Foundersland: It's the company you keep...

By Marty Sklar, Founder, Past President, Member of the Board of Directors

I have often been asked this question: “How did Ryman Arts happen? What made you want to do it?”

Today, as we celebrate our 25th year of serving talented high school artists, Leah and I – as the surviving Founders – are always pleased to tell the story of how and why it happened, because by doing so, we can relive amazing relationships with wonderful, talented, dedicated friends.

It began, of course, with the passing of Herb Ryman. In my previous blog, I wrote about Herb and his dedication to helping young people become better artists. But understanding the impact that Herb Ryman had on our culture, our aesthetics, our joy at seeing his newest work of art was at the heart of “how it all began”.

From the 1950’s through the 1980’s, there was hardly a single image of a Disney park around the world that was not first drawn and revealed to the public though a Herb Ryman illustration – including the very first overall depictions of Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland and the Epcot Center. At the same time, Herbie welcomed us into his “other worlds” with his paintings of the California coast around Carmel, sketches and paintings of the Ringling Brothers Circus, and travels new and old: to Asia, Africa and Europe.

When Leah and I invited him to dinner one night, he brought original sketches from his travels for our children, Howard and Leslie. And when we bought “our first Ryman” – a wonderful watercolor of the sea and sea birds, we asked him for the name of the painting. “Have Howard and Leslie count the birds,” he said. “That will be the name of the painting.” It still is: Herb Ryman’s “2001 Shore Birds”.

Our fellow Founders had the same relationship to this extraordinary, learned man who had traveled so widely. Lucille Ryman Carroll, Herb’s sister, wanted his skill and legacy known far and wide. She created “The Ryman Carroll Foundation”, and soon we were organizing and presenting retrospectives of Herb Ryman’s work at the Corcoran Gallery museum in Washington, D.C. and the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. Lucille’s dedication, and money, began the discussion of “what shall we do”, and “How should do it?”

No one had more influence on making Ryman Arts possible than Sharon Disney Lund, one of Walt Disney’s two daughters. Sharon had a relationship with Herb Ryman since she was a teenager, when her father asked Herb to paint Sharon’s portrait. Every organization has its moments of “reality check”: is it working, can we keep it going, where can we get the computer we need?, can we pay the telephone bill this month? Sharon was always there, quietly, without fanfare – buying supplies we needed, paying a bill without telling anyone.  Sharon supported so many causes, especially involving education. As one of her friends wrote in tribute: “I used to listen to her describe her latest project, and was always aware of a profound dedication to doing good things for deserving citizens. Loyalty and involvement in education were Sharon’s legacy to all of us who knew and loved her.” Years later – to this day – through the dedication of Sharon’s daughter Michelle, The Lund Foundation remains one of the prime supporters of Ryman Arts.

Buzz and Anne Price were “the glue”. The list of their importance to Ryman Arts would go on for pages. They began as purchasers of Herb’s paintings, and soon had the greatest collection of his work – seascapes, the circus, his travels, portraits. And Herb became part of the family – there’s a reason Anne and Buzz’s son David is now a member of the Ryman Arts Board of Directors – it’s a family tradition. Through Harrison Price’s skill in business relationships, and Anne and Buzz’s leadership in community organizations, we were able to attract new, key Board Members … and established the values and principles that allowed us to build a respected organization. The companies Buzz founded – ERA and Harrison Price Associates – were the most respected in their field of business feasibility studies. And their community work – Anne with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and as a trustee of Pomona College, Buzz as Chairman of the Board of Cal Arts – brought prestige and trust to our little group.

Leah and I have been privileged to participate and help build our Board. My Disney connections, of course – as president and Vice-Chairman/Principal Creative Executive of Walt Disney Imagineering – opened the doors to key support from the Walt Disney Company. And Leah’s chairmanship of our annual “An Affair of the Art” each year – the most important fund-raiser that supports Ryman Arts – has been invaluable in sustaining and building the opportunities we offer to young talent. (And we still sponsor “The Leah & Marty Scholarship for Ryman Arts Graduates” each year at CalArts.)

But it would not have happened at all, without the friendship we all had for one extraordinary human being. Herbert Dickens Ryman was our friend. And friends make “The company you keep” as important in your life as family.


Image: Herbert D. Ryman, Pink Marble Bridge (1983). Summer Palace Peking. Oil 30’’ x 40½’’ From the collection of George Davis