Paul J. Schupf, an art collector and longtime Colby College benefactor whose name will grace a future art and film center in downtown Waterville, has died.

Schupf, of Hamilton, New York, a business leader and generous supporter of Colby who was also an emeritus trustee of the college, died of cancer Wednesday, college officials announced Thursday. He was 82.

Paul J. Schupf

“Through his extraordinary generosity, Schupf altered the landscape at Colby with gifts that supported the arts, the sciences, and residential life,” Colby College officials said in a press release.

“The reach of his gifts extends beyond the Museum of Art across campus and now into the Waterville community. His most recent donation was a leadership gift in support of a downtown arts center, currently in design, which will cement his legacy in Waterville. The center will be named in his honor: the Paul J. Schupf Art Center.”

Colby President David A. Greene said Schupf loved Colby and all the college represents.

“As he told me time and again, this was his adopted and true home,” Greene said. “Colby is a far better place for having had Paul Schupf in our midst for so long. Paul’s contributions to Colby are too extensive to list, but among his lasting legacies will be the Paul J. Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville, which will have an impact on our city for generations to come.”

Schupf told the Morning Sentinel in April he had cancer.

He said he first came to Waterville in 1985, not knowing a soul. He grew to love the city, its people, Colby and the college’s support of the arts.

In April, he committed $2 million for a Colby College Museum of Art contemporary art gallery in the future center for art and film, exopected to cost between $18 million and $20 million and be developed at 93 Main St. downtown. A few weeks later, he gave an even larger contribution to the center, although neither he nor Colby would reveal the amount. At the time, Greene called it a “remarkable gift.”

Schupf is a 1958 graduate of Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, and studied for a year at the Université de Paris, according to the Colby release.

“He became an investment professional, starting his own company, Paul J. Schupf Associates, and his success allowed him to support organizations and causes he cared deeply about — namely academics and the arts, including dance, studio art, and music. He made connections between the art he loved, finding inspiration equally in the work of Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead, Richard Serra and Chuck Close.”

Paul J. Schupf, in a doorway of one of his 1830s houses in Hamilton, New York, surrounded by pieces from his art collection, made what Colby College President David A. Greene called a “remarkable gift” to help redevelop the Center into a hub for visual arts, performing arts, arts education and film. Greene, speaking on April 23, said, “We now have over half the amount we need to construct this building.” The fundraising target for the building to be named after Schupf was $18 million to $20 million. Schupf died Wednesday. He was 82.

One of Colby’s largest donors, Schupf was introduced to Colby in 1985 through the Colby College Museum of Art,” according to Colby officials.

“A knowledgeable and serious art collector, he contributed several important artworks to the museum, including many paintings from his private collection and works by Richard Serra, Edward Ruscha, Christo, and Alex Katz. When the Paul J. Schupf Wing for the Works of Alex Katz was dedicated in 1996, he helped make possible an American rarity — an entire wing devoted solely to the work of a living artist. He also gave the naming gift for the Paul J. Schupf Sculpture Court.”

The Paul J. Schupf Computational Chemistry Laboratory, located in the Paul J. Schupf Scientific Computing Center, was founded in 1994 with gifts from Schupf and two grants from the National Science Foundation, according to Colby officials. A major gift established the Schupf Residence Hall in 1996. Other significant recent gifts include the Paul J. Schupf Colby/Memorial Sloan Kettering Internship and the Lorey/Schupf Handbell Choir.

Schupf also donated his time to the college, serving as a Colby trustee from 1991 to 2006. He chaired the Technology Committee and served as a member on the development, executive, and honorary degree committees. From 1985 to 1991, he served on the Board of Visitors, and from 1994 to 2006, he served on the museum’s Board of Governors. He received a Colby Brick Award in 1999. At the time of his death, Schupf was serving on Colby’s Dare Northward Campaign Cabinet.

A trustee emeritus of  Colgate, Schupf also served on that college’s campaign steering committee and taught a course on the art of collecting. At Colgate he created the W.S. Schupf Chair in Far Eastern Studies in memory of his father, Dutch national Willem Schupf, as well as the Schupf Studio Art Center and the Schupf Fellowship, providing opportunities for one to two Colgate graduates to attend St. Anne’s College at the University of Oxford each year.

