Noted Artist Allen Leepa; Endowed SPC's Leepa-Rattner Museum

Noted abstract expressionist artist Allen Leepa, who gave his extensive art collection to St. Petersburg College in 1997, died at age 90

St. Petersburg, FL, July 03, 2009 --( Allen Leepa, a noted abstract Expressionist and Minimalist artist who, along with his then-wife Isabelle, donated a valuable art collection to St. Petersburg College that became the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, died Friday. He was 90.

A professor of art for many years at Michigan State University, he retired to Tarpon Springs. In 1997, the Leepas decided to donate their extensive art collection to St. Petersburg College, which in turn established the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art at the Tarpon Springs Campus.

The collection, consisting of thousands of works by Leepa; his mother, Esther Gentle Rattner; and his stepfather, figurative expressionist Abraham Rattner; as well as by Picasso, Chagall, Rouault, Hans Hofmann and others, is valued at more than $20 million.

Besides the art collection, the Leepas gave the college $2.5 million to put toward establishing the new museum.

The gift was praised by the Florida Legislature, Fortune and Newsweek magazines, and Microsoft's Slate 60 online magazine. Fortune magazine named the Leepas among 1996’s 40 most generous Americans; Newsweek called the gift one of national significance.

The groundbreaking for the 58,000-square-foot museum complex was Nov. 9, 1999, and it opened in January 2002. The building itself is tall, starkly angled and contoured in a style reminiscent of the work that it houses. Besides the museum, the building also houses the Tarpon Springs Campus’s Fine Arts Education Center and its Michael M. Bennett Library.

At the groundbreaking, Leepa described his vision for the museum.

“This museum is a vehicle to promote education through the arts,” he said. “The creative and emotional development attainable through personal involvement in art can offer profound guidelines in education and to the personal growth of the college student and public spectator.”

SPC President Carl M. Kuttler Jr. remembered Leepa’s gift and discussed its meaning to the college as well as to the community.

“This very generous gift of such magnificent works by Allen and Isabelle Leepa has become one of St. Petersburg College’s most valuable assets,” he said. “It also has added greatly to the cultural value of West Central Florida. We are proud that they chose our college to become their collection’s permanent home.”

Allen Leepa was born in Brooklyn, N. Y. He spent his early years in California, but returned to New York at age 14 to attend high school.

He received training in the visual arts in WPA classes at the The Art Students League in New York City. In 1937, he received a scholarship to the New Bauhaus school of design, established by László Moholy-Nagy in Chicago. That period introduced him to European modernism and to the importance of art education.

He studied at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts before earning undergraduate and graduate degrees at Columbia University in New York City.

Dr. Leepa had a number of one-man and group exhibitions in New York, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Florida, France and Brazil. He wrote many articles and published two books, The Challenge of Modern Art, an art appreciation text book in its fifth printing, and “Rattner,” a biography of the life and art of Abraham Rattner, his stepfather.

Isabelle Leepa died in 2006 at age 78.

Funeral arrangements are being handled by Vinson Funeral Home, Tarpon Springs. Services are pending.

Bill Frederick
St. Petersburg College

St. Petersburg College
Bill Frederick