Edward Mayo

Duration: 2Hrs: 24Mins
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Uncorrected Transcript

Interview with: Edward Mayo
Interviewed by: Dorothy Knox, Howe Houghton and Diedre Denman Glober
Date: March 31, 1981

Archive Number: OH JL05

This tape is being produced on March 31, 1981 by the Junior League of Houston in cooperation with the Houston Public Library. It is one of a series of tapes on the history of volunteerism in Houston. This series forms a segment of the oral history collection of the Houston Metropolitan Archives at the library. The interviewers are Dorothy Knox Howe Houghton and Diedre Denman Glober. The subject of our interview is Mr. Edward Mayo, registrar of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.


I:          Mr. Mayo, what early memories do you have of efforts to bring visual arts to Houston, from the time that you first became aware of the museum-types of activities or collections of art?

EM:     I remember at a very early age, since I am a native Houstonian—early age here in Houston—I remember my father dragging me here on hot, summer Sunday afternoons very much against my will. Mostly, I remember being uncomfortable in the museum because it was so hot. Long before we had air conditioning at home, or very many other places in Houston had air conditioning other than the movie theaters; they were the first places in Houston where you could go to get cool and enjoy yourself at the same time. Or you could go to Galveston and go to the bay or someplace and enjoy the natural, cool breezes. Hopefully, you had big enough windows at home so breezes from the south came in and they would cool you. You might aid and abet them by ceiling fans if you were lucky or no fans if you were not. Since I have lived here over 60 years—I have lived no other place, except in Uncle Sam’s military service at one time—I remember long before there was air conditioning, when we had fans. No air conditioning, but we had big windows. In the Museum of Fine Arts, there was some kind of ventilation system because I remember being so hot that I would find the grills in the wall, and I could hear something. I knew if there was air moving, but it didn’t cool me very much. It’s not very artistic and a very happy attitude to have had, but I think it might not have been—other than what might have been expected by somebody who did a lot of outside playing.

I:          Do you think many children were taken to the museum?

EM:     I don’t remember at all. I was only brought here by my father. He was interested in art, as he saw it. He thought of himself as a—I don’t know whether he saw himself as a painter or not, because the only medium that he used was pastel. And the only way that he used it with any success—as far as the final product was concerned—might not be considered art at all because he copied pictures. He’s take a little picture off of a calendar. I remember one of his favorites was Thomas Moran, and he would draw squares on it, draw bigger squares on his pastel paper, and sketch the outline from the picture at a larger scale and color it in with pastels. Thomas Moran couldn’t paint these pictures with pastel. He painted them with oil paints. He was using a medium that was pretty unsuited for what he was doing. Nevertheless, he enjoyed doing it and he liked to come to the museum and see what was here. I remember two paintings from those hot, summer Sunday afternoons. They are still a part of the collection of this museum. One of them is called Hiker on the Watch. It was by a man named Gerome, a famous French painter of that part of the nineteenth century, and it was in the original collection that came to the museum from—known as the (Dixonby??) class. The painting was hung off and on the whole time I’ve been here, and I’ve been at the museum since 1961. It’s off most of the time Mr. Sweeney was there and Mr. de Montebello put it back on. It has been in conservation, so it’s in tip-top condition. It happens to be off exhibition right now, but it’s because that area of the collection has not been reinstalled because the gallery has not been completed, as far as the remodeling that has been going on for the last 6-8 months. The other painting has a rather prestigious situation right now, a painting by Ernest Hennings. It is entitled Passing By. Three Indians—American Indians—on horseback passing under a cottonwood tree, it’s a beautiful shower of light and sun falling on the Indians. It’s a big painting, about 4 feet square. I remember it—I remember one as well as the other. The last one that is of importance to us right at this moment is the one that Mrs. George Bush picked when she came to select a painting to take with her to Washington to hang in the Vice-President’s house, and that’s very important.

I:          How did make the transition from being dragged to the museum to being interested in being here?

EM:     I got a great deal older, first of all. I do not remember ever coming to the museum during my high school time. I probably started coming back to—I may have come. I just don’t remember. That’s a long time ago. When I started going to Rice, I studied architecture. One of the professors that I met very soon after starting there was Mr. James Chillman who was then the director of the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston, as it is officially known in the charter, and which we are (inaudible) to name it is not legally ours. We call it The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston because Mr. Sweeney, when he first came, decided to remove the ‘of’ and put in a comma, and it has stuck. That’s to distinguish us from other museums, one of which is probably the most famous in this country is the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, because everybody knows, when you speak of the Museum of Fine Arts, you’re talking about  the Boston Museum. But in Houston, you say the Museum of Fine Arts, and everybody knows what you’re talking about here, too, I think. Though I wish a lot more of them would come to the museum and prove it.


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I:          When did you first become actively involved in the museum? When you were working here?

EM:     I was never active here until I started to work here and that was quite some time afterwards. I came as a visitor to the museum many times from the time I started Rice, which was in 1936 until I was finally hired by Mr. Chillman in 1961. He had been director from 1924 until—what he had recorded—I think it was the mid ‘50s, was it not? The early ‘50s probably, when Mr. Mr. Lee H. B. Malone was selected as, what was then called, the first full-time director of the Museum of Fine Arts. Mr. Chillman, since he taught at Rice University—or then the Rice Institute—never considered himself full-time because he held another job. And he held that job until he died in his 80s, well, just at the time that he was 80. I think a little note that was an appendage to the article indicates that.

I:          08:34.4 Do you think that most people would have considered him full-time based on the amount of effort that he—?

