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Gaming art – a historical and whimsical look at a different side of the industry

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“Card Shark” by local artist Joan Arrizabalaga, curator of The Art of Gaming+ exhibit at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center.
“Card Shark” by local artist Joan Arrizabalaga, curator of The Art of Gaming+ exhibit at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center.

UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA RENO NEWS RELEASE – When contemplating works of art, the gambling industry is not typically top of mind. But at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center beginning July 1, more than 80 pieces of imaginative and entertaining artworks depicting the world of gambling and casinos will be on display throughout the library in a tribute to Reno’s longtime gaming industry.

An opening reception for the public will be held Sunday, July 7, from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. There will be people on each floor to discuss the art and answer questions, some of the local artists will be available and those in attendance will receive a free, 56-page commemorative booklet. The exhibit continues through September 15.
The centerpiece of the exhibit includes many of the 26 whimsical sculptures from eight different artists that were commissioned by Stremmel Gallery for Harrah’s Reno in 1995 when Harrah’s opened the Hampton Inn tower, which has since been rebranded by Harrah’s. The sculptures playfully evoke casino life including ceramic and fabric slot machines and blue and white cows sitting around a blackjack table.
According to Donnelyn Curtis, head of the library’s Special Collections and University Archives Department, Jim Rogers, president and CEO of Kampgrounds of America (KOA), was the senior vice president and general manager at Harrah’s at the time, and he was the driving force behind the creation of the sculpture exhibit.
“Because Jim still has a home in Reno and is excited about the revival of the sculptures, he paid for new Plexiglas cases for some of them,” Curtis said. Rogers was recently featured on CBS Television’s Undercover Boss.
“This show involves people from both the local art and casino worlds,” said Curtis. “There is a tradition among people involved with casinos to appreciate the art that relates to their world which includes many motifs such as luck and chance, drama, obsession and all those themes we see in casinos. There are also many motifs from art and cultural history than end up in casino design. The design of face cards – kings, queens, jacks and jokers – is derived from European royalty, and games like faro date back to the 1600s in European culture when the cards displayed pictures of Egyptian pharaohs, part of a fad that existed at the time to revive Egyptian art.
The exhibit also features showgirl costumes, neon signs, old slot machines, advertising art, photographs of performers, postcards and many visual representations of casino culture as context and background to the art exhibit.
“This isn’t a typical special collections exhibit that features historical pieces owned by the University; it is really an art show with historical, borrowed art,” said Curtis. “There are some good, serious designers who did great work, but it often got swallowed up in the distractions inside a casino.”
The artists and the collections include: Bob Adams, Kathleen Akers, Joan Arrizabalaga, Erni Cabat, Dwight Davidson, Paul DiPasqua, Mary Lee Fulkerson, Mistinguett, Mick Sheldon, Peter Shire, Therman Statom, Larry Williamson, the Will Durham neon collection, the Karen Burns MGM costume collection, IGT conceptual drawings, University special collections photographs, the Marshall Fey antique slot machine collection, Joe McKenna gambling ephemera, Steve Stremmel slot machines and the Donald Spaulding photo collection.
This year’s exhibit is, for the third year, being held in partnership with Reno Artown, a month-long summer arts festival that features about 400 events produced by more than 100 organizations citywide. The exhibit was made possible, in part, by the support of the City of Reno. Local artist Joan Arrizabalaga, a casino show wardrobe mistress for many years, is curator of the show. The Knowledge Center’s hours vary and can be found at http://knowledgecenter.unr.edu/libraries/kc/hours.aspx.
Nevada’s land-grant university founded in 1874, the University of Nevada, Reno has an enrollment of 18,000 students and is ranked in the top tier of the nation’s best universities. Part of the Nevada System of Higher Education, the University has the system’s largest research program and is home to the state’s medical school. With outreach and education programs in all Nevada counties and with one of the nation’s largest study-abroad consortiums, the University extends across the state and around the world. For more information, visit www.unr.edu.

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