Arts Patrons, Impresarios, and Philanthropists in Saskatchewan

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Part 3: Cheryl & Henry Kloppenburg, Arts Patrons

By Steven Ross Smith

A clip on YouTube from a Rick Mercer CBC television program of a few years ago shows Mercer pacing in the waiting room at 24 Sussex Drive prior to an interview with Prime Minster Paul Martin. Mercer spots an Inuit stone sculpture on the floor, so he picks it up to find that it’s hiding a cigarette burn in the carpet underneath. It’s a good laugh – and today Henry and Cheryl Kloppenburg chuckle about it, because it’s a sculpture that they donated to the Canadiana Fund in 2004. Such donations are placed in official residences of Canada, and theirs ended up in this impressive room, albeit with an inglorious role.

Artworks from their extensive collection are displayed throughout the law offices of Henry and Cheryl Kloppenburg in Saskatoon. There’s a charming Ross Scott in the foyer opposite a marvellous Inuit whalebone sculpture. More Inuit stone sculptures and abstract paintings by Bill Perehudoff grace Henry Kloppenburg's office. Paintings by Dorothy Knowles, Ernest Lindner, Rita Cowley, A. Y. Jackson, F. H. Johnston and Greg Hardy grace adjoining offices. Henry says, “We see the acquisition of art as an important thing for our working environment. We think it enriches the environment and it makes it a happier place.”

The sculpture in the Prime Minister’s residence is just one of the many donations Cheryl and Henry Kloppenburg have made locally and nationally. Here in Saskatoon, on the sixth floor of the Agriculture Building on the University of Saskatchewan campus, and readily available for the public eye, hang fifty paintings donated by the Kloppenburgs.

“We wanted to bring art to the agros,” says Henry with a smile. Cheryl adds, “A lot of people have been really surprised that we made that donation of art to the Agricultural College. Henry’s and my fundamental belief is that art needs to be available to the public. If we were to donate to a gallery the works would be displayed maybe six weeks every five years, but at the college, they’re up twenty-four-seven for as long as they last.”

The Kloppenburg’s generosity extends beyond the visual arts. Through their financial donations, volunteer time, and advocacy, they also support orchestral music, drama, education, the environment and literary arts.

For almost twenty years the Kloppenburgs have been donating prize money for the annual writing contests run by Grain magazine, Saskatchewan’s well-established and widely-respected quarterly literary journal. As well, they have offered legal advice and have donated furniture to the Grain office. Editor Kent Bruyneel says, “The Kloppenburgs' support means an organization like ours can do more than survive, we can find new challenges, go into different areas For me Cheryl and Henry have offered moral support and, importantly, they are always there with legal advice. It is hard to overstate the confidence one receives from having access to such excellent advice. You get the impression they give to the arts because they think it is the right thing to do, not to get their names in the magazine. “

“We recognize that Grain is a reasonably avant-garde magazine,” says Henry, “and we think that that is important because literature is not a static form. It’s dynamic and evolves and changes and to succeed it has to provoke and it has to challenge. We see it that way and we support it for that reason.”

In 1978 to mark the 50th anniversary of Henry’s family settling in Humboldt Henry and Cheryl endowed a scholarship at Humboldt Collegiate for a graduating student. Subsequently they’ve endowed three prizes in the College of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan – one for a top graduating M.D. in Psychiatry, and two resident’s research prizes in medicine and surgery. Then in 1990 they made a donation to endow a scholarship at Rosthern Junior College to for a graduating student who excels in the arts.

For many years the Kloppenburgs have supported the Saskatoon Symphony, serving on the Board of Directors, and providing financial and promotional support. They themselves purchase two pairs of tickets each year so they can take guests along to the concerts, and they often distribute other complimentary tickets to friends and business associates. “Our main support of the symphony has been as consumers.” says Cheryl. “We enjoy the symphony and we think it important that other people should be able to share that enjoyment.”

A philosophical underpinning to their philanthropy is allied with personal considerations. Henry says, “We haven’t had children so we think donating art and contributing to the community and to the cultural life of the community is a substitute for other ways of contributing.” Cheryl adds, “We have identified the arts as an area to support because we’re participants in it, and we enjoy the arts. Art is an area that struggles for support, and so we’ve chosen to put our support there.”