He has also been active on the board of the American Dance Festival, served as president of the Aston Magna Foundation for Music, and was chairman of the Musicians Aid Society of New York. He received honorary degrees from Colby, Cazenovia College, and Thomas College.

In the April interview with the Morning Sentinel, Schupf said he was born in Antwerp, Belgium and lived in Singapore before his family settled in New Rochelle, New York.

In 1985 he met then-Colby President William Cotter, who welcomed Schupf’s ideas about contemporary art — ideas that college presidents elsewhere had dismissed, Schupf said.

“I’m passionate about art, and in 1985 I had a very good collection of Alex Katz,” Schupf said. “Somebody suggested Colby and Bowdoin could do a joint summer exhibition entirely of my works of Alex Katz. The director of Bowdoin College museum had no interest in Alex Katz. (Former Colby Museum director) Hugh Gourley III was very interested in his work. I went up to Mayflower Hill for the first time, and I was very taken by Colby Museum. I did four major shows at Colgate Museum, and they had no interest in contemporary art at all. Until recently, nobody had interest in contemporary art.”

Schupf and Gourley worked closely together and Cotter was supportive of their efforts, Schupf said.

“We did show after show after show, and then I suggested I would donate a fund to name a wing which would have Alex Katz’s work, the first addition to the museum in quite some time. Bill was delightful to work with. He fully understood how the Colby Museum could be a jewel in the crown of the college.”

While other colleges and universities were “petrified of innovative and disruptive ideas,” Cotter loved them and encouraged Schupf in his efforts, Schupf said.

“At the time, Colby was a small, regional college, not the Colby of today at all,” Schupf said. “Bill was tremendously energetic and very smart. He had the brilliant idea of having a board of governors, which is difficult for a school in Maine to create. He worked at it. The board of governors is now, and has been, an extraordinary force for the museum — extraordinary. He also had Gourley report directly to him.”

Waterville was a thriving city in the 1980s, according to Schupf, but over the years, mills closed and malls and big box stores were developed outside of the downtown. He visited Waterville — a city he had grown to love — three or four times a year and became friends with other Colby benefactors, including Peter and Paul Lunder and the Alfond family.

Then, more than four years ago, Schupf said, he met Greene, and they forged an extraordinary professional relationship and friendship. Schupf created a summer internship for Colby science and pre-med students involving Sloan-Kettering in New York City, creating the Paul J. Schupf Colby College/Sloan Kettering Internship.

Schupf also created the Paul J. Schupf Scientific Computing Center and Lorey Schupf Handbell Choir, with support from Greene and Margaret McFadden, Colby’s provost and dean of faculty. He said Greene had a great team at Colby who work well together to get things done, including the current construction of an athletic center  on campus.

“I’m tremendously impressed by David’s commitment to Waterville,” Schupf said. “A lot of presidents are hand wavers. They say all the right things and don’t follow through. When it comes to actually taking major, calculated risks to make this stuff happen, it doesn’t happen. David is exactly the opposite.”

Greene, he said, is not afraid to take risks, a quality that is critical to generating results.

“He took the tough road,” Schupf, “and it’s going to end up a huge win for Waterville and a huge win for Colby.”

Schupf said because of his illness, he was able to visit Waterville only twice a year, but he never missed Colby’s “summer luncheon,” which he raved about. He recalled the luncheon started in 1985, with attendees sitting on blankets eating sandwiches, and grew into a fun, vibrant gathering with lobster as the main course.

Schupf said he was surrounded by art in his New York homes. A voracious reader, he consumed everything art-related.

“I have 25,000 art books,” he said. “I have two 1830s houses, side by side. They’re both full of art and full of art books. I read all those books. I really work at it.

“I find it unbearable that people have opinions about art and don’t know anything about it. If you happen to have a good eye and are reasonably intelligent and have access to books … it takes a long period of time to read books. I read them all. I enjoy it. I would rather do that than go to a dinner party.”

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