EM:     No one ever thought of him as anything but director of the Museum of Fine Arts and professor of architecture at Rice—or assistant professor of architecture. Before that, I suppose, (inaudible) in architecture. He finally ceased to be a part of the Department of Architecture and became a part of the Department of Art and Art History, where he taught Art History. He had always taught art history as well as architectural design.

I:          How did you happen to take a job with him here?

EM:     I studied architecture. I got an architecture degree and was freed from the necessity of having to pursue an activity or profession that I knew I was not fitted for by having to go to the military service. Uncle Sam drafted me and provided me with a great adventure, a rather fearsome one, in prospect. Luckily, not quite as fearsome an experience, but for 3 years I didn’t have to really consider whether I was an architect or what I was really going to do. I decided, during that 3-year period, however, that I was going to probably try it. I might rather work at architecture without being what I knew I could be, and that was a superior designer. I just knew it wasn’t my talent. I wasn’t really interested in it. I never was. Also, knowing that there are a lot of people making very good livings being architects because they had such business sense, and getting the business is a very good thing. A friend of mine, he’s a colleague, is still an architect. He quotes some architect. I know it is a Houston architect. Some well-known architect in the state of Texas used to say to answer the question, “What are the three most important things about being an architect?” And he’d say, “Get the business, get the business, get the business.” But I came out of the service and I worked at architecture for about 6½ years, proving what I knew before—that I really didn’t have the talent to satisfy myself and be very good, so I stopped. My mother died and gave me the opportunity to take a leave of absence from that. I had worked one man the whole time, who I thoroughly appreciated—a fine gentleman who still practices architecture. Now he has a son of his own. The son is in the business. I remember when he started first grade at school.

I:          Who is this?

EM:     11:37.9 Thompson McCleary. He is not extremely well-known in Houston. His house, which was built at the time I was working for him, was at the corner of Terrace and Memorial Drive. Terrace is one of the streets that go North, I think.


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I:          Just inside of Memorial Park.

EM:     Yes, just before you get to the park, yeah. There might be one or two other streets. I don’t remember the name of the subdivision, but it’s the house that has—it’s a nice redwood and brick house. It has a regular fence. And they planted little, tiny pine trees. They planted a couple of hundred, and maybe 35, 40, or 50 of them are still there, way up in the sky. But I left that. I didn’t do anything. I lived in a fool’s paradise for a couple of years. Then I went to work. I’m not going to say all the things I did in that brief period because it’s just a bore. However, Mr. Chillman never lost track of me. He called me one day at the job I had before I came here and he said, “We need somebody to provide some continuity.” I don’t know why he thought I would be it. “Would you be interested?” I said, “How much will you pay me?” Well, it was better than what I was getting paid. He also said I would get 4 week’s vacation every year. That was the thing that sold me. I didn’t know what being a registrar really was, but I was willing to try it if he thought I could do it. If he had that much faith in me, I surely should have that much faith in myself. I came by for an interview. He handed me Dorothy Dudley’s book, which is not—this is the book. No, this is the second edition of her book. He handed me the first edition. I don’t have a copy of the first edition. This is the third edition. It’s really called the registrar’s bible, Museum Registration Methods, written—everyone says by Dorothy Dudley. Of course, it was written by Dorothy Dudley and Irma Bezold Wilkenson, who was—Dorothy Dudley was the registrar at the Museum of Modern Art from its inception. She’s the only registrar that we know.  She finally resigned, and unfortunately she did not see the publication of the third edition. The American Association of Museums, their publishers could never seem to get enough money to do it. About 3 years after she died, they did. But Mr. Chillman handed me the first edition so I could read it and find out what it was. I had to have a small operation before I came, so I took it with me to the hospital and I recuperated in two weeks and I came to the Museum on January 15, 1961.

EM:     14:47.5  What kind of conclusions did you come to about the position from reading the book at the time?

I:          It sounded interesting. It didn’t frighten me in any way. I never had any real knowledge of—I never had really enough art history. I could not say that I’m an art historian, and I have as little talent for drawing as I did as an architect. I know a lot of people who can draw that are not good architects, and there are some good architects, though not many, who don’t draw very well. Most architects can draw, and some of them draw exceptionally well.

EM:     What were your views to start with?

I:          They were exactly what they are now, only I had to find that out, not just from the book, but by actual experience. At the time Chillman hired me, the board trustees hired Mr. James Johnson Sweeney, who followed Mr. Malone after about 2 years. That’s why Mr. Chillman was back here and could hire me. He was then interim director. When Lee Malone left in about ’59—about that I believe—and they asked Jimmy Chillman—as everybody called him but me—I called him Mr. Chillman. I assure you he never called me Mr. Mayo, thank goodness.

EM:     Do you think then that his comment about continuity, when he first talked with you about the position, was related to his knowledge in the changes of director of the museum?

I:          That and the fact that he probably had realized, or I hope all directors do—I’m not positive they all do—that the registrar’s office, particularly in a small museum—maybe not necessarily in a large on—is the hub of how everything functions. The actual       nitty-gritty, except for the raising of the money—which is a very big nitty-gritty—the most important, I suppose, is in the registrar’s office. The registrar is concerned with all the comings and goings of works of art and another important thing—stayings of works of art.

EM:     Stayings?

EM:     Stayings—works of art that come and don’t go, but stay. We are concerned with works coming and going and some coming and staying. In other words, the things that become a part of our permanent collection. And we are a collecting museum, but we are also an exhibiting museum. In parts of Germanic-speaking Europe, I believe they’re called (German phrase)17:40, where they just exhibit works. Museums are places where works are collected and kept.


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I:          17:50.5 So you actually keep track of each work and where it is and when it was added to the collection?

