An Artful Legacy

The Honorable Ann Winkelman Brown ’55 and Mr. Don Brown have donated 67 works of art to Sidwell Friends.

One long-ago day during the first decade of Ann and Don Brown’s nearly 60-year marriage, the couple decided to attend a forum in New York City on a topic that intrigued them: how to build an art collection. The event turned out to be an auspicious one for the Browns and, later, for Sidwell Friends.

Excited about investing in art and guided by a consultant they met at the forum, Ann and Don quickly became avid collectors.

“We decided early on that art was more fun than stocks and bonds,” says Don. “We had a limited budget, so we eliminated stocks and bonds and included art!”

After more than 50 years of that art-collecting fun, Ann and Don have acquired both considerable expertise and an impressive array of works by the likes of Picasso, Calder, and Lichtenstein. But the hallmark of their collection is their devotion to the vibrant works of DC-area artists associated with the Washington Color School, the still-flourishing abstract art movement that first gained recognition in the 1950s and 1960s.

Sidwell Friends has long been a grateful beneficiary of the couple’s artistic passion, receiving gifts of art like the dramatic Sam Gilliam painting that crowns the Kogod Arts Center lobby and other works displayed around campus. The School is thrilled to announce an extraordinary new gift from Ann and Don: 67 works in a variety of media that make up the largest gift of art ever donated to the School. The collection includes nearly two dozen pieces by noted DC artists (and former SFS parents) Lou and Di Stovall, as well as work by Robert Stackhouse, Ed McGowin, Gene Davis, Rockne Krebs, and many other artists.

In addition to this remarkable gift, 11 Sam Gilliam works from the Browns’ collection are on exhibit in the Kogod Arts Center through the end of the school year. An acclaimed abstract painter (and also a former Sidwell Friends parent), Sam was the first African American artist to represent the United States in the prestigious Venice Biennale art exhibition. His work is well represented in the Smithsonian, and his recently commissioned, large-scale painting in the National Museum of African American History and Culture has brought his art before an even larger audience.

By giving and sharing their art, Ann and Don are continuing the Brown family’s long history of involvement in the Sidwell Friends community. An active member of the Class of 1955, Ann credits the School with shaping her interests and her character. “It absolutely formed who I was and what I was going to be,” she says, recalling how her 8th grade social studies teacher, Richard Abell, introduced her to politics and advocacy. That early experience, she believes, led directly to her career in consumer protection and, eventually, her service as chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission during the Clinton administration.

Like Ann, Don also has an enduring relationship with Sidwell Friends. An attorney and a founder of the DC-based real estate investment firm, JBG Companies (now JBG Smith), he became involved in the community as the couple’s two daughters, SFS lifers Cathy Brown ’80 and Laura Brown Rodgers ’83, made their way through the School. Don served on the Board of Trustees and as the liaison to the Black Student Union, and he fondly remembers working toward the construction of the Kogod Arts Center—the building that now houses some of the art he and Ann have donated.

As SFS parents, Ann and Don were already giving their philanthropic work an artistic twist: “Whenever the annual auction came around,” Don recalls, “I would try to get the artists that I was friendly with to donate art.” One year, he stopped by to collect a piece from Sam Gilliam, but Sam didn’t have any works available. “He was traipsing around in these rubber boots that he used to paint in—he spray-painted a lot—and the boots were completely covered with paint, and for all the world they looked like a Sam Gilliam painting! And so I talked him into giving me the boots, and they were auctioned off at a huge price. … It would be fun to have them; I’m sorry I didn’t bid on them! They were beautiful.”

[Do you know what became of those boots? If so, please email!]

These days, Ann and Don especially like to see their philanthropy in action, and that’s one reason they decided to give artwork to Sidwell Friends. By being around the pieces all day, says Ann, students “are really living with it, and it opens their eyes to wonderful art.” That’s already happening in the Middle School, where students are learning from Ann and Don’s gifts—studying their form, technique, color, light—and then applying that knowledge to their own artistic creations.

But even more than teaching students about art, the Browns hope their gift will address a larger goal: “In these terrible times, where racism and anti-immigrant feeling are so engendered,” Ann says, it’s important for students to see the achievements of people who have faced discrimination and to know that everyone must help fight injustice. “They’ll go to the museum and see a Sam Gilliam,” she says, “and they’ll recognize it from their school.” And, she adds, “I like the fact that this is work by an African American artist, given by the son of first-generation Jewish immigrants.”

That’s the essence of Sidwell Friends, Ann says, and “it has the same spirit today as it did when I was a student: a spirit of openness, intellectuality, acceptance of people with differences. I can’t tell you how important that School was to me.”

Photo above: Ann and Don Brown, with Rosebud, at their home in Florida. The mural was painted by DC-area artist Di Stovall.


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