Paula Wittner in her home studio. She will be moving many of the paintings displayed there into her new museum in Nogales next year. Photo by Marion Vendituoli

The Wittner Museum: a real brick and mortar museum named after Patagonia artist Paula Wittner. It sounds like a fantasy, a dope dream. But it is as real as the building standing at 204 N. Morley Avenue in Nogales, and the money behind it. Against great odds it is a reality in progress.

Formerly a cigar factory in the early 1900s, and most recently a bike shop, the Wittner Museum will open no later than spring 2023, according to Evan Kory. Kory, a gallerist, pianist and fifth-generation Nogales resident, is using recently awarded grant monies to fund the museum. Wittner will be placing a large portion of her trove of oil paintings in the museum’s permanent collection, and her signature will be incorporated in the signage. 

“I think her work is extraordinary and timeless,” Kory said. 

The museum has come about organically. Wittner had shown both her photography and paintings at La Linea Art Studio, a space in Nogales where Kory has served as president. (La Linea recently became a nonprofit and is now rented by a group of artists.) And her work was featured in “Both Sides Now,” an innovative event that exhibited work at two locations: across the Mexican border at the Contemporary Art Museum, and at La Linea. 

Opened just as the Covid epidemic began, “Both Sides Now” was closed to the public for many months in 2020-2021. It was during this long, strange period of hours spent hanging out with Wittner and other artists inside the empty La Linea that Kory came up with the idea of the Wittner Museum. 

“We started brainstorming,” Kory said. “We would meet up at Paula’s studio and we’d share ideas, talking about the possibility of a museum.”

Those wild storms led Kory to a building at 204 N. Morley Ave. owned by his parents, Greg and Sandra Kory. With 14-foot ceilings, 2,500 sq. ft. of space and more square footage upstairs that could be used for artist studios, the building made perfect sense as a place to house the Wittner. The Korys agreed to donate use of the building to Santa Cruz Advocates for the Arts. Grant monies from various sources, along with some private funding, are covering the cost of renovating the building, which needed only cosmetic work. 

This building on Morley Ave in Nogales, which was originally a cigar factory, is now the future site of the Wittner Museum. Photo by Marion Vendituoli

The Wittner Museum is the beginning of Kory’s vision for a true arts district on Morley Avenue. 

“I think the arts will bring people together and build community like nothing else,” he said. “I grew up on Morley Avenue in our stores. I’ve seen the ups and downs of the border economy. I think an arts district would help the overall quality of life for people in the area and make downtown a vibrant place again. The historic buildings are waiting for something new and fresh.”

Wittner has lived in Patagonia for 40 years and, unless she’s traveling, paints every day, from early morning until 4p.m. Her work is ever present to her. She depicts her relatives and extended family in various guises, bigger than life and glowing in a manner that has roots in European portraiture and scene. She has sold regionally and nationally, but currently shows only at La Linea and occasionally at her Patagonia studio. Most recently she volunteered to paint a mural on Kory’s bridal shop, also on Morley Avenue, called “Wedding.”

With this dedicated museum named after her, Wittner has overcome, by having a patron, what most artists struggle against. Artists may imagine such recognition but rarely, almost never, is a museum named after a living artist, and rarer still is a museum named after a living female artist.

About it all, Wittner said, “I’m still blown away. It made my life make sense.”