Art collection depicting 19th century life in Ann Arbor makes debut at Concordia University

Jim Irwin stands next to one of 33 paintings that make up his collection (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)
Jim Irwin stands next to one of 33 paintings that make up his collection (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR – Take a trip back in time with Concordia University Ann Arbor's newest gallery collection.

The paintings, donated by longtime Ann Arbor resident Jim Irwin, depict scenes of historic downtown buildings from the 19th century and the people who would frequent them.

Irwin, a businessman who owned the beautiful Victorian mansion at 315 N. Main St., commissioned Sarasota, Florida-based artist Daniel K. Gregory to paint a collection of scenes based on historical photographs from University of Michigan's Bentley Historical Library. Gregory has never been to Ann Arbor.

Read: Paintings of historic Ann Arbor buildings to come to Concordia University Oct. 23

A painting depicting holiday season on Huron Street c. 1868. Haller's was a jewelry shop owned by respected jeweler Jacob Haller and Drake's was a popular watering hole for "townie" men (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)


"He’s not seen the town," said Irwin. "He experienced Ann Arbor through those photographs and then through he and I working the subject matter for each painting. I would give my preferences with how I’d like each painting to look without telling him what to do, but I sort of indicated how he should approach it and what the story is. Every one of these paintings has a story."

For years, the paintings were housed in Irwin's building on Main Street. 

"We displayed them in three different floors of the building and from time to time, I'd take friends around," said Irwin. "It was never open to the public. Never open to anyone else except for personal friends."

For Irwin, it was imperative that Gregory not only capture the beautiful architecture of the time, but the buzz of life around these structures.

A painting depicting the German-American "Oktoberfest" celebration at the end of Liberty Street c.1875. (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

"These paintings not only represent the important architecture of the town, much of which doesn’t exist anymore, but also the impact players of 19th century Ann Arbor who had a great deal to do with the development of the town," he explained. "From former mayors to business people, to university faculty to university programs. And (they) also feature the Huron River and how people actually used it back then."

When Irwin sold his building, he was faced with an issue: Where to house the paintings.

He had been to campus in the '70s and remembered a distinct feeling of togetherness.

"I think Concordia has a mission that is just so special and the students here are part of that mission," said Irwin. "And you can just see they’re brothers and sisters here. I can’t think of a different educational institution in this area that has that same kind of student population.

"I felt that I could contribute to an Ann Arbor footprint here at Concordia. I've given a lot to U of M over the years, but I felt that the paintings would give Concordia an Ann Arbor identity that they didn’t have."

The Kreft Art Gallery at Concordia University on Oct. 23, 2018 (Photo: Meredith Bruckner)

The collection is on display now through Oct. 28 at the Kreft Center Gallery at 4090 Geddes Road.

It will be permanently housed in the North Building at 3475 Plymouth Road once construction is complete.

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