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The Michael C. Williams Legacy Online President's WelcomeAbout ExhibitArtistsWorksThe CollectionAbout WilliamsSee the ExhibitsFran Willis GalleryMaltwood Art Museum and GallerySwans Pub
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About Exhibit (2)

Michael Collard Williams (1930 – 2000) was a self-made millionaire and high profile community member in Victoria society since his arrival here in 1958. He was widely regarded as a successful businessman, developer and heritage conservationist. So much so, that in 1990 he received an Honorary Doctorate degree from the University of Victoria. The University recognized and respected the value of his vision, hard work and determination in the restoration of old town and the enduring value of his commitment to the community.

Williams, having received little formal schooling, was an ardent supporter of the value of higher education. After years of collaboration with the University he conceived a bold idea that led to the creation of a unique set of ceremonial furnishings to be used in the conferring of degrees. Williams underwrote the expense of the making of the furnishings, which include a stunning Chancellor's chair, kneeling stool, lectern, mace stand and chief speaker's staff. The furnishings, created by 12 of the province's best-known First Nations artists, demonstrated generosity and creative thinking that were a small foreshadowing of what was to come.

Williams amassed his fortune in real estate development and was particularly noted for his sensitive re-cycling of historic buildings. Indeed, Williams was known as “Mr. Old Town” in recognition of his visionary redevelopment projects. What was not as broadly known until his death was his passion as a collector of fine art and his deeply ingrained philanthropy. News headlines trumpeted the announcement of his will that confirmed his intention to leave virtually his entire estate to the University of Victoria. The total bequest, primarily in the form of real and personal property, was assessed at a net value of $17 million. It was the largest gift to UVic in the university’s then 39-year history. In addition to “The Point,” an astonishing mansion on the sea that he had built, other assets left to UVic included Swans Hotel, nine more city properties, six townhouses in Saanich and an extensive art collection.

Williams collected assiduously in the areas that piqued his interest. His contemporary art collection, the subject of this exhibition and catalogue, was only a part of a much broader range of collections that included historical First Nations art, antique furniture and carpets, ancient maps and more. The contemporary art collection comprises 644 pieces with representation by many of British Columbia’s most significant artists of their generation. Major works by Jack Shadbolt, Maxwell Bates, Myfanwy Pavelic, Susan Point, Robert Davidson, Toni Onley and others form the core of Willams contemporary art collection. Importantly, Williams supported numerous “up and coming” artists through acquisitions of their paintings including artists like Angela Grossman, Noah Becker, Marlene Davis, Brad Pasutti and Vicky Marshal among others.

Like many collectors with the means to indulge their passions, Williams was both avid and eclectic. If there is a focus to his contemporary art collection it is no more nor less than “made in British Columbia.” He enjoyed meeting and talking with artists and he was confident in his decisions to acquire the works of both established and emerging artists. As he was known in the business world so it was in the art world - he recognized a good deal when he saw one and he knew how to drive a shrewd bargain. With regard to the latter, Williams often reminded artists that his collection would one day belong to the University of Victoria. This allowed him to leverage his purchase dollar with the implied cachet of the artist being represented in a more broadly significant and permanent collection. As well, upon studio visits, Williams would negotiate purchase prices based on buying a number of the artist’s works thus resulting in a lower price per work.

Besides having the financial resources to acquire art as his whim or intention dictated, Williams relished being able to display a great deal of the hundreds of paintings, prints and sculptures that he acquired. Throughout Swans Hotel, for example, there are hundreds of original art works in the suites, restaurant and pub. Dozens more are hung in the exquisite penthouse suite he lived in while he built “The Point.” Finally, this glass mansion on the ocean not only houses many works but also is, in fact, designed and constructed around a monumental sculpture by internationally acclaimed artist George Rammell.

The sculpture “Pyrolith” stands in a reflecting pool in the massive entranceway. Multifaceted symbolism relating to the eternal cycle of life and death empowers the 20-foot high work carved in stone and composite that represents the most significant and expensive art work in the Williams contemporary art collection. The collector, described as a “complex man with the spirit of an artist, the mind of a businessman, and a heart that yearned for yesterday’s beauty” was resolute in the acquisition of Rammell’s masterpiece.

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