EM:     I do. My office should be able to tell you all there is to be known about a specific work of art in our collection. I should also be able to tell you exactly where it is. I am sorry to say, that’s ideal. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely absolutely the way it is. I will not take absolute responsibility for that fact. Where were we?

I:          Let me ask, we’re interested primarily in documenting the activities of volunteers who have contributed to the life and growth of the city’s institutions.

EM:     Well, believe me, it has—volunteers have contributed mightily to this organization. I will start by saying that I have a volunteer in my office right now that is quite important to me. She is a lady who came here at the time Philippe de Montebello and his curators instituted an in-house organization of volunteers called Galley Guides. They were, in effect, to supplement the docents that were provided to the museum by the Junior League, the docents being Junior League provisionals who have duties to perform. They have to do something, and one of the things they can to, or could do, was to be a docent, a leader, for school children who came to the museum. The Junior League provided the salary for a docent coordinator, who was actually paid by the museum with funds given to the museum by the Junior League.

I2:        Could I interject something?

EM:     Sure.

I2:        The Junior League—I have been one of the Junior League docents in the past, and they are not just provisionals. The provisionals are the persons who come in who, during their first year, as a member of the Junior League, they are called provisionals, but then they become active after they have served a certain amount of time in several different projects that we have. And active members also—

EM:     Who participate in stuff?

I2:        Yes, they are also required—

EM:     20:23.9 I probably should have known that.

I2:        A lot of people are confused by that, but that’s—

I:          What does the volunteer in your office do?

EM:     She does things that—I try to, first of all, provide her with something interesting, something that will interest her. She’s an Australian lady who is interested in art. As I say, she started as one of the, what are now called, instructors, and then were called gallery guides. They were people who took coursed from the curators, listened to lectures, did their own research, learned about our own collection, and then were available to visitors to tell them more about the paintings and works of art. (inaudible) A lot of people like to be instructed. There are hardly any of us who can’t learn something from almost anyone who will talk to us about a work of art. There are a few people that don’t want to be bothered, they just want to look, and that’s all right. The gallery guides never imposed themselves upon anybody. She did that for a while. But I think she developed some arthritis, which probably made touring and standing in the building a little bit onerous for her. She’s now been volunteering in this office for a couple of years. She seems to like the people there. The people who work in this office love her, dote on her. She has a very good sense of humor, and she is a good worker. She has done a number of projects. If I’m taking too long, you just tell me to shut up because I just run on and I want to answer your questions. But she—one of the things we have tried to do that would have been wonderful had we been able to do it with every aspect of works of art passing through this museum from its inception, we have tried to do photographs. Collecting photographs is a relatively new thing for the museum. The first photographs that came to the museum actually were the photographs that were used in The Galveston That Was book, the Howard Barnstone book. The photographs were made by—of Galveston—by Henri Cartier-Bresson and by Ezra Stoller, a very well-known architectural photographer in the United States. The funny thing about picking Bresson was that was not the kind of thing he was noted for. He was noted for catching the totality of some scene almost always involving people. Sweeney was here, and he pushed this book. He was interested in Galveston. He was interested in Howard Barnstone—very interested in Gertrude, too, for that matter. (Laughs) I think he liked her enough to put up with Howard. But he knew Howard was talented, and they mutually—you see—this is hearsay, but I couldn’t swear on the bible to these things because I wasn’t told, but the observation is not too far off, anyway, and we know we have the book. And we know that Mr. Sweeney threw out all the Cartier-Bresson pictures that had people in them, except one or two.

I:          He threw them out?

EM:     Well, he just didn’t use them. He took hundreds of pictures. We used 50 or so. Anyway, we acquired original prints that were used in the book for our collection.

I2:        But not the ones that he did not use?

EM:     No. No.

I2:        That’s too bad.

EM:     I think it’s too bad, too, very too bad. But no one except Sweeney was even interested in photography at the time. We had a good many photographic exhibitions. But before that, the photographic exhibitions in this museum were usually Houston Camera Club. Okay, how did I get started on that one?


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I:          You were going to tell me what your  volunteer is doing right now that you find is very helpful to you.

EM:     We then began to acquire a few photographs. Mr. E.A. Carmean, who was hired by Mr.de Montebello to be the first curator of twentieth century art in this museum and who is now the curator of twentieth century art at the national gallery in Washington—their first curator of twentieth century art, as well—was interested in photography, and he had not very much money at his disposal. One of the first things he bought was the photograph—a copy of the very famous photograph Aldrin Steps on the Moon. You remember the picture?

I:          Uh-hunh (affirmative).

EM:     It was a color picture. It’s not really exactly a photograph because it was a picture taken by a video camera and transmitted back to Earth. So is that a photograph? Well, in a way it is, but maybe it has a quasi-fixed position in the world of photography. Not in history. Historically, it’s a remarkable accomplishment. But he bought a few other photographs, and then he left. So we had four or five photographs. And then it’s Ms. Tucker, and Tucker joins our staff as curator of photography. Our director, who hired her, Mr. Agee, was very interested in photography as an art, and we began to acquire it. She managed to find funds. The Dayton Hudson people who own Target stores gave us the first money for the Target Exhibition. We’ve had Target Two. She’s involved with Target Three now. She’s had lots of other gifts of photographs, and has purchased many with funds that have been made available. But we have a complete list of every photograph that has ever passed through here, not just the ones that stayed, because choosing Target One, for instance—I’ve forgotten how many photographs were in it. Let’s say there are—oh—a bunch are not numbered. I can’t tell you real quickly. Let’s say there are 75. She probably looked through ten times that many, picking out the ones that she wanted. But we have a record of every photograph that has passed through here.

I:          27:02.2 So then, Tucker would have been responsible for putting together that collection that was exhibited?

