Shortly after Jonathan Canning arrived last year as the new director at the Brauer Museum of Art at Valparaiso University, Philipp Brockington Jr., one of the museum’s benefactors, dropped by and began sharing his enthusiasm for art and the museum with Canning.
“He continued to drop by unannounced and stroll through the galleries and storage with me. He was a fount of knowledge,” Canning said, adding he greatly appreciated Brockington’s immediate friendship and was saddened by his recent loss of strength and health, and death on Sunday.
Brockington, 83, was one of two plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in an attempt to stop the sale of three cornerstone pieces of artwork at the Brauer Museum of Art at Valparaiso University.
A retired attorney and VU law professor, Brockington was a benefactor of the Brauer Museum and one of its staunchest supporters. He, like others affiliated with the museum, was taken aback by the university’s announcement in February of plans to sell the most valuable pieces in the museum’s collection to fund the renovation of dorms for first-year students.
“I think he was a wonderful, creative kind of person, seeing the needs and helping fulfill the needs” at the Brauer Museum, said Richard Brauer, the museum’s founding director and namesake, and the other plaintiff in the lawsuit.
When Brockington saw the museum needed to round out its collection of early 19th century portraits, he and his late partner, Howard Reeve Jr., helped fill it, Brauer said.
“That was such an important art form in the early 19th century,” Bauer said, adding Brockington also saw that the museum didn’t have a portrait of its founder, so he commissioned one, by the artist and VU graduate Caleb Kortokrax. The portrait was completed in 2015.
Brauer, among others, credits Brockington as the driving force behind the museum highlight collection book “American Art at the Brauer Museum of Art.” Brockington also underwrote the book, which contains color illustrations, accompanied by short texts, of 121 of the Brauer’s most significant works, Canning said.
Brauer also said Brockington was “very helpful” in the fight to keep the paintings proposed for sale at the museum.
“He led the way in saying he was against this sale,” Brauer said, adding he was shocked by Brockington’s death.
Late last month, a judge dismissed the lawsuit filed against Valparaiso University and its president, José Padilla. Sale of the artwork isn’t going forward yet, as the Indiana Attorney General’s Office still has to rule on whether the Percy H. Sloan Trust, which provided directly or indirectly for the three renowned pieces of artwork, would allow for the artwork to be auctioned off.
Padilla first announced the possible sale of three renowned works of art to fund the dorm renovations in early February. The paintings are considered cornerstones of the museum’s collection and have an estimated worth of millions of dollars. They are “Rust Red Hills” by Georgia O’Keeffe; Childe Hassam’s “The Silver Veil and the Golden Gate”; and Frederic Edwin Church’s “Mountain Landscape.”
The O’Keeffe and Hassam paintings were purchased through the Percy Sloan Trust; Church’s work was a direct gift from Sloan.
John Ruff, a VU senior English professor who also is a supporter of the Brauer Museum, said he first met Brockington around the time he arrived here, in 1989 or 1990. The two shared a common interest in art and literature.
Both Brockington and Reeve were docents and donors to the museum, Ruff added.
“Phil emerged as a quiet, strong advocate for the Brauer in efforts to stop the sale of its most valuable works of art, and with Richard Brauer took the issue to court when all other avenues closed,” Ruff said. “Perhaps it’s a blessing he died with that matter still unresolved.”
Brockington donated 46 works to the Brauer Museum, 19 of them jointly with his partner, Canning said, as well as starting an endowment fund with Reeve.
“The endowment fund created in Phil and Howard’s name is important to the museum’s future. This fund not only underwrites art purchases but also conservation and presentation expenses,” Canning said.
Ruff was with Brockington in his home two days before he died as he gave his personal collection of art to the Brauer Museum and to the Porter County Museum, and said he was there “as his lawyer recorded the specifics of his last great gifts to those two museums”
“Phil and his late partner Howard were loyal supporters of the PoCo Muse going back to the very beginning of my tenure as executive director,” said museum director Kevin Pazour.
“Even after Howard passed, Phil continued to shape our permanent collection by acquiring and donating museum-quality works of Porter County art. I will certainly miss his presence at our exhibit openings and the passion he had for art in all its forms. I will forever appreciate his thoughtfulness, sincere generosity, and clever wit.”
Brockington was a native of Richmond Hill, New York, who graduated from Chesterton High School after his family moved to the community when he was 14, according to his obituary. He was a graduate of Amherst College and the Harvard Law School.
One of his major cases was representing Orville Redenbacher in the sale of his popcorn business to Hunt-Wesson Foods. In 1972, Brockington joined the faculty of the VU law school, where he taught business law courses, such as Corporations and Mergers and Acquisitions, and his favorite, a seminar in Law and Literature. He retired from VU in 1996.
A gathering of his friends and colleagues will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Brauer Museum of Art on the campus of Valparaiso University. Memorials in Philipp Brockington’s name may be made to the Brauer Museum of Art or the Porter County Museum.