The Kloppenburgs are among a select demographic. Charitable giving and arts philanthropy are on the rise in Canada; the value of donations to charity is at record-level across the country. Yet the number of donors is shrinking while the amount of individual donations is increasing. Fewer donors are giving more money, and lower income earners are donating a larger portion of their income than the wealthy. In 2006 in Saskatchewan, the mean annual donation per giver (as reported in income tax filings) was $310. Approximately 182,690 (or just over 18% of) taxpayers in Saskatchewan donated. But the majority of donations go to health and medicine, universities and to foundations, and only a small portion – according to studies, about 3% – is donated to the arts.

As is often the case, appreciation of the arts can be traced back to Cheryl and Henry’s formative years. Cheryl grew up in Saskatoon and Regina. She remembers regular Saturday morning treks to the old main public library. “Our parents would drop off the kids and go to get the groceries and come back and we’d each have an armful of books for the next week.” Then when Cheryl was a teenager her mother took her to symphony concerts and art galleries in Regina, including the McKenzie Gallery.

Henry, who grew up in Humboldt, was exposed to art early. He had piano lessons as a youngster and played in music festivals in Humboldt. As well, he speaks of a painting that hung in his home and served as a kind of beacon, leading him into a future of collecting. “My great uncle had bought this painting in times of inflation in Germany in the ‘20s. I came to recognize that arts have an economic dimension as well as the aesthetic dimension, because the painting was bought as a store of value. We still have that painting in our home.”

Henry, a Rhodes scholar, had a further awakening while attending Oxford University in the late ‘60s. “I was exposed to arts and to theatre and I met people who were writers. The writer Martin Amis was in college with me. I saw writers close up, how they thought and what they did and that they were human too and that they had something to contribute to the culture in which we lived. At Oxford, in my room I had a great painting that the college lent me – a pastoral piece by Duncan Grant – the institution thought that the art was worthy and that students should see it. William Morris had been in my College so I was exposed to his sculptures, tapestries and etchings.” Henry adds, “I think that students in schools should be introduced to art. They should be given a breadth of exposure to art.”

A fourth area that the Kloppenburgs support is the environment. In 1996 Cheryl and Henry donated a quarter of land near Humboldt to, as Henry says, “her Majesty the Queen.” The quarter section had never been cultivated and will now be preserved as natural prairie for future generations. Cheryl laughs recalling an anecdote regarding the nature preserve. “We were in the local A&W [in Humboldt] and an elderly woman that Henry had known as a child came up and lit into him, saying ‘you really have to get the Queen to cut that grass out there – people are getting lost in it!’ ”

Such responses notwithstanding, Henry says, “That donation has given us more warm fuzzy feelings and positive feedback almost than any other donation.”

Perhaps the most noteworthy art donation the Kloppenburgs have made and one that they are also proud of is the William Perehudoff painting that now hangs in the Prime Minister’s entrance to Rideau Hall (the Governor General’s residence) in Ottawa. It is a bright abstract painting in tones of yellow with contrasting stripes, some green and deep red. It strikes a vibrant note, and makes a statement for western art in the halls of Canadian political power.

There have been formal responses to the Kloppenburg’s cultural dedication as well. They received the Financial Post Award for the Support of the Arts given in Halifax in 1994. Cheryl, ready with another humorous story says: “The woman who organized the Halifax award event was very excited because Paul Demarais was flying in to the event in his own private jet, and we said to her, ‘How interesting – we’re coming on points’!”

The Kloppenburgs, despite these examples of their largess as well as others unreported here, are obviously unpretentious. Cheryl says, “I don’t think Henry or I feel comfortable with the designation of ‘philanthropist’. We just support things that we like.” And Henry adds, “We recognize that I’m from Humboldt and my wife went to Caswell School [in Saskatoon]. We don’t have any particular pretensions with having been reared in the shadow of the Louvre.”

Cheryl and Henry enjoy their acquisitions, their dispensations, and their involvement with art and artists. “We tend to deal in a world of linear thinkers,” Cheryl states, “and artistic people help us look at the world in a different way.” With their generosity Cheryl and Henry Kloppenburg have created opportunities for artistic enjoyment, for rich new ways to see, hear and think, both for themselves and for many others.

Part 3 of a 5 part series commissioned by the Saskatchewan Arts Alliance.

© For permission to reprint this article please contact the SAA.