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Baron Gordon: Namesake of ODU Art Galleries Dies at 91

By Jon Cawley

Baron Gordon, a long-time benefactor of Old Dominion who, along with his wife, donated a nationally-recognized folk art collection that became the basis for the University's Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries has died. He was 91.

Baron Gordon died Nov. 20 at Riverside Regional Medical Center, Newport News. He was born in Norfolk and attended Maury High School and later Lynchburg College. He served in the U.S. Navy as an officer aboard the U.S.S. Midway, according to his obituary. He also was a member of the New York Stock Exchange for nearly a half century and an avid book collector in addition to folk art.

Baron and Ellin Gordon built their collection by traveling the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Mississippi Valley regions of the country visiting artists and obtaining contemporary self-taught creations. In 2007, the couple gifted the University 375 works from their collection that were used as the foundation for the Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries, on Monarch Way.

The galleries exhibit works by nationally and internationally-recognized self-taught and contemporary artists working in all media as well as local and regional artists connected with Old Dominion University.

"Baron and Ellin's support paved the way for their namesake gallery that now anchors ODU's growing Arts in the Village district," Old Dominion President John R. Broderick said. "The love of art that Baron shared with the Old Dominion and Hampton Roads communities will influence generations to come and we are all better for it."

Ramona Austin, curator of the Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries, said the couple were exceptional benefactors and Baron Gordon was one of the first members of the Folk Art Society of America.

"Always kind and gracious and enormously giving of time and information, Baron was a real gentleman of the old school of which there are not many these days," Austin said. "It has been a gift to work with someone of such passion for what he loved and to share that with others for their edification and enjoyment. I will miss him not only as a professional in an endeavor we both love, but as a friend."

Robert Wojtowicz, dean of the graduate school and professor of art history, said students gravitated toward Baron Gordon.

"He was warm and engaging and quick to tell an amusing story about how he and Ellin discovered and befriended a new artist on one of their travels," Wojtowicz said. "Baron loved people, art and life. We will miss him greatly."

Their collection has been exhibited in major museums, including The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Museum of Folk Art, The Smithsonian American Art Museum and The American Folk Art Museum in New York City.

Baron Gordon is survived by his wife of 63 years, Ellin; a son, Jonathan R. Gordon of Champaign, IL; two daughters, Rose Patricia Allgood and Alison G. Watters, and their spouses Patrick Allgood and Shawn Watters, all of Williamsburg, VA; and a grandson, John Patrick "J.P." Allgood of Williamsburg, VA. A funeral service was held Nov. 26 in Forest Lawn Cemetery on Granby Street, in Norfolk, the obituary said.

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