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"SYL" 2003 Obituary


SYLVESTER o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-06-02 published
Collecting art was his passion
British Columbia business leader donated 800 works, worth $5-million, to Vancouver gallery
Canadian Press and staff files Monday, June 2, 2003 - Page R7
Vancouver -- Vancouver businessman and art philanthropist J. Ron LONGSTAFFE has died of cancer. He was 69.
While Mr. LONGSTAFFE made his name in business at Canadian Forest Products and was also a lawyer and a Liberal Party activist, he will be best remembered for his donation of 800 works of art, valued at more than $5-million, to the Vancouver Art Gallery.
"One of the things I basically believe in is that art is there to be seen and enjoyed, not squirrelled away in vaults," the Ontario-born Mr. LONGSTAFFE once said of his collection. "I'm not one of those collectors who, having bought a work, says it's all mine and nobody else can see it."
Andy SYLVESTER, a partner at the Equinox Gallery, said that over the years, Mr. LONGSTAFFE and his wife Jacqueline donated a major and significant amount of art to the Vancouver Art Gallery.
"It is almost the core of the [gallery's] contemporary Canadian art collection," Mr. SYLVESTER said.
At shows, Mr. LONGSTAFFE loved to play a little game that involved picking a work to donate to the Vancouver Art Gallery and another to keep for a lifetime, Mr. SYLVESTER said.
Included in the LONGSTAFFEs' recent gift of 75 pieces of art to the gallery are works by Robert Davidson, Gathie Falk, Simon Tookoome, Maxwell Bates, Ann Kipling and Betty Goodwin. There are also various works on paper by Chuck Close, Richard Hamilton, Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder.
Over the years, Mr. LONGSTAFFE, who was at one time executive director of Canadian Forest Products (now called Canfor), donated major works to the gallery by international artists such as David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Paul-Emile Borduas, Charles Gagnon and Claude Tousignant.
Born and raised in Toronto, where he attended Upper Canada College, Mr. LONGSTAFFE went west to attend the University of British Columbia in the mid-fifties. Even then the pattern of buying art was already established in his life. His father had provided all the LONGSTAFFE children with money to buy art starting when they were 16.
During university, Ron LONGSTAFFE told The Globe and Mail in 1985, art collecting became a way of "livening up the walls of my apartment." Over the next decade, it became "a form of addiction," one that had seen him buy as many as five paintings a day.
Although he originally found the art world intimidating, he later counted a number of artists, such as Christopher and Mary Pratt, as Friends. He said that artists, as a group, are "more stimulating than a lot of businessmen.... They have a wider range of interests and are in touch with what young people are doing."
However, he remained deliberately untutored in fine-art history and found most art criticism "unreadable," and preferred to go with his gut instinct about work that "challenges me, stimulates me, and that I like enough to buy."
He said he never bought art as an investment, or simply because "it matched the drapes or looked good over the fireplace. That I couldn't house it was no reason not to have it."
In a private tour of the Vancouver Art Gallery, the LONGSTAFFE donations at that time revealed a surprising variety that was rich in contemporary art in general and French-Canadian painting in particular (including important works by Borduas, Gagnon, Lemieux and Tousignant). Little preference was shown for any one artist (except for Hockney and Vasarely, represented by 17 prints each, only a few of which were on display). Sculpture was rare. "Canada is short of really strong sculptors," he said at the time.
In the interview he said that, although his tastes changed greatly over the years, he intended "to collect until the day I die."
In recognition of Mr. LONGSTAFFE's donations, the gallery's third-floor exhibition space was named the J.R. LONGSTAFFE Gallery in 1983.
Senator Jack AUSTIN said from Ottawa that he had known Mr. LONGSTAFFE since he was a young man in law school during the mid-1950s.
"I was his law teacher in first year -- in contracts," he said.
Sen. AUSTIN said he knew Mr. LONGSTAFFE as a successful businessman, an active member of the federal Liberal Party and an art collector.
"He did many things and he did them well," he said. "I can only wish that there were more British Columbians that took part in federal politics with his energy and initiative."
In the 1993 federal election, Mr. LONGSTAFFE managed the campaign of Liberal Member of Parliament Hedy FRY, who defeated then prime minister Kim CAMPBELL.
His many positions included director of the Bank of Canada, vice-chairman of the Vancouver Board of Trade, and director of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.
In 2001, Mr. LONGSTAFFE was inducted into the Order of Canada.

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