EM:     Oh, yes, she was. Yes. But the director must be given some of the credit because he has been a great support for her, and she has been very active in getting the funds. That’s part of her achievement. But we could not go back and say that we have a list of every work of art that goes through the museum. Every painting, every drawing, every sculpture—we don’t have that. That would have been ideal. We now, from a certain period of time, we have a record of everything that’s passed through here. We keep records in such a way that anything that comes in slightly official is assigned a particular spot. In other words, it’s getting a certain number. If it should happen to stay, then it falls into another category that’s a different sort of number. One of the things Pat King, who is this wonderful Australian volunteer, does is to keep the photo list up-to-date. She goes through what we call a temporary—no, she goes through our TR book—temporary receipt book. That’s where the works are recorded. It’s a long process, and I don’t need to go into how it works, but everything that comes in is entered in the book and gets a number. She goes through the book every so often and just adds to the list. She does this all by hand because she doesn’t type. Eventually, sometime, I think that list is going to be very important. I think it’s already important. We had somebody before her who worked   part-time in the office—a student assistant—who assembled the list at a certain period and Pat’s been keeping it up over the years since then 2 or 3 years. I think she’s been here maybe 3 years. But we weren’t able to go back because we had so few photographs and not any came and went. The ones that came stayed for a while. Now they come and go. And of course, in our exhibition—our photographic exhibitions—that list has really suffered, but we keep an accurate list of what goes in every exhibition.


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I:          Let me ask you—when you think about 1961, when you first came to the museum, what kind of roles were the board members, as volunteers, playing at the museum at that time?

EM:     Very high and mighty, and I looked up to them, but I didn’t know them. I’d known one very important one for many, many years. I met her before I came to work here.

I2:        Who was that?

EM:     Ms. Cullinan, who you have interviewed. The chief things that a trustee does, I think, are pretty obvious. The first thing, if they have the means, they give some of it to the museum. But if they have the means, they’re usually very concerned about how that means that they give—the part of that means that they give to the museum—is going to be used. How do they achieve any control over this? They select a director. The board of trustees selects a director. The board of trustees makes first one of their large number down to a small number, the size of a committee—a search committee. They put their faith in the search committee to find some people, and then they start interviews. Our last search committee for Mr. Agee was 5 or 6 people. I think they’re always from the board. I don’t think they use outside people in this case.

I:          What sort of goals do you think the trustees had in mind when they selected Mr. Sweeney in ’61?

EM:     I know, but I, once again, have never seen it in writing and could not swear on the bible—(interruption in tape).

I:          31:29.0 —the selection of Mr. Sweeney, his mandate?

EM:     Yes. The mandate that I felt that he had. I think I said that I couldn’t swear to it, but this is, in my own heart, I feel that he felt that his mandate was to move this museum from the position of regional museum. He did one thing—

I2:        The position of what?

EM:     Of a regional museum—to bring it up to a higher notch and not be thought of just as a small, little museum way down there in Houston, wherever that is. He did two things. He first took the ‘of’ out of the title, and we had had a comma there. Do you all know Richard 32:21 (__??)? He’s a local painter and lived for a while—I’m digressing just a little bit. Including Mr. Agee, there are a number of people who play volleyball on Sunday afternoons over at the University of St. Thomas on a green space that some people kept mowed and put up a volleyball net. Richard stenciled silk screens and t-shirts because the team was The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The Museum of Fine Arts—comma spelled out—Houston. (Laughs) Anyway, Mr. Sweeney thought of putting in the comma. Well, that of course was to make us sound more like Boston and you can’t get much fancier than that in the museum world, unless you’re the Metropolitan, I suppose. (Cleveland??) might want to share a fancy top spot. I’m sure the National Gallery’s got part of it. Toledo has some. The Art Institute of Chicago has some pretty big stuff and San Francisco (inaudible). Anyway, to get us out of that regionalism, he did that, and he also discontinued, much to the dislike of the local artists, the Annual Houston Artist’s Exhibition. There had been 33 or 34 years of Annual Houston Artist’s Exhibitions from which there was one purchase prize made. At least one purchase for the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts.

I:          34:11.3 Each year?

EM:     Each year during that period of time. I think there were about 30—maybe 50—I’m not sure quite how many.

I:          Was that purchase ordinarily out of endowment funds, or was it someone who funded just that particular purchase?

EM:     I don’t think so, because when they could find somebody else that would fund something, then they gave other prizes. So there were other prizes, too. But the purchase prize, oh, was around $250.00 or something like that. I don’t know if it changed much over the years. But that happens to be one of them up there, The Bull and Rider.

I:          The ceramic?

EM:     Yes, that was done by (Ruby Lee s/l Shoots?). And there’s another one over there, The Puck—Game Puck—which was done by Christine Streetman. They just happen to be in my office because the University of Houston borrowed a lot of these Houston Artists for an exhibition last summer, and these two haven’t gotten stuck back in storage yet. But he discontinued that show, and that made him extremely unpopular with Houston artists because this was the only really prestigious place they had to exhibit in Houston.


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I:          Had the artists also been significant supporters of the museum before that time?

EM:     I think that they were supporters, not financially, because most artists, almost axiomatically, they’ve been tried for finances. The first person in Houston that probably made a living painting was Robert Joy, who painted portraits. He has a portrait in our collection because he won the purchase prize one year. But there are other painters now who are (inaudible).

I:          36:01.8 Well, how successful was Mr. Sweeney in developing a national reputation for the museum?

