Al Shands’ love of art dates back to his childhood and the visits he would make to the Phillips Collection in Washington DC as a schoolboy. Here, encountering the highest quality works by artists like Monet, Renoir, and Eakins, he developed a fascination with the visual arts, a lifelong interest that has been sustained by art’s mysterious power and beauty. After graduating with a degree in English Literature from Princeton, and subsequently being ordained as an Episcopal Priest, in the late 1960s Al met his future wife Mary Norton, and together they embarked on a journey that was to result in a remarkable collection of contemporary art at the home they christened Great Meadows.
Collecting for Al and Mary Shands began in earnest in the early 1980s when Mary was asked to head the Kentucky Art and Craft Foundation (now KMAC Museum). Starting with regional ceramics, they progressed quickly to collect artists with national reputations and eventually developed a focus on sculpture. As members of museum boards they educated themselves through relationships with artists, dealers, and museums professionals, allowing them to confidently acquire artworks of the highest quality. By the middle of the decade the collection, and the scale of the works Al and Mary were acquiring, began to outgrow their home and this led the couple to build the house at Great Meadows. Since the late 1980s the collection has grown in and around the house at Great Meadows, creating a unique fusion of art, architecture, and nature that, to this day, is an inspiration to all who visit. Since the passing of his wife in 2009, Al Shands has vigorously continued his passion for collecting and, through his philanthropic activity, has helped shape support for art and creativity in Kentucky and the region.
As well as being a collector, Al Shands is the author of two books, which gather together short essays he has written about faith, the arts, politics, current events, and many other subjects. He has also had a career as a filmmaker, producing over 35 documentaries that explore aspects of Kentucky life. In 1978 he received a Peabody Award for the film “Who’s Child Is This”, and in 2010 he was honored with the Kentucky Governor Awards in the Arts Milner Award for outstanding philanthropic contributions to the arts. Al remains a longstanding Trustee of the Speed Art Museum in Louisville and sits on the Advisory Board of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice. For many years he has also been a member of New York’s Whitney National Committee and the Museum of Modern Art’s International Council. With the creation of Great Meadows Foundation he continues his commitment to furthering the cultural enrichment of Kentucky through the support of its visual arts professionals.