"Mother and Child," a piece by Pablo Picasso and Jacques Villon
Visitors to the Masterworks exhibit at CU Anschutz admire “Mother and Child,” a piece by Pablo Picasso and Jacques Villon. Photo by Eric Stephenson.

When Drs. Tobia and Morton Mower began collecting art nearly 20 years ago, they didn’t plan to create the priceless collection featuring masterpieces from Monet, Renoir, Rodin and Picasso that are now on display at CU Anschutz.

“There was an opportunity. We bought—and we bought, and we bought,” said Morton Mower, MD, an adjunct distinguished professor of cardiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine (SOM).

Robin, Morton and Tobia Mower
Robin, Morton and Tobia Mower stand in front of Renoir’s “The Young Mother.” The Masterworks exhibit features selections from the Mowers’ private collection. Photo by Lindsay Appel.

“It got a little out of hand,” he joked.

Fortunately, their passion for collecting has grown into a passion for sharing. Now, 21 of their finest pieces are on display at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. The show, titled “Masterworks,” also has paintings from Impressionist masters including Cassatt and Degas and later painters including Chagall.

The collection is one that well-known museums would envy but in an intimate setting. Visitors to the cozy, 1,000-square-foot Art Gallery at the Fulginiti Pavilion for Bioethics and Humanities are able to linger in front of the pieces to admire them and examine artists’ techniques. The gallery is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the show runs through May 24. It is free to attend.

Mort Mower said the works on display are the “to die for” pieces from their collection of about 350 works and need to be shared with the public.

“I like to think we’re liberating the art,” Mower said. “If you shut it up in the basement, nobody sees it. What good is that? This is the opportunity to get something more out of it.”

Chancellor Elliman: ‘We should be grateful’

Donald Elliman
CU Anschutz Chancellor Donald Elliman speaks during the opening of the Masterworks exhibit. Photo by Eric Stephenson.

The university celebrated the exhibition’s opening with a reception on March 30. CU President Bruce Benson, CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman and SOM Dean John Reilly attended to thank the Mowers and get a sneak peek at the collection.

The exhibit gives CU Anschutz students, faculty and staff, as well as visitors to the hospitals on the Anschutz campus the chance to take a moment to recharge, Elliman said.

“We’ve known for many, many years how powerful art is as a healing tool,” Elliman said. “For us to be able to have this exhibit here adds immeasurably to the quality of life on this campus, and we should be grateful.”

Many museums and galleries have sought to display the Mowers’ art, including museums with higher profiles. Exhibiting at CU Denver felt right, Toby Mower said.

“A lot of people have said, ‘Why here?’” she said. “My answer has always been, ‘Why not here?’”

Auguste Rodin’s “Eternal Springtime” is one of the works on display as part of the Masterworks exhibit. Photo by Lindsay Appel.

The Mowers and their masterpieces

The Mowers have been married since 1965, and Mort teasingly calls it is “a mixed marriage.” He loves pop artists like Andy Warhol and the graffiti artist Keith Haring. Toby favors Impressionists. There have been a few disagreements over acquisitions as their collection has evolved.

“He has a plan, and I have a plan, but we haven’t decided whose plan to follow,” Toby joked. “We buy what we love.”

They began collecting in the 1990s. Their collection has grown so large that their Denver condominium overflows with paintings and sculptures. Works from illustrious artists hang in the kitchen and are stashed under the bed.

The Mowers’ collection includes about 170 sketches by Rembrandt. Theirs is one of the largest privately owned collections of the Dutch master’s sketches, and the best works will be on display at the Fulginiti this fall.

See the artworks

The Masterworks catalogue is online.

By the time they started a collection, Mort had become a renowned cardiologist and had co-invented the implantable cardioverter defibrillator, a medical device that senses and corrects abnormal heart rates. The defibrillator can stop heart attacks and will restart a stopped heart, and about 800,000 people in the U.S. have had them implanted to prevent sudden cardiac death.

Toby is a nurse and an advocate for substance abuse treatment. She has an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University in Israel, and she helped the university develop a curriculum about how to treat addictions.

The Mowers also have personal ties to CU Anschutz. Their daughter, Robin, is a clinical oncology pharmacist and graduate of the CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. When the Mowers moved to Colorado a few years ago, Mort joined the faculty of the school of medicine.

Art at CU Anschutz

Since opening in 2012, the Art Gallery at the Fulginiti Pavilion has become a hidden gem. The privately funded gallery has put on 16 major exhibits and welcomed more than 30,000 visitors.

Matthew Wynia, MD, directs the Center for Bioethics and Humanities and sometimes is asked why the medical campus has an art gallery. He believes there is a valuable connection between art and medicine. Wynia said art can provoke conversations that bridge cultural divides and that studying art helps medical students and doctors improve their observational skills. Finally, it helps prevent burnout.

“Being in an art gallery is a healing thing for people whose jobs are filled with stress,” Wynia said.

“Solomon and the Queen of Sheba” by Mark Chagall
Claude Monet's "River and Mill Near Giverny"
“River and Mill Near Giverny” by Claude Monet