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Highlights from the University Art Collection: Sam Katz in the Student Union

Artist Sam Katz
Artist Sam Katz, photographed during World War II in Paris.

Boise State’s Student Union Fine Arts Gallery will show the work of artist Sam Katz in an exhibition, “Sam Katz: Make an Artist Out of Him,” through May 29. The gallery is located on the second floor of the Student Union Building. A reception will take place from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 3. The event is free and open to the public and light refreshments will be served.

Sam Katz’s son Jerry and daughter-in-law Connie Katz donated the collection of Katz’s works to the university in 2015.

Born in Russia in 1909, Katz immigrated with his parents to the U.S. when he was 3 years old. He started painting in junior high where teachers quickly recognized his talents. He made paintings on potato sacks and sold them to help his parents financially. When Katz began his studies at the Metropolitan School of Art in New York, his mother reportedly told his teachers to “make an artist out of him,” — hence the exhibition’s title. Katz served in the military in World War II and sold more than 100 artworks during that time. Some of those war-era pieces are on display at Boise State.

Katz became a successful commercial artist. His paintings of glamorous “Margarita” girls helped popularize Cuervo tequila in the late 1960s and became iconic advertising images (you can see some up-close in the exhibition). Katz continued his fine art pursuits, painting landscapes, portraits, still lifes and dabbling in sculptural work throughout his life.

“It was his commercial work that fed the family,” said Connie Katz, “but his fine art was his love.”

Micah Hetherington, a senior graduating this spring with a degree in art history who served as permanent collection assistant for Boise State’s art collection, worked with Fonda Portales, university art curator and collections manager, to catalog more than 900 objects in the Katz collection, including sketch books, drawings, paintings, print proofs and archival materials, as well as all of the handmade birthday and anniversary cards Katz made for his wife. Hetherington curated the current exhibition.