Obituary: Juris K. Ubans – Portland Press Herald

Juris K. Ubans

PORTLAND – Juris K. Ubans passed away on December 30, 2021 at the Gosnell Memorial Hospice House. He was born in Riga, Latvia, the third son of Konrads Ubans, a prominent painter, and Elina Gailitis Ubans. He spent his early childhood in a time of terror, when the Soviet Union brutally occupied Latvia, then the Nazi regime, followed by the return of the Soviets. At this point the family was separated and his mother and three children fled to the West. After a very difficult year as refugees, they were housed in a camp run by the International Refugee Organization in Germany. In 1950 they were able to emigrate to the USA and settled in Syracuse, NY, and became designers for architectural offices. On his return to New York, he graduated from Syracuse University with a BFA. In 1966 he moved to Penn State with his wife Mara, where he received his MFA degree in 1968.

Juris began teaching in the Art Department of Gorham State Teachers College, which later became USM, and taught there until his retirement in 2009.

He taught painting and film and was instrumental in developing the curriculum for the needs of the new and developing institution. At the same time he was director of the Art Gallery until 1995. He developed it from a company on a $ 50 budget in the first year to an influential and respected university gallery with a sizable collection of original works, particularly photographs. He contributed a lot to the culture committee, initiated film series and brought renowned artists to the campus. He was a popular and influential teacher. Several of his former students became lifelong friends and his greatest support during his illness.

In the 1970s, he and like-minded friends founded the Film Study Center, which brought foreign art films to Portland for the first time. He soon expanded his efforts nationwide and served on the Maine Commission on the Art and Humanities for five years. He organized nationwide touring film series, which were supplemented by community discussions led by humanities scholars. He has served on a committee or on the board of trustees of numerous museums and galleries in Maine. A commitment at the national level followed when he became Commissioner of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. He toured the country and accredited schools and arts departments. In 1992 he was appointed to the American Folk Life Center of the Library of Congress by Senator George Mitchell and served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of that organization from 1994-96. He really enjoyed the Washington DC experience

When Latvia was finally able to free itself from submission to the Soviet Union in 1991, he immediately made connections with the Latvian National Museum and the Latvian Academy of Art. After visiting Latvia in 1973 to meet with his father, he saw the backwardness and limitations artists and scholars had to live under and eagerly joined international efforts to bring academic standards up to European and American standards Bring level. He became a member of the examination board of the art academy, advised its curriculum, taught there for two semesters as a senior Fulbright scholar and was appointed honorary professor of the academy. On returning to USM, he established an exchange program between the Academy and USM, which gave a number of students the opportunity to experience a different culture and a different approach to art.

Although art was the focus of his life, he was a versatile person. He was a highly rated chess player. Once he even beat Bengt Larsen, the Danish grandmaster, during a simultaneous exhibition in Santa Monica. He was a good tennis player who rose to the national senior games as a member of a doubles team. He practiced Tai Chi in Portland for many years. He was an avid art collector of all genres and has donated generously to numerous museums from his collection, including the Portland Museum of Art and Farnsworth.

His two brothers died before him. He leaves behind his 56-year-old wife, Mara.

Arrangements are under the direction of the Conroy-Tully Walker Funeral Home, 172 State St., Portland. To view the Juris memorial page or to offer condolences online, please visit

Instead of flowers, a donation can be made to the USM Foundation to complement the Juris Ubans grant for painting, printmaking, and photography.

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