The Leroy Merritt Center for the Art of Joseph Sheppard honors Sheppard's extraordinary work, underscores his lifelong devotion to creating and promoting classical art, and celebrates the legacy of Maryland philanthropist and businessman Leroy Merritt. Designed by well-known Baltimore architect Jim Grieves, this extraordinary cultural arts center serves as an enduring tribute to the accomplished painter and sculptor. Established in 2010, the center furthers the university's goal of promoting lifelong learning and serves as a unique focal point for the university's highly acclaimed visual art collections.
The Center is particularly unusual in that it showcases the work of a unique, living artist—Joseph Sheppard not only paints and sculpts, but also has written several books on art. Sheppard was born in 1930 in Owings Mills, Maryland, and educated at the Maryland Institute College of Art under Jacques Maroger, the former technical director of the Louvre Museum in Paris. One of Maryland's most renowned artists, Sheppard stands now as an acknowledged master of a realism that recalls the style of the Renaissance masters. His credo, as put forth in the introduction to a recent major exhibition at UMGC, Beast of Burden, reads as follows:
I believe that technical skill is still an important element in art.
I believe that there is no object to nonobjective, that minimal is less, that junk sculpture is junk, and form in painting relates to the illusion of three dimensions.
My art is based on the return to those standards which demand the knowledge of composition, perspective, color, three-dimensional form, draftsmanship, and anatomy.
The Leroy Merritt Center for the Art of Joseph Sheppard houses a permanent collection of more than 20 of Sheppard's finest bronze and marble sculptures, which have been donated to the university. The gallery displays a variety of paintings, on loan and in rotating exhibits, including a selection of Sheppard's most notable works, many of which were showcased in earlier exhibitions at UMGC, including Beast of Burden and Fifty Years of Art. The study center houses Sheppard's extensive personal collection of about 1,000 books about classical art and artists, along with a series of original drawings illustrating themes such as the male figure, still life, and head and portrait studies.
The Center features an interior by Rita St. Clair, as well as a state-of-the-art climate control system, a "green" roof planted with sedum, and custom lighting by specialist Cheryl Flota, of Light'n Up, whose extensive résumé includes the display lighting for one of the Smithsonian Institution's most prized possessions, the Hope Diamond.
The Center has been fully funded by private donations—including a $3 million gift from the late Baltimore-area real estate developer Leroy Merritt, for whom it is named. The facility includes a gallery, study center, and indoor sculpture garden, all centered around a spacious, multilevel reception area. The design of the Center was influenced by Sheppard's own artistic interpretations.
Philanthropist and commercial real estate developer Leroy M. Merritt was born in Dundalk, Maryland, and attended Dundalk High School and Western Maryland College (now McDaniel University). During college, he earned tuition money and learned the building trade while working summers for relatives who owned a masonry contracting business. After graduating from college, he taught seventh grade for two years and then went into the construction business for himself. After a two-year partnership with developer Edward St. John, the two men divided their properties amicably, and Merritt went on to found Merritt Properties, LLC, in Baltimore, Maryland. The company is now the largest property management firm in the Baltimore–Washington, D.C., area and is responsible for approximately 14 million square feet of commercial real estate. In 1977, Merritt opened the Towson Court Club for racquetball enthusiasts;today, the Baltimore area has nine Merritt Athletic Clubs. Merritt died in January 2010 at the age of 79.
The Center is an extension of the College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center.