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Jac Kephart's Legacy

Gift ensures students can pursue their artistic passions

Students and visitors are surrounded by reminders of Jac Kephart’s legacy on Colorado Mesa University’s campus. Nearly 50 of the late artist’s paintings adorn the walls of multiple buildings including the one that now bears his name.

A plaque inside the Jac Kephart Fine Arts Building describes, in his own words, the revered artist’s approach to creating art: “I haven’t been able to put an end to the goal. The goal is always resetting itself. It is a built-in ladder that keeps climbing above me that says ‘You can do better than that. You can do better than that.’ So you just keep after it.”

These words etched in bronze inspire students passing through the building’s hallways to continue learning and growing as artists, and to strive for goals even if they may seem unattainable. 

“As fine artists, we have an innate need to create art,” said Department of Art & Design Head Suzie Garner. “I believe Jac’s quote describes that inner desire and need that we are striving for in our personal artwork.”

Art was always a driving force in Jac’s life. Through the years, his artistic repertoire consisted of watercolors, pastels, landscapes and abstracts. He also introduced metallics, aluminum, copper, brass sheets, gold leafing, burlap and other materials for texture.

“He painted all the time, painted at night, painted constantly,” said Pat Kephart, his wife of 52 years. “Art was his whole life.”

As a young man growing up in Lamar, Colorado, and later the Grand Valley, Jac had a natural talent for drawing and painting. His mother was also an artist. 

In a 2018 interview, Jac recalled that when he was younger many people, including his chemist father, saw art as more of a hobby than a profession. He attended Colorado Mesa University in the late 1950's to study architecture but returned to doing what he loved instead.

Jac created art at night while working full time alongside Pat at their floral shop, Jac’s Flowers. He did that for 27 years until they sold the business in 1997, which allowed him to focus entirely on his art. 

“I think one of his greatest accomplishments is producing and selling as much art as he did — he produced hundreds of pieces,” said Pat. “In the early 2000's, he was selling paintings as fast as he could paint them.” 

Jac’s work was displayed in art galleries across the country from Sarasota, Florida, to Seattle, Washington. Although he didn’t show his work much in local galleries, both CMU and The Art Center of Western Colorado held a special place in his heart. 

“What he’s done for this university is so incredible,” said Lena Elliott, a longtime CMU supporter, former trustee and friend of the Kepharts. “He’s been very good to us.” 

The Jac Kephart Fine Arts Building was named in Jac’s honor when Pat donated $1 million to support students. The building serves as the creative home to CMU’s budding artists. It’s a place where students are introduced to the rewards of artistic practice and are encouraged to emotionally connect through art, just like Jac did. 

The gift is housed in the Department of Art & Design’s endowment, where all generated income will be used in the interest of art and design students at the faculty’s discretion.

“Different ideas right now revolve around equipment and funding visiting artists,” said Garner. 

The CMU Foundation memorialized Jac’s artwork by creating the Kephart Campus Collection Tour, a mapped, self-guided tour of his artwork displayed throughout several buildings on campus. Some of his paintings will also be displayed at the new 1,700 square-foot Jac Kephart Gallery at The Art Center. 

When it comes to describing her husband’s passion for art, Pat prefers to let her husband’s work speak for itself. 

It wasn’t until she read Irving Stone’s Lust for Life: The Classic Biographical Novel of Vincent van Gogh that she found a way to put it into words.

“He could not do without something which was greater than himself, which was his life — the power and ability to create,” she quoted from the book. “That’s how Jac felt about art.”


Written by Cloie Sandlin