Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - December 17, 2010

Couple of the Year

Harringtons recognized for their contributions of art in Pleasanton

by Jeb Bing

Nancy and Gary Harrington have been named "Couple of the Year" in the Pleasanton Weekly's annual recognition of community leaders, and with good reason.

Retired educators with lifelong passions for the arts, the Harringtons are now in the forefront of advocates and contributors for public art in Pleasanton, where they've lived since 1972. They purchased and gave to the city the lifelike bronze sculpture of "Poppies," the tired-looking veteran who sits in front of the Veterans Memorial Building on Main Street. Most recently, they added Monet with brush in hand, another bonze statue facing an easel just outside the new Firehouse Arts Center.

As popular and realistic as "Poppies" is, it's the Harringtons' interest in contributing to the Arts Center that put them together with Andy Jorgensen, Pleasanton's Civic Arts manager, who has worked with them to identify projects that needed their help. When he suggested contributing a marquee in front of the Arts Center, they said why not two -- one in front and another facing Lions Wayside Park in the back. The marquees, designed by British artist Martin Donlan, provide unique and colorful identities to the Arts Center, which opened in September.

Still to come is a glass bell that is being designed and created by artist Jack Storms, which will be placed in the main lobby of the center. Also, in tribute to their philanthropy, the Harrington Art Gallery off the center's main lobby was named for them.

The Harringtons are neither wealthy nor artists although their years as teachers, school administrators and successful investors has given each of them sustainable incomes in retirement that allow the couple to pursue their interest in art -- and in Pleasanton.

"We love this city," Nancy Harrington said. "It's a beautiful place with a gorgeous downtown, and we want to do our part in seeing it thrive."

From Poppies to Monet to the Firehouse Arts Center, the Harringtons just announced plans for H.A.P.P.Y. (for Harrington Art Partnership Piece for You), a public art partnership that's intended to bring more contributions and more public art. The Harringtons will match every donation of at least $3,500 up to $40,000 a year with donors given the chance to select art from a brochure they are preparing.

Although they'll support public art throughout the city, their focus now is on the downtown area where it will attract visitors from throughout the Bay Area and beyond. They envision an "Art Walk" that would extend from the Firehouse Arts Center to the Pleasanton Senior Center, linking to public art already there and including art in Centennial Park near the downtown.

Several new art pieces are already planned: "Just for Fun" and "Two Dancers," which will be completed and installed at the Arts Center in March. Measuring 9 feet in height, the dancers are made of stainless steel and Cortens metal, which has a rust-like appearance similar to the deer art pieces at the corner of First Street and Bernal Avenue.

"We found the 'Two Dancers' in a studio in Big Sur and knew it was just the piece for the Arts Center," Gary Harrington said. "It represents performers who will be appearing on the Firehouse performing arts stage and unique art work that's also at the center."

The Harringtons travel extensively and are now heading back to Zimbabwe to view three different sculptures that they've seen before.

"Artists there sculpt their work by hand out of cobalt, a hard, lustrous, silver-gray metal that is mined there," Gary Harrington said. "It's fascinating to watch them work in these local art centers that are attracting worldwide attention. We want to see some of that work in Pleasanton."

Another favorite stopping place is Sedona, located in Arizona's Red Rock country just north of Flagstaff. The Harringtons take trips there about three times a year, searching the many galleries in Sedona for art work.

Although not an artist, Gary Harrington said he has "vision skills" that make use of his mathematical training to look out and see how "something might just fit." He has used it in designing his home landscaping, explaining in detailed terms just what to plant and how to place plants, a vision he says always baffles landscapers who agree that what he wants is perfect for the site.

The Harringtons, since focusing their attention on public art in Pleasanton, utilize those skills in identifying art they think would work well here.

Recently, they went to Laguna Beach for the "Festival of the Masters," where they found three sculptures on display. They found the artist, who invited them back to his studio, where they saw "a really fantastic piece."

"We knew that if we waited to get Andy's (Jorgensen) approval for another piece of artwork for the Firehouse that we'd lose this sculpture to others who were already thinking about buying it," Nancy Harrington said. "So we bundled it up, put it in the back of our vehicle, and drove right back to Pleasanton and Andy's office, where he agreed to add it to the collection."

That guesswork -- and the chance something they like can't be acquired on a timely basis -- has now ended with the City Council's approval last week that in effect makes the Harringtons "resident experts" in handling public art here. With their brochure of available artwork to be published early next year, others who also want to contribute toward the public art program can see the artwork available. Because of the Harringtons travels, the brochure will be updated regularly. Also, those with art contributions in mind can suggest their "visions" to the Harringtons, who will look for that type of stationary art in their travels.

It's really only since their contribution of "Poppies" and involvement in the Firehouse Arts Center planning that the Harringtons have become well known in Pleasanton. Early on, they were teachers and school administrators.

Nancy Harrington grew up near Portland, the daughter of a Swedish immigrant father and businessman who reluctantly agreed to pay for her college education but then expected her to find a job. She did, teaching first in public schools near Portland and for 37 years after that, retiring in 2003 as the principal of Durham Elementary School in Fremont.

Gary Harrington grew up in Los Angeles, earning a master's degree from UC Riverside and then joining Metropolitan Life as a manager. He met Nancy after being transferred to Portland, and the two moved to the Bay Area when he was transferred here. They first moved to San Leandro and then to Pleasanton.

"We came over here and saw the green hills and downtown and said this is where we want to settle, and we did," he said.

Quitting his job at Metropolitan, Gary Harrington taught in Livermore public schools for 11 years and then for 14 years at San Leandro High School before he retired.

World travelers from the start, both enjoyed art and spent what time they could visiting art galleries, even stopping to watch street artists at their easels. When they found the bronze sculpture of Claude Monet at work, they jumped at the chance to buy it, bringing it home to Pleasanton almost three years before the Firehouse Arts Center was built.

"We knew this was something special that children would enjoy, too," Gary Harrington said. "Many people have admired Monet's work, but here was a chance to see a sculpture of him at his easel. Now that we've found a place for him outside the Firehouse Arts Center, the whole community can see this great artist at work.

"These are the kinds of public art we hope to continue offering in Pleasanton both through our own contributions and now through H.A.P.P.Y., which has the city's endorsement."

As Pleasanton Weekly's "Couple of the Year" for 2010, the Harrington's join others who have shared this recognition. They include: Bob Athenour as Man of the Year in 2001; Cindy McGovern, 2002; Charlotte Severin, 2003; Deborah Acosta McKeehan, 2004; Juanita Haugen, 2005; Tim Neal, 2006; Jill Buck, 2007; Bob Moorefield, 2008, and Chris Miller, 2009.

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