Former SLO resident and wife donate valuable art collection to Cal Poly

Duane Armstrong’s paintings include expressionistic pieces, like 'The Green Thing that Ate Lolo’s Boat.'
Duane Armstrong’s paintings include expressionistic pieces, like 'The Green Thing that Ate Lolo’s Boat.'

In four decades of painting, Duane Armstrong has produced more than 7,000 works of art — including many that are on display nationwide as well as Asia.

In recent years he and his artist wife Annie have focused on philanthropy work, setting aside some paintings just for private sales or benefit auctions.

Cal Poly is among those beneficiaries.

The Armstrongs have donated 59 paintings to Cal Poly “to sell, display or exhibit,” according to Harvey Levenson, who heads Poly’s Graphic Communication Department.

Armstrong, who spent his childhood in San Luis Obispo, “has good feelings about the area,” Levenson said.

Graphics Department graduate Pat Waters helped arrange the donation of paintings that range from a few square feet to 7-by-7 feet, and were appraised from a few thousand dollars up to $80,000.

Duane paints landscapes and modern expressionism, while his wife paints sea shells and flowers.

Some paintings have been displayed on campus, and a couple will go into the new Science Building when it’s complete.

The majority are on exhibit and for sale at Pierce Modern gallery in Paso Robles.

Levenson had difficulty finding a venue for an exhibit.

“All I heard is a two-year wait, a three-year wait,” he said.

While visiting a couple of new galleries that have no waiting lists, Levenson shot and sent photos to Armstrong to let him decide.

“Hands down, he picked Pierce, saying it looked more like a New York Gallery with its separate rooms,” said Levenson.

The Armstrongs, who live near Santa Cruz in Boulder Creek, could not be reached for comment, but their website says that they met in 1986 when Duane was already a well established painter. Annie’s early work was inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe paintings, which led to her large-scale paintings, with a focus on minute details. Unlike her husband, Annie is more consistent in her work. With such different styles and subject matter, the two artists don’t step on each others’ toes.

Duane was only 12 when he won his first art award, according to the website. His seven generations of Pond painting series, each featuring from five to 21 paintings, took nine to 18 months to complete, as they contain up to 70 layers of paint.

His landscapes and sunrises are just a small part of his work, which includes the series “The Lord of the Rings,” “Hot Air Balloons” and “Sand Dunes” as well as his “Pueblo Series.” His recent abstract series is called “Rings.”

Some major corporations and banks have Armstrong’s paintings in their permanent collections as do about 80 other corporate collectors nationwide and in Asia. The Sierra Club selected his painting “High Sierra” for its 1985 poster.

Sales proceeds from the Cal Poly donation to the Graphics Communication Department will help fund scholarships, program development endowments and Learn By Doing initiatives, Levenson said­.