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Ralph Nagel: Moving Forward with Courage and Being in the Moment 

spring bouquet, ralph nagel

“As in life, painting is about having the courage to take risks towards an outcome that is unknown.” 

Kathryn Charles, MA 
Art Historian 

Ralph is an inspiring businessman, philanthropist, and painter, now in his mid 70s, there is no indication of him slowing down! His continued remarkable success in business has offered him the opportunity to make an indelible mark in the city, and the thriving art community of Denver. He is a Life Trustee at University of Denver, and Washington University in St. Louis where he received his M.A. in Architecture. Nagel later received a Master in Urban Design and Mater in City Planning from the University of Pennsylvania where he won the prestigious Stewardson Competition and a protégé of the historic architect Louis Kahn. 

Ralph came from humble beginnings. Born in 1945 in St. Charles, Illinois (roughly 40 miles west of Chicago), Ralph and his twin brother, and a sister were raised by practical, German origin parents. Young and eager, Ralph developed a strong work ethic on his first job in the local grocery store where he stocked can goods. As a student, he pushed hard in college and recalls “praying frequently” for independence and success. Nagel also believes he was lucky- especially with finding and falling in love in college with his wife Trish who he refers to as “the smartest women I’ve ever met.” 

ralph nagel bellman hotel

Ralph, the businessman, founded Meridian Retirement Community and he served as CEO and President for 25 years, leading the curve in transforming aging in the right for over 15,000 seniors in Colorado and Texas. Nagel is currently developing and reviving a main street in North Denver for seniors. The 39-unit community will be completed in 2021 and geared towards active, independent seniors. Services and shops will be just steps from their doors. 
As philanthropist, Mr. Nagel founded ACE (The Alliance for Choice in Education), a k-12 scholarship program supporting more than 3,000 low-income students annually in Colorado and 4500 in five other states. His involvement in Catholic charities is also visible in our Queen City. 


Ralph and his wife Trish (a business attorney), donated $4 million to the Nagel Hall project, the first of University of Denver’s LEED Gold rated resident halls. The 150,000- square foot building dedicated in 2007 has study rooms and lounges on each floor, a coffee shop and food court style dining, and houses a stunning collection of paintings by regional artists (several painted by Ralph) all donated by the Nagels. 

In 2010, DU dedicated the Nagel Art Studios, a 12,000-square foot structure and premium painting and drawing center located next to the Shwayder Art Building. The studio is a splendid open space flooded with natural light- and a slick, newer version of a late 19th century art atelier. In 2017, the Nagels were awarded the Founders Medal- the University of Denver’s highest honor, for their visionary leadership and philanthropy. 
Additionally, Nagel collaborated with Johns Hopkins University building a network of western-style birthing centers in nine of China’s largest cities. 
But Ralph, the artist, is equally an accomplished travel painter. His paintings are a visual journal of his travels in India, the Far and Middle East, Europe, and Brazil. He has traveled high into the mountain communities of Bhutan, and survived an epic tsunami in Thailand. 
Ralph begins the painting process making initial field sketches on site. These sketches are his temp-let for creating large paintings in his studio located in the historic Neustetter’s Building on 16th St. His art is versatile, bold, and fresh, and a true reflection of the artist. He works mostly in watercolor and acrylics, but is also an accomplished oil painter. The spirit of Nagel’s paintings is seen in the spontaneity of his brushwork, and his attention to detail and color tone. His success as a plein air artist lies in his ability to quickly capture the subtle atmospheric innuendos between the transitions of light and dark that are challenging to this style of painting. See: 

Flowers for Judy, Ralph Nagel

“Truly seeing the subject of my art only takes place once the painting begins. The immediacy of painting keeps me present and it’s always about that day, that moment. Ultimately, it is not enough to just paint what I see. It’s necessary to give the painting what it needs. And as in life, painting is about having the courage to take risks towards an outcome that is unknown.” 

Nagel’s paintings are in private collections in the United States, Argentina, Australia, France, Italy, Brazil, Thailand, Mexico and New Zealand. He is a member of the Paris group Les Rats de Champ, and co-founder of  “Studio 208”, a group of Colorado painters painting and showing together from 2004 – 2010. From 2007-2011, Nagel hosted a collaborative teaching space in the River North District (RINO), shared by premier painting teachers including Boris Shoshensky, Kevin Weckbach, and Molly Davis. 

Nagel continues embracing the challenges presented in business, travel and in painting. But mostly, he finds renewal and joy and the importance of the immediacy of being in the moment. 

View more paintings and news on Ralph Nagel here:

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