relationship was cemented several years ago by the shattered legs of an antique terra cotta Chinese horse.
Baumgart said her mother may have first heard about the Art Conservation Department from one of her wide circle of friends, and enjoyed meeting the professors and students who work meticulously to stabilize and restore paintings, sculptures, paper and objects.
So when an 18-inch-tall terra cotta horse the Garmans had purchased and shipped from Florida arrived with two legs broken, Baumgart said, "Mom of course was just devastated, but she knew exactly where to go."
Not only did the students and professors at the Art Conservation Department flawlessly restore the horse, said Baumgart, they also researched it. "They gave us the whole history of the sculpture," she said, which was created during the Tang Dynasty.
While not art collectors, Baumgart said, her parents "truly appreciated art. They bought pieces to display in their home, for their own pleasure."
Their interaction with the Art Conservation Department inspired the couple to establish a student fellowship and a continuing relationship with the department. Baumgart said family members "started visiting and going to the presentations of the third-year graduates, when they come back from their internships. I just love that day, and so do my two sisters. We have gone to several of them and we are inspired by what these individuals are doing, right here in Buffalo."
Ravines said the department, which has 10 students in each year of its three-year program, struggles a bit to be recognized locally, although it reaches out to community members with an open house in the fall and a clinic day, where people may bring in items to be considered for conservation.
"We are trying to come out of obscurity," said Ravines. "We do a lot of outreach, but people still say, 'You guys exist?' or they think we are part of UB. Having two big SUNY systems in one city is sometimes a bit confusing for people."
Richard and Patricia Garman were active in civic, cultural and community organizations, making significant donations to the University at Buffalo and the Western New York Women's Foundation, of which Mrs. Garman was a founding member. She was also a founding member of the Compeer Greater Buffalo Board of Directors and a member of the Niagara Lutheran Health Foundation, the UB Foundation and the Mental Health Association. The Garmans also supported Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the Girl Scouts.
At Buffalo State, Ravines met the Garmans when he arrived to head the program in 2010. The family "continued to be friends and supporters through the years," he said.
Unlike other departments and programs on campus, which are usually supported by alumni, the Art Conservation Department "touches people who are really passionate about the arts," said Conway-Turner. "If you are passionate about art, of whatever kind, you are also passionate about maintaining and preserving it for the future, and it is great that we now have this distinctive program that puts together science with art."
“I can’t express the level of gratitude we have for the Garman family,” said Susanne Bair, Buffalo State’s vice president for institutional advancement. “Mr. and Mrs. Garman had a deep understanding of the importance of preserving our cultural heritage."
Since it was founded in 1970, the Art Conservation Department, which has seven full-time faculty members, has placed graduates in positions at prestigious major institutions across the country, including the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Getty Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
The Garman gift also fulfills a challenge grant established by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In the summer of 2014, the foundation awarded the Art Conservation Department a $1.25 million challenge grant, which required the college to raise an additional $750,000 by June 2017.
The late Horace Mann, who taught in Buffalo State's education department for more than 40 years, made a series of large donations that added up to more than $7 million. That series of donations made him the largest donor in the college’s history.