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Brandt watercolor is donated to Laguna art college

Mark Hilbert, by his estimation, has owned 30 of Rex Brandt's paintings over the years. It's not hard for him, though, to count how many times he has met the famous watercolorist and teacher.

That would be twice — once at a barbershop and once at a dentist's office.

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Brandt, who lived in Newport Beach, met Hilbert for the first time when he was getting his hair cut. The younger man recognized him and introduced himself as a collector of watercolors.

"I walked up and said, 'My name is Mark Hilbert, and I'm a collector of watercolors,'" Hilbert recalled. "That's all it took. Once he got that, we were off."

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Brandt invited him to his house to see the studio where he ran painting classes for decades.

The men may not have stayed regularly in touch, but Brandt's work became a constant in Hilbert's life, as the fellow Newport resident obtained his pieces through dealers and auctions. Now, he's gifted one of Brandt's works to a symbolic location: the Laguna College of Art + Design, where the artist taught in the early 1960s during the campus' formative years.

The 1960 watercolor "Evening Rendezvous" was among the Brandt works that Hilbert lent to a summer LCAD show celebrating what would have been the artist's 100th birthday. In the course of assembling the show, LCAD gallery director Andrea Harris McGee told Hilbert she particularly liked the work.

Surprise, surprise.

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"I didn't know he was going to gift anything to the college," McGee said. "I just said, 'That's my favorite piece in the show.'"

The 10-by-14-inch painting, which depicts a small group of boats on the water in late-day light, will be part of LCAD's permanent collection. Hilbert, who oversees a stock known as the Hilbert Collection, presented it to the college at a reception Feb. 5.

Brandt, who died in 2000, is anything but forgotten in the area where he worked for years. Last year, the Laguna Art Museum commemorated his centennial with the retrospective show "Rex Brandt: In Praise of Sunshine," while Newport, for which Brandt designed the official city seal, unveiled a plaque in his honor.

McGee said LCAD staff has not yet decided where to hang "Evening Rendezvous," but said she hoped to install it at least part of the time in an area accessible to students.

"I'm so pleased that the Hilberts collect like they do, collect these different artists, and are giving them a platform," she said. "Rex Brandt is so well deserving, and his work is so exceptional."

[For the record, 7 p.m. Feb. 12: An earlier version of this post stated that art collector Mark Hilbert has owned thousands of Rex Brandt paintings over the years. According to a spokeswoman for Hilbert, the correct number is 30.]

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