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John and Libby Reece endowed a curatorial fund to maintain, manage, and rename the Student Union Contemporary Art Collection into the Mark H. Reece Collection of Student-Acquired Contemporary Art in honor of John’s father Reece – the founder of the collection.

In 1963, Wake Forest’s dean of men and the college’s union councilor, Mark Reece, had a vision for a student art buying trip. At the time, there was no art department at Wake Forest. He, then faculty members Ed Wilson and Allen Easley and two students traveled to New York, explored the contemporary art galleries there, and returned with a dozen works of art, selected by the students, for the University.

Every four years since then, with the exception of the year of the pandemic, a small group of students have traveled to New York, with university funds, to buy works of art for the collection of art from the Wake Forest Student Union – works that reflect the times.

“Growing up there were a lot of dinners at our house with students, often the conversations were about art,” said John Reece, a graduate of Wake Forest in 1981. “When I thought of my father, his love for Wake Forest and his love of art, I thought the best way to honor him was to honor his vision of the student art buying journey by protecting the collection of works he helped build .

The student art buying journey is unique in higher education. Students choose works independently and their purchases do not require University approval of their selections.

“The works that students acquire on these trips make people talk and think,” said Kayla Amador, associate director of the Hanes Gallery and participant in the 2017 art buying trip. “And over time, the context of each purchased work will develop and change. For six decades, students have chosen works that reflect the times. Ensuring these works are well cared for means the conversations will continue, as each new generation will have the opportunity to experience the art.

The Student Union Collection, now the Reece Collection, is the University’s largest and most recognizable collection. More than 100 artists are represented in more than 160 works. The collection includes pieces by Jasper Johns, Pablo Picasso, Alex Katz and Louise Nevelson. Works purchased on previous trips hide in plain sight in public places around campus, including Reynolda Hall and Benson University Center.