Oliver & Company was thriving by then, so
the Olivers decided to purchase their first piece
of art, paying $600 for a drawing by Jim Dine,
which still hangs in the bedroom of their home
in one of San Francisco’s historic districts today.
It was money they had set aside for a three-day
weekend in Carmel. They canceled the trip and
bought the drawing instead.
Oliver also decided to use his business to
support the arts, constructing buildings for a
number of nonprofit and arts spaces, such as the
Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the Charles M.
Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa (also spared in
the October fires), as well as the new residence
hall, currently under construction, for CCA’s
San Francisco campus. He felt so strongly about
this mission that, 23 years ago, he turned 50
percent of Oliver & Company over to his
employees — with the proviso that half their
work be done for nonprofits, at a reduced fee.
By all accounts, Oliver puts little stock in
holding on to — or displaying — his wealth.
When not at board meetings, he favors well-
worn T-shirts. He drives a Volkswagen Tiguan.
And he cares little about high-end vacations or
golf, even though he and the extended Oliver
family, which now includes grandchildren, own
a house in Italy and take hiking trips in South
America. “We’ve been lucky,” Oliver says of his
success, “and my father always said, ‘If you do
good, you have to do good with it.’ ”
For his generosity, Oliver has received much
in return. “He is tireless and exuberant,” says
Moy Eng, executive director of CAST. “It’s
joyful for him.”
His greatest joy comes from being a “studio
assistant” to the artists who work at the ranch.
It’s something he’s been doing since 1985, when
he and Nancy commissioned their first piece
of site-specific art as a rebuke to the go-go art
world of the ’80s, when paintings and sculp-
tures were considered commodities. “Nancy
said to me, ‘If we commission work that’s on
site, it can’t be moved or destroyed without
losing its value.’” Artists could create only for
the sake of creating.
Oliver loved the idea, and they invited their
first artist, Judith Shea, to the ranch. The experiment got off to a rocky start, as Shea had different
ideas about the project than the Olivers did. But
they ultimately handed her the reins, resulting
in “Shepherd’s Muse” — an arresting sculpture
arrangement that includes a bronze body-less
overcoat situated in a lotus position. It sits in
view of the patio where Oliver likes to read.
For sales and art-placement services, visit sfmoma.org/artists-gallery