EM:     Probably not as successful as he would like to have been. He had great support here. Actually, the O’Neal family was his initial, most ardent supporters, until they began their own operation at the University of St. Thomas. They supported him with the utmost respect. They gave him clippings for the collection. They backed him financially in other ways. I think they may have even guaranteed a (seller?). I’m not sure about that. But when they started their own enterprise, then they ceased to be very interested in this museum, or at least to the extent that they had been. I think, and our director admits—though he and Mr. Sweeney did not see artistically eye-to-eye very much—I think he would admit that he probably helped the museum jerk itself up by its bootstraps into at least the next level. He didn’t hire any curators, which is—usually the number of curators is sometimes the size—is the site that tells you how active a museum is, in all sincerity. He was his own everything. 37:40.2 (Ms. Uler?), a lady who had been here, was the only curator and she was called Curator of Education. She didn’t quite survive Mr. Sweeney’s tenure. When she died, she’d been here 30 years, starting out as an instructor in the schools. I think Mr. Sweeney probably, in history, will be more important as a force to get the museum off near dead center. One of the things that was a criticism against Mr. Chillman was that he didn’t have enough modern art or contemporary art. And when you look back over the exhibitions that he did have, I think people who criticize him for that might be surprised at how many things that are considered now very good and of their own time he did manage to show us. But The Contemporary Arts Association was formed strictly because of that. They felt there was no place to really see what was going on in the mainstream contemporary art.

I:          Were the O’Neals also very involved with that—contemporary art?

EM:     Oh, yes. Not at the very beginning. I don’t know. I don’t think they were in on the very beginning, but they became very involved. When they’re involved with something, they’re usually very involved with it.

I:          Was their involvement there and at the University of St. Thomas contemporaneous? I mean, was there a real shifting emphasis in the fine arts to the other efforts?

EM:     Well, their shift away from the Contemporary Arts Museum occurred about the time Mr. Sweeney came here. Actually—and this is probably—should be off the record, but I think it’s fairly well known that Jermayne MacAgy was the first director of the Contemporary Arts Museum who was supported at least—well, more spiritually. I think she was backed financially. I have a feeling he probably paid her salary. He had a lot of support, a great deal. It was an entirely volunteer organization. Then she came, and it ceased to be as much so. It diminished as that kind of organization once she was there. But then, either she was tired of it or I don’t know what happened. Mr. Malone had gone from here, and she was supposedly offered this museum as a director with the board of trustees.  That’s about the time she went to the University of St. Thomas. As long as she was alive, the O’Neal family was not as personally involved in it as they were after she died. About the time she—she was a one-woman history department, doing exhibitions occasionally. I think that the exhibitions were supported by the family probably.


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I2:        Mr. Mayo, haven’t you served on the board of the Contemporary Arts Museum?

EM:     Never on the board. I think I was offered the job once or twice and I declined it. I don’t think I’d be a good board member. First of all, I probably didn’t want to be tied down in that fashion. I also didn’t have what I really thought was the main ingredient that a board member should have, and that is the financial wherewithal to put my money where my mouth was. I don’t mean that all board members should be wealthy. Richard (Staub?) happens to be on the board of this museum. He was on the advisory board for a while. He’s now an elected member of the board, which means he can vote. Well, Richard is an artist with a wife and two children. He has a good job teaching at the University of Houston. He also paints a lot and sells fairly well, but I don’t think we ever (__??) as well, and I think he’d be the first one to say, “Absolutely.” But most of the people on boards of this nature are people of means. They either have the means to make donations of money, to use a crass term, or to have the free time to devote. If you’re out beating the bushes for a buck, you don’t have time to devote to a lot of things, and so there are board members who devote a lot of time. I don’t know as much about that as other people on the staff. I know some of the board members. Actually, I know them personally more than I do just as board members here. I know some of them personally only because they’re board members here, however.

I:          Who were the other dominant board members, if I could characterize them that way, besides Mrs. de Menil, in the early ‘60s?

EM:     Of this museum?

I:          Were there others?

EM:     I’m not even sure she was on the board then. I guess maybe Mr. de Menil was. I think Mr. de Menil was on the board here at the time. I don’t think either one of them (inaudible). He was chairman of the search committee that found Mr. Sweeney. I believe Mrs. Cullinan—did she mention that?

I:          I think she did.

EM:     I think she was on the search committee, too. Her big, noticeable presence at this museum was felt with the addition of Cullinan Hall, because she made Cullinan Hall a reality. It was done in memory of her mother and father. And her father, as well as her mother and herself and her brother and sisters, used to be neighbors and lived across the street. (inaudible) There seemed to be a little equivocation about who exactly was responsible for this property, and what Mr. Chillman was remembering verbally. Mrs. Cullinan maintained sharply that her father was very much involved in it. It wasn’t just Will Hogg.

I2:        Yes, she told us that.

EM:     She’s convinced of that. She’s probably right. I don’t know who would know if she doesn’t.

I2:        Mr. Mayo, we wanted to ask you some questions about specific people who have both volunteered their time and who have made large contributions—financial contributions—to the museum. In 1953, the Robert Lee Blaffer Memorial Wing of the museum was completed. During the 1950s, I believe, the Blaffer family donated a number of paintings to the museum?

EM:     That’s correct.

I2:        Can you describe the Blaffer family’s relationship with the museum?

EM:     Well—you see—that was before my time here, ’53. I’ve known who the Blaffers were for ages and ages and ages without knowing them for a long time at all. I don’t think I ever met Mrs. Blaffer. I remember seeing her, but then for years, I didn’t see her. And suddenly, I saw her here. She became very much a recluse. I think she was in poor health. I don’t know that she was as in bad health as she thought she was, but she finally never left the second floor of her house. I don’t know how many years she was up there before she died. She did come once to the museum. She was made a life member of the museum. There were not life trustees until there was a group of them. She was one, Mrs. Harry Weiss was one, Mrs. Henson was one, Ms. Hogg was one. They were all alive at this time. Not a single one of them are alive now. I think Mr. Chillman was made one, also. He’s not alive. We have some other life trustees now. I can’t tell you who they are offhand. I believe that 46:42.4 (Peter Comfort?) is one, but I’m not sure. We also have some honorary trustees from out of the city.


