Rita Deanin Abbey



Born in 1930, Abbey grew up in Passaic, New Jersey. She was born to immigrant parents from Russia and Poland. Abbey was the youngest of four children. She knew at eight that she wanted to become an artist. By the time she was 14, she was taking the train to New York to study at the Naum Michael Los School of Art.

While attending the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, from 1950 to 1954, Abbey developed a strong affinity for the landscape of the American Southwest. The desert was enormously alluring to her, becoming another significant influence in her work. At the university, she met author and environmental activist Edward Paul Abbey. They married and had two sons, Joshua and Aaron.

From 1956 to 1959, Abbey continued to experience the Southwest landscape, living in or near national monuments in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. She painted out-of-doors, awed by the majesty of the desert and fascinated by the geology, plant life, and wildlife. The Arches National Monument Series, 1956-1959, and the Taos Series, 1959-1962, contrast organic textures with geometric shapes while focusing on color with a textured impasto paint application.

The couple divorced after 13 years, and Abbey moved to Las Vegas in 1965 and was hired as a teacher in the art department of Nevada Southern University, now known as UNLV, and taught there until 1987. Abbey taught drawing, painting, and color theory classes. In addition, she created and developed interdisciplinary courses with the university's science departments, a radical and innovative move at the time.

Abbey received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1952 and her Master of Arts degree in 1954 from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM. She also studied at Goddard College, Plainfield, VT; the Art Students League, Woodstock, NY; the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts, Provincetown, MA; and the San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA. She was an artist in residence at the studios of many internationally renowned artists and institutions, including the studios of Toshi Yoshida, Tokyo, Japan; John Killmaster, Boise, ID; Methow Iron Works, Twisp, WA; Tamarind Institute, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM; the Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ; Shidoni Foundry, Tesuque, NM; Bill Weaver Studio, Chupadero, NM; Savoy Studios, Portland, OR; and Carlson & Co., San Fernando, CA. The artist has had over 60 individual exhibitions and participated in over 160 national and international group exhibitions. She received many awards, grants, and commissions, including the Governor's Seventh Annual Visual Arts Award for the State of Nevada in 1986 and the City of Las Vegas Office of Cultural Affairs, Las Vegas Arts Commission's Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2012.  Her work is in private and public collections in the United States, the Middle East, Europe, and South America.

Her works on view in Las Vegas include:

  • Spirit Tower, a 20-ft. tall cor-ten steel sculpture at the Summerlin Library.
  • The sixteen Isaiah Stained-Glass Windows in the main sanctuary of Temple Beth Sholom.
  • The bust of Flora Dungan in the Humanities building at UNLV.
  • A plexiglass mural in one of the University Medical Center buildings on Charleston Boulevard.

Abbey also made Wall of Creation, a 20 ft. x 40 ft. mural made of polyester resin and fiberglass, for Temple Beth Sholom's former synagogue on Oakey Boulevard.

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Marjorie Barrick Museum, and the Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, CA, collaborated to present the Rita Deanin Abbey 35 Year Retrospective, held February 16–March 5, 1988, at UNLV and March 25–June 5, 1988, at the Palm Springs Art Museum.

In 1985, Abbey married pathologist Robert Rock Belliveau, the co-founder of Associated Pathologists Laboratories (later acquired by Quest Diagnostics). As a couple, they were a perfect match. Together, they created a home and studio in the wide-open spaces of the city's northwest. Dr. Belliveau's love and devotion to his wife's work had him accompanying her to shows, workshops, and work sites.

Abbey has published several journal articles and six books: Rivertrip, Northland Press, Flagstaff, AZ, 1977; Art and Geology: Expressive Aspects of the Desert, Peregrine Smith Books, Layton, UT, 1986 (co-authored by G. William Fiero); the Rita Deanin Abbey Rio Grande Series, Gan Or, Las Vegas, NV, 1996; In Praise of Bristlecone Pines, The Artists' Press, Johannesburg (presently located in White River), South Africa, 2000; Isaiah Stained-Glass Windows, Gan Or, Las Vegas, NV, 2002; Seeds Yet Ever Secret: Poems and Images, Gan Or, Las Vegas, NV, 2013. She has been the recipient of many commissions and grants and has won several awards, including the Bicentennial Commission for the State of Nevada, 1976; the Governor's Seventh Annual Visual Arts Award for the State of Nevada, 1986; and the Chairman's Award of Excellence at the 1987 International Exhibition of Enamelling Art, Ueno Royal Museum, Tokyo, Japan. The Gallery Association of New York State invited her to exhibit four of her works in its 1989–1991 traveling exhibition, Color, and Image: Recent American Enamels. In 1992, the Markus Galleries, Las Vegas, NV, and the Nevada Symphony presented a collection of art by Abbey, which inspired Virko Baley's Piano Concerto No. 1. The world premiere performance of the concerto was held in 1993 at the National Opera House, Kyiv, Ukraine. In 1993, Abbey constructed Spirit Tower, a cor-ten steel sculpture (20 ft., 11 tons), commissioned by the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District for the Summerlin Library and Performing Arts Center. The Pacific Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science invited her to lecture on Art and Geology at San Francisco State University for the 75th Annual Meeting on June 19–24, 1994. She was one of three artists from the United States invited to participate in the exhibition, Enamel Today, at Villa am Aabach, Uster, Switzerland, June–July 1995. Additionally, in 1995, Abbey completed a series of cast bronze sculptures at Shidoni Foundry, Tesuque, New Mexico. During 1998-2000, Abbey completed and installed the Isaiah Stained-Glass Windows: sixteen 10 ft. x 2 ft. stained-glass windows for the main sanctuary of Temple Beth Sholom, Las Vegas, NV. Also, in 2000, she completed Holocaust, a stainless-steel sculpture (14 ft. 3 in., 4.5 tons), installed at her residence in Las Vegas, NV.

In 2003, her bronze sculpture, Ner Tamid, was installed in Temple Adat Ami, Las Vegas, NV. Snakewash, a cor-ten steel ground sculpture (62 ft.), was completed in November 2003.

Abbey fabricated steel sculptures and cast small and large bronzes from 2004. In 2006 she completed and installed Guardian of All Directions, a stainless-steel sculpture (14 ft., 1.5 tons). The Guggenheim Hermitage Museum and Young Collectors Council visited the studio and home of Rita Deanin Abbey, Las Vegas, Nevada October 15, 2006. During March 2008, Women's History Month, Abbey was recognized for her contributions to the Arts by Mayor Goodman and the Las Vegas City Council members. Hidden Pass, a steel plate sculpture (16 ft. x 28 ft. 8 in. x 13 ft. 3 in., 22 tons), was installed in 2010. Between July 16­–December 23, 2011, Abbey exhibited in Blast from the Past: 60s and 70s Geometric Abstractions at Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, California. The City of Las Vegas Office of Cultural Affairs, Las Vegas Arts Commission, presented Abbey with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in the Arts on May 25, 2012. Balanced Arc, an outdoor bronze sculpture (8 ft. 8 in. x 9 ft. x 7 ft. 4 in., 1600 lbs.), completed in 2012, was installed in April 2013.

During the last years of her life, she took on the role of helping to design her museum. Stating, "A building is more than a structure; every detail of the building is living art. Architecture has a soul, a spiritual life of its own." The museum currently occupies 10,500 square feet of space on ten acres. The footprint also includes a courtyard, desert garden, outdoor sculpture park, and Abbey's studio and home, which also bears her mark. One should note that the artist even designed all the doors and gateways to the museum, garden, and residence.