Art lover dedicated to collecting student work, supporting galleries

5 – minute read

Robert Feir knows with certainty the moment he started collecting art.


It was summer 1968. Feir was about to start his final year of college and was staying with friends in the New York City suburbs. The state’s senator at the time — Robert F. Kennedy — was running for president. But on June 5, Kennedy was shot and died the next day. When the wake was held the following day, Feir joined a long line of mourners at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.


As he was stepping out of the cathedral after paying his respects, Feir saw a man selling small abstract paintings. One in particular caught his eye. The colors drew him, Feir says, and the painting’s name, “Calamity.” He stopped to buy the artwork, and that launched a lifelong passion.


“It’s nearly an addiction,” Feir says, laughing in a gentle, self-deprecating way. “At least this one has no side effects.”


In the last 50 years, Feir has collected more than 500 works of art — mostly abstract paintings, some photographs and monoprints. Over the last decade, he also has acquired artwork created by Florida Gulf Coast University art students. Each spring, he visits FGCU’s Annual Juried Student Art Exhibition — this year’s show opens with a reception 5-7 p.m. March 21.


He has purchased over 35 works by FGCU students — paintings, prints and even small sculptures.


“The work is impressive,” Feir says, “and the students I’ve gotten to meet are even more impressive.”

Robert Feir stands in front of some of his art collection
Robert Feir with some of the artwork he has collected.

‘Passion for the work’


Feir has nearly run out of room for more art in his Estero home.


“People say I’m wasting a huge amount of space between the tops of my doors and the ceiling, where I could hang more art,” he says, laughing again. “I’m starting to think they’re probably right about that. Maybe I should just go on a buying spree.”


John Loscuito, the university’s art gallery director, has worked with Feir since 2015.


“Bob’s method of collecting is one of pure individual love and passion for the work,” Loscuito says. “He’s very sure of himself. He knows what he likes. When you go into his house, you see different rooms that have been curated with his different interests. Some rooms might have more of a tendency toward blues and cool colors; others might have brighter colors. He’s not collecting art as an investment or looking for pieces from artists who are well known. It’s strictly the work itself that appeals to him.”

Feir agrees with this assessment.


“I have a reasonably good eye and a little bit of money, so I buy what I like,” he says.


“I buy art that I find to be beautiful and uplifting. While I do choose pieces that are intellectually challenging, I don’t buy art that slaps me in the face and calls me names.”


Still, he acknowledges that the very first piece of art he fell in love with — Picasso’s “Guernica,” a deeply unsettling statement on the horrors of war — was exactly the kind of work that slapped him in the face.

student artwork of man with wings

26th Annual Juried Student Art Exhibition


• Reception: 5-7 p.m. March 21, Wasmer Art Gallery, Arts Complex


• Open: Through April 4


• Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-4p.m. Monday-Friday 

‘Full circle’ gift


Feir is not an artist himself, though he has a secret file labeled “Meeting Notes” filled with full-page doodles made during meetings he’s attended over the years. He spent most of his career in education, first teaching history and political science at a community college. He then worked with Pennsylvania state government on education policy. Finally, he ended his career as an education consultant.


“I’m a guy who’s been fortunate enough to have a moderate, stable income,” he says. “But I’ve never had a lot of money. Art is essentially where I spend my disposable income.”


Feir often loans pieces from his collection to the FGCU Art Galleries. In August, a number of his works will be on display as part of a curated exhibition. In addition to these temporary loans, Feir has generously decided to offer a legacy gift to the university. Upon his passing, almost all his art will become part of the university’s permanent collection.


Why FGCU? Feir is as clear about this as he is about buying his first piece 56 years ago.


“Surrounding myself with art has made my life better, increased my sense of well-being and both broadened and deepened my understanding of the world and how others see, interpret and understand our common humanity. I’ve always believed that was the core mission of universities,” he says. “I can think of no greater gift than to share that vision through my art collection with generations to come.”


Perhaps the greatest gift of all, Feir’s donation will include all of his works by FGCU students.


“Their work will go back home to the place it was created,” he says. “That makes for a really full circle.”

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