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I:          Mrs. Blaffer had been instrumental in developing a teaching program at the museum at one time, and, since then, funded an exhibition, I believe, in a trust.

EM:     Wait a minute. Are we talking about Mrs. Robert Lee Blaffer or Mrs. John Blaffer?

I2:        Mrs. Robert Lee Blaffer.

EM:     Yes. Mr. and Mrs. John Blaffer gave the Blaffer Wing, and the other members of the family were the ones who provided the art, I think. I think I’m accurate. This was all done before my time, but that’s the way—the deeds of gift for most of the paintings are signed by Mrs. Blaffer.

I2:        Mrs. Robert Lee Blaffer?

EM:     Yes. Known officially, really, as Sarah Campbell Blaffer. The paintings in our new handbook where she is credited with the donation of a work of art, she is listed as—if the work of art is listed as The Robert Lee Blaffer Memorial Collection, the gift of Sarah Campbell Blaffer.

I:          I see.

I2:        Mr. Mayo, Mrs. Edgar O’Dell Lovett, and later her daughter Mrs. Walter Brown Baker, were volunteers whose interests in the museum have been continuous throughout the museum’s history. Mrs. Lovett was involved in the very early days. Mrs. Baker initiated at long and supportive relationship between the Junior League and the museum. She has served on the board of the museum for many years and has twice been president of the Garden Club of Houston, which maintains the museum’s grounds. What recollections do you have of Mrs. Baker’s relationship with the museum?

EM:     By the time I came to the museum, Mrs. Baker was still seen here, but she was not probably nearly as active as she had been before. Probably it was a matter of deterioration of the life that she had, but she hadn’t given up her visits. I knew of Adelaide Baker through a considerably older half brother, who she never hesitated to tell me was older than she was. But I had thought that he used to date her, and—what did she tell me? Oh, no. She didn’t have a sister either. Anyway, she made it very clear that she knew Gordon, but he was really a friend of her older brother’s. I didn’t pursue that very long. But my brother, Gordon, was one of the first students at Rice. In fact, he was Rice’s first cheerleader, and he studied architecture just as I did. When he quit in the middle of his sophomore year because he knew he didn’t want to be an architect, and he also didn’t want to graduate from the academic community and have to compete with high school boys for jobs. So he went to work for as an office boy for The Texas Company, and he never left The Texas Company until he was retired. He didn’t stay an office boy. Dr. Lovett, of course, was the first president. Mrs. Baker’s father was the first president of Rice. And in the early days, he was very close to the students. He even disciplined them personally. By the time I went to Rice, Dr. Lovett was in the ivory tower, the highest office on the campus, and I had the pleasure of meeting him only twice. I offered him a ride in my car, and both times he accepted it. He lived at the Plaza Hotel. I never met Mrs. Lovett, and at that time I had never met either of his two sons or Mrs. Baker. And when I was introduced to her here, I took advantage of the opportunity. I told her I had heard, and I used to hear, my brother speak of Adelaide, so I thought I would mention that. Well, I got put in my place pretty quickly. She never was unfriendly, however. I used to see her and then suddenly I didn’t see her at all. We know that the Mr. and Mrs. Baker built our residence. I cannot remember who the architect was. I think they were next door neighbors of Mrs. Cullinan. And it was then considered a very modern house, and it probably was built right after World War II. Mrs. Cullinan’s they did a little bit after that. Mrs. Baker was interested in—I know you could say that she supported local artists because I remember that she had one of 51:34 (Frank Delinchka’s??) paintings. Hardly anybody knows who Frank (__??) is anymore. He entered many Houston artist exhibitions, exhibited, but he never was a purchase prize winner, and then he stopped producing to do other things. But Mrs. Baker seemed to sort of retire from her activities at the museum over a period of years. I think particularly at the time of her husband’s death and slowly then began to be interested. I think maybe the thing that interested her and got her started was the solicitation that was made by the capital fund drive. We have the Lovett Galleries, and the Lovett Galleries are the galleries that are named for Dr. and Mrs. Lovett, and the funds were provided by their three children—Mrs. Baker and two other sons, Malcolm and Alexander. But even more recently, I do not know how Ann Tucker managed to interest her in photography, but she had shown her a number of things that Mrs. Baker was interested enough in to provide funds for the purchase at the museum. I haven’t seen her lately. As you say, she may not be well. I don’t know.


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I2:        52:57.0 Ms. Ima Hogg and her brothers were interested in and were involved with the museum from its founding. In 1957, the holdings of the museum were greatly expanded by Ms. Hogg’s gift of her home, Bayou Bend and her collection of American painting and decorative arts. What do you recall about Ms. Hogg’s involvement with the museum prior to 1957? I realize you were not at the museum at that time, but what do you know about that?

EM:     Well, the position of registrar automatically involves him and his office, and I was a   one-man office for a long, long time. With what has gone on in the past, if he looks at the exhibition files, he learns about what went on at other exhibitions. In my tenure, we have created a card file of exhibitions from material that we managed to round up from all over this building—in the attic, in the basement, in the boiler room, all sorts of places, any place they could stash old files. We finally rounded them up one summer when Mr. Sweeney was here. Things were quiet, so I got somebody to make a card file of all the exhibitions. There are only about 3 years in which we don’t have any information. We also know about what went on before because we have the records. We had something at the museum for a long time called The Bayou Bend Collection. It had nothing to do with Ms. Hogg’s home. It had a great deal to do with Ms. Hogg because, when she gave the works that were called The Bayou Bend Collection, she didn’t want anybody to know who had given them. Apparently, she and Mr. Chillman got together, and because he was a great friend of hers and Mrs. Chillman was a great friend of hers—as you know—there’s the Dorothy Chillman Parlor, which is named in memory of Mrs. Chillman in gratitude that Ms. Hogg felt for Dorothy’s help.

