The Mowers were filling their condominium walls with cheap art when a friend asked why they didn't spend their considerable net worth on more illustrious works.
So they did. What began as an investment for the Denver couple has evolved into a private collection of fine art to rival that of any private institution. "Everyday Extraordinary: From Rembrandt to Warhol" will open Saturday at the Fine Arts Center and run through Sept. 17. FAC members can attend a free preview reception Friday.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir's "Odalisque" kick-started the couple's 20-year treasure hunt. The painting was purchased from a failing Japanese bank that kept art in vaults as collateral and quietly sold off pieces. The famous names the Mowers have acquired since are impressive: Rembrandt, Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, to name a few.
"We bought one, then another," said Dr. Morton Mower, "and then it got completely out of hand. These fine works became available, and they were at a reasonable price. It's like chocolate candy - you can't resist it."
Altogether the couple own 170 Rembrandt etchings, 30 to 40 Impressionist paintings and a few Pop art pieces.
It's all thanks to the automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, a medical device that senses and corrects abnormal heart rates. Morton, a cardiologist, helped co-invent the lifesaving medical device in the 1970s and made a mint.
The collection typically lives in the couple's Cherry Creek home, though they don't have nearly enough space to house it all. Part of it often is on the road. The collectors enjoy lending the pieces out for free to philanthropic organizations, universities and other institutions.
"We're liberating art," said Mower, who's also an adjunct distinguished professor of cardiology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. "People benefit from it. It's too nice of a collection to just keep it locked up where nobody can see it."
The Mowers still actively seek out new pieces and will frequently sell an older work to get a better one.
"Mort and I grew up rather poor," said Tobia Morton, "and to be able to afford this stuff now and to share it with everybody else is phenomenal."
JENNIFER MULSON, THE GAZETTE, 636-0270, JEN.MULSON@GAZETTE.COM