Between them, these stalwarts of the Cleveland arts-and-culture scene had no shortage of meaningful collections in their Shaker Heights’ home. A Yale-educated architect and Fulbright scholar, Jim was a founding partner in the prestigious architecture firm of Herman, Gibans, Fodor. And Nina – a poet, arts advocate/educator, and the 2009 winner of the Martha Joseph Prize, a Cleveland Arts Prize special citation for distinguished service – is particularly well known for her legacy film, University Circle: Creating a Sense of Place, which aired nine times in 2014 on WVIZ ideastream pubic television.
But when health demands began to challenge their independent lifestyle, the couple agreed: It was time to move to Ambler Court, Judson Park’s beautifully renovated assisted living neighborhood that offers signature programing and care in a specially designed environment ideal for those in need of increased assistance and oversight.
“Over the past 20 years, Jim had taken care of me completely,” says Nina, who has cerebral palsy. “As his own health needs changed, he couldn’t do that anymore, and we knew it was time to start planning a change.”
The couple’s two-room Ambler Court suite felt like home from the start. Having grown up in the immediate area, Nina was delighted to be back in the neighborhood. And Jim’s connection was even more personal: His firm had designed the building!
“It seemed like the perfect place for us,” Nina says. “We could both be here together, I would have the assistance I needed, and for Jim, it already felt like home. Our families were very supportive of our decision, and we knew we would love it here!”
The convenience of onsite health and wellness support was another important factor in the couples’ decision to move to Ambler Court. For Jim, Judson’s memory support programs have already proved valuable; he also takes part in the men’s discussion group and utilizes the fitness center. “He is much better,” says Nina. “His improvement is a tribute to the staff.”.
And for Nina, life at Ambler Court has brought easy access to daily movement and pain management treatments, including physical therapy and massage.
Before they could make their move, though, some thoughtful downsizing was in order. “We agreed we wouldn’t sell anything,” says Nina. “Instead, our possessions – our books, our furniture, our 150-piece art collection – would go to younger people, people who we knew cared.”
The couple hasten to say that not everything was up for grabs. In the end, they kept 30 of their favorite art pieces, including one by beloved Northeast Ohio artist and teacher Joseph O’Sickey that they bought at a Cleveland Institute of Art fundraiser. “It has good colors,” says Nina of the vibrant painting. “It’s a happy picture.”
They also retained possession of a work by Cleveland artist, designer, and civil-rights’ activist Mort Epstein, based on his provocative wall-outlet mural that sat at the corner of Euclid Avenue and East 18th Street for many years. A symbol of racial diversity, the brown and white outlets, with “equals” signs for screws, celebrated Cleveland State University as “an integrated outlet.”
Any wall space not filled with artwork or family photos is likely to hold a bookcase: The couple brought with them several hundred books on architecture, literature, poetry and art. (“That’s hardly anything,” Nina says. “The original collection was nearly five times that size.”) There’s also space for music-lover Jim’s collection of more than 500 CDs.
The Gibans also kept a few pieces of notable furniture, including a red, circa-1948 “womb” chair and ottoman, by famed Finnish designer Eero Saarinen. One of two Saarinen chairs originally owned by Nina’s father, the mate is now in the home of Cleveland Institute of Art president Grafton Nunes. “We wanted our things in the hands of people who wanted them,” says Nina.
Likewise, Jim’s rare Alcoa chess set and a table he had designed went to the Cleveland Public Library.
In the end, the couple say that downsizing was far more delightful than dismaying. First, they have the pleasure of knowing their beloved possessions are in the care of thoughtful stewards. And second, they now can surround themselves with the very best of their many memories.
“What you see here is a distillation of our collections,” says Nina contentedly. “We feel very much at ease with what we were able to divest and that they went to people who treasure them.”