I2:        This is at Bayou Bend?

EM:     At Bayou Bend. But here we have the Bayou Bend collection. Ms. Hogg and Mr. Chillman felt, “We won’t say anonymous gift. We’re going to say The Bayou Bend Collection.” That was apparently good for her. Well, about the time I came, you see, 2 or 3 years after she had actually given Bayou Bend to the museum—though she was still living there and it was gradually becoming what it is now, a museum of its own—it was decided that she made herself well-known to the public as a benefactor of the artistic world—that the works she had here, long called the Bayou Bend Collection, could be listed as gifts of Ms. Ima Hogg. That actually occurred in the time I was here, so I know that firsthand. All the things that were listed one way gradually got their own exhibition. The labels were all changed from The Bayou Bend Collection to Gift of Ms. Ima Hogg. And they included a great number of things. I think many people know, maybe, that Ms. Hogg provided us with about 99 percent of our American Indian collection. She provided, at one time, in 1944, a collection of very fine pots—American Indian Southwest pots. Pots is probably not the right word. Vessels, let’s say. But a large number of Zuni and Hopi kachinas, a few other artifacts, like music sticks—what they are, I’m not absolutely sure, but the kachinas are very fine ones. They were all old ones. They were probably old in 1944, at least a lot older than they were then. And they are easily distinguishable from the kachinas that you can buy now in Santa Fe when you go there. But there is also a collection of American Indian southwest jewelry, usually called Navaho jewelry. Most of it is silver, silver and turquoise, coral, sometimes shell to it. A big collection of American Indian paintings—these are watercolor paintings, not paintings of Indians, except of Indians by Indians in their own particular techniques, some of which are considered quite (inaudible).

I:          Could you tell us a little bit about the transformation of the Bayou Bend house from her home to the museum?

EM:     57:29 Well, you see, as Mrs. Houghton said, I was not here when it actually occurred, but it made a resounding splash in the news, because, as Mr. de Montebello used to say after he came, it was the jewel in the museum’s crown. It was an accomplishment almost unique. There was nothing really bad in it. In other words, she didn’t have to accept anybody’s gift. She may have accepted a few gifts during her time. There are a lot of gifts since then, continuing, which are good, but she had expert help and she had a good eye and she was vitally interested. She gave the building, she gave its contents. She didn’t give the contents all at once, actually. There was still a good many things in the collection that had not been given at the time of her death, but they were given immediately at that point. She gave them as it fitted her tax structure each year. And Ms. (__??)58:41, her secretary for a good many years, used to send over the list of the (inaudible) had given—an inimitable, but very characteristic signature.


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I:          What kind of activities were you aware of from 1957, when the gift was announced, to 1966, when it was really opened as a museum?

EM:     I don’t know the exact sequence of those acts, but one of the things that she did as she was continuing to change the building into a museum, rather than from a residence—it was always a wonderful residence. And if you walk through it now, you’ll think probably it’s beautiful to see, with the exception of two rooms, I don’t think I’d want to live here. The blue room, or the Massachusetts Room—I think it’s the Massachusetts Room—is a beautiful room, but it is so dark you can hardly see anything in it. And the kind of lights that are characteristic, they’re not the kind that she had. It was maybe painted blue when she lived there, but she had lamps and things of that nature that we find that we have to live with. So it gradually ceased to be a private residence. She moved into smaller and smaller personal quarters until she was in a bedroom, dressing room, bath, and a sitting room. She still entertained there occasionally because she had a good kitchen, and she also had a dining room. Those made it a very habitable place for one person. But it was designed—you know—to be a habitation for three people. The East Wing, that’s where the Texas Room is upstairs and the Newport Room—that used to be her brother’s place. There’s even a part called the Gymnasium, if you look at the plans. And that was gradually turned into specific—the designated areas for specific things that were characteristic of the areas that they were in. In the Newport Room, the kinds of things that were found were things from the late 17th, early 18th century, I believe, in Newport. She finally moved out. She moved to Inwood Manor. Then her personal spaces were remodeled.

I2:        Did Ms. Hogg’s influence in the direction of the total museum increase after 1957 or after, do you think, as a result of this gift?

EM:     Well, let’s see. I don’t know if I interpreted that correctly. Her influence, is that what you said?

I2:        Yes.

EM:     Well, the museum found that it had a wonderful thing that it also had to help support. There was an endowment, but it really, I don’t believe, was adequate to support it, because even by that time, I suppose, prices were gradually beginning to rise. So the museum has had to support it since, and it has, I think, done so very well. Thanks to something like the River Oaks Garden Club, the great burden of keeping up the wonderful grounds is not a financial burden to the museum because they take care of that. They also keep the flowers in the house, which is a wonderful thing. I do not know whether Ms. Hogg—whether there was a bequest at the end of her life or not, but all of the artifacts that were there that had not been deeded, as I said, then became—

(End Tape 1)

(Start Tape 2)

I:          You were telling us about the development of the docent program.

