Art donation from Narber family expands the College’s collection

Gregg Narber ’68
   Gregg Narber ’68

July 10, 2024 — Throughout his lifetime, the late Gregg Narber ’68 nurtured his love for art. As a teen he took classes at the Des Moines Art Center, and later during his travels throughout the U.S. and the world, he collected art and filled his home with an eclectic collection of contemporary works, mainly prints by American artists. 

A life trustee, Narber donated art to Grinnell College a number of times over the years prior to his death in February 2022. A provision in his will stated that when his wife, Kathie, passed away the art collection would go to the Grinnell College Museum of Art. 

But Kathie decided to proceed with the donations of 66 artworks. Late last year a wonderful collection of prints and sculptures, along with some paintings and photographs, was shipped from the Narber home in Colorado to Grinnell. 

One piece quickly went on display: Sitting at the entrance to the museum in the rotunda of the Bucksbaum Center is a four-foot tall, beautifully quirky white ceramic piece with black polka dots – one in a series by the Japanese-born, Omaha-based artist Jun Kaneko. The piece is nicknamed the Dumpling.

Kathie Narber
   Kathie Narber

On the other side of the entrance is a distinctive granite bench by New York-based artist Jenny Holzer, an earlier gift from Kathie and Gregg, who served on the Grinnell College Board of Trustees from 2000-2012, and was a member of the Grinnell College Museum of Art Leadership Council from 2015-2018. In all, more than 150 pieces from the Narber collection have been gifted to Grinnell, and Kathie says more could be donated in the future.

“I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Gregg, but you really get a sense of his personality and quirky sense of humor from the art he collected,” says Susan Baley, director of the Grinnell College Museum of Art. “I visited their home in October to see the works in the house and I thought, ‘You would have been a fun person to know.’ And I really enjoyed spending time with Kathie, who was so gracious. It’s always wonderful to get to know collectors.”

Several of the recently donated pieces were used and viewed as teaching tools for a few courses in the Print and Drawing Study Room located in Burling Library.

“Adding works to the collection that will be of use to Grinnell College coursework is one of our primary considerations,” explains Baley. “And many of Gregg’s works featured issues of social justice, which are a wonderful fit to the collection.”

Dumpling, a four-foot tall, beautifully quirky white ceramic piece with black polka dots, by the Japanese-born, Omaha-based artist Jun Kaneko
   Dumpling by Jun Kaneko

An attorney most of his life, Narber was a political science and Latin American studies major at Grinnell who went on to earn his Master of Arts in political science and law degree from Washington University in St. Louis. As general counsel at the Principal Financial Group in Des Moines, he started building an art collection for the company, Kathie says. And when he had a three-year assignment in Brazil for the company, he collected Brazilian art. “Our home was filled with art, and it still is,” she says.

After retiring from law, he earned a master’s and Ph.D. in history (2007) at the University of Iowa, then taught for four years at Luther College. The couple later retired to Longmont, Colorado.

“His love was Grinnell and the Des Moines Art Center,” Kathie says, “and it was his wish that Grinnell would get his art. They can keep it or not; it’s that kind of gift, so it will benefit the College either way.”

A few of the pieces will be sold because they duplicate what’s in Grinnell’s collection, but that money will go into other acquisitions for the museum, Baley says. “We strive to continue growing our collection of work by diverse artists. A number of these artists are great representations of diversity.”

An exhibition of a selection from the Narber gift will take place at the museum in summer 2025, in time for next year’s Reunion. 

— by Anne Stein ’84

For your information

The Grinnell College Museum of Art is free to visit and open every day except Mondays. Check the exhibitions page for what’s currently on view. For information about donating artwork to Grinnell, contact Susan Kriegel at 641-269-4955 or

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