EM:     Well, it is my impression—I don’t think I’m too far off—but I have a feeling that it was Ms. Ima Hogg’s idea to do very much what had been done at Winterthur—doubtless she had been there. Bayou Bend, after all, is sort of her Winterthur away from Winterthur—about the same size. It seems to me a nice way, homogenous, and approachable in a single space of time to visit it. Winterthur, one tour won’t do. A tour in the morning and a tour in the afternoon won’t do if you really want to see it. But somebody must have recommended, or she may have made inquiries—of course, she wouldn’t hesitate to have asked whoever the director of Winterthur was at the time if he could recommend someone to train the docents. I think Jonathon Fairbanks either was just finishing his internship there or had finished it. He came here for a number of months to train the docents. I know that they made lots and lots of tapes. I think this was before cassettes were used. They were, I think, reel-to-reel. If I’m not mistaken, Sandy Thompson, transcribed a lot of the tapes, which is a very difficult thing to do from a reel-to-reel tape, and I guess probably hard to do with anything. But I also believe that Ms. Hogg finally offered Mr. Fairbanks the job as curator of Bayou Bend. I think he was offered the job in Boston about that time, or maybe he’d already taken the job in Boston and maybe she wanted to hire him away. I don’t really know that. But he, obviously, did not accept the job, and so she sought someone else, and David Warren was the one that she found. He was curator at Bayou Bend for a number of years—some of the happiest years of his life, according to what he’s said. He was there. Mr. Sweeney was here. Mr. Sweeney wasn’t terribly interested in Bayou Bend. He didn’t go to advisory meetings very often. When he did, Sandy said he’d go to sleep. So David had a fairly free hand in running things the way he wanted, and he did so conscientiously. But it’s nice to be your own boss when you know what you want to do and have the means to do it, and I think David did. Only at the time of de Montebello coming did a director here, other than Mr. Chillman, show a really great interest in Bayou Bend. And I don’t think that he was an interferer in any way, because that was not his real field, but I think he realized what it meant to this museum to have the decorative arts branch of the caliber that Ms. Hogg had provided. He did go to advisory meetings. I don’t know to what degree he put his hand in the works, but I know that David always seemed to be happy. When he left, there was a question of who should be an interim director, or, in this case, an acting director. We had a chief curator here who Mr. Montebello had picked, but I think he thought of him as not maybe quite adequate for the job. So David was the one who was most likely, and I heartily encouraged him to do it. I liked (__??)04:05 very much, but I just didn’t feel he was from the kind of background or experience or, really, dedication that I thought David had. And I think I turned out to be right. He was a good intermediate director. He stayed there as long as Ms. Hogg—no, he wasn’t. He came here. Ms. Hogg could not find a director after David had come here as associate director, and then they picked (inaudible).


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I:          Well, this seems like a reasonable place to stop for the day.

(Break in tape)

I:          The rest of this recording was made on April 7, 1981. It is a subsequent interview with Mr. Edward Mayo.

I2:        Mr. Mayo, in our previous interview, we ended the interview discussing Ms. Ima Hogg and the various collections of art she has given to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. One question which we would like to ask in relation to Ms. Hogg and other people like her who lived in Houston for many, many years was this: We wanted to know if there were very many people in Houston in the late part of the 19th Century/the early part of the 20th Century who were putting together collections of various works of art, whether they be the decorative arts or paintings or sculpture or whatever. Not necessarily people who have given those collections to the Museum of Fine Arts, but was there any interest that you know about in that period of time during the very early development of the museum and prior to that of people being interested in collecting things in their homes?

EM:     06:30.1 I probably am aware of it to the degree that I am aware of it very much in retrospect probably mostly from hearsay. You mentioned that the collections that came to the museum are not the ones of particular interest at this moment. I think we probably should mention what is usually thought of as the Endowment Collection at this museum, since it was collected almost entirely by Mr. George Dixon, or I think him and his sister. There is also Mr. John Dixon who was once president of this museum, who was, I believe, a very minor collector. A good many people, when hearing the word ‘Dixon,’ confuse all of them because they’ve been gone for quite some time. Mrs. John Dixon remarried and lived for a long time and only died a few years ago.

I2:        What was her new name?

EM:     Her new name was—oh, my goodness. When I first started working at the museum in 1961, she and her husband came to every museum ball. They not only came to the balls, they danced practically every dance, and they lived not very far from here. They lived on either South or North Boulevard. I have forgotten the house now. I did not know when she had died, but I knew and grew up in the neighborhood with one of her nieces on her side—Mrs. Dixon’s side—or Mrs.—I can’t think of her second name. It was a very unusual sort of short name that—I knew that she was the person coming to the ball long before I found out she was the former Mrs. John Dixon.


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I:          So she really had a long, continuing interest in the museum?

EM:     Well, she did, but not very strong interest, as far as that. I think she, in her later years, was a little confused about where the Dixon paintings and other works came from. I think she thought they might have been from her husband, and they really were not; they were from her brother-in-law. Then there was old Major Dixon that I did hear about. He lived in a house that is now occupied, I believe, by the Shell filling station on the corner of Alabama and Montrose. And he was supposed to have had a collection of armor. Whatever happened to it, I don’t know. There is an elderly lady in town that used to refer to the armor. This lady is still alive, and if I would ask her, she might say, “Oh, yes, there was armor.” But none of the armor, if indeed there was any, ever came to the museum. But the Endowment Collection—the first collection of about 52 objects, including some paintings—I think I mentioned to you before that there was a painting by Gerome, The Tiger on the Watch. That was one of the paintings that are still exhibited. That was in the endowment bequest, and it was mostly works that had been collected by Mr. George Dixon. There was another one by Anton Mauve that’s been up from time to time. Very few of the other things—that’s a coffee pot. (Laughs) There was another woman, Agnes Hamilton, who lived on the corner of Main and West Gray in a house that has been torn down. Actually, a good many of them have. My memory is not that young anymore. She collected strange things. She came back from China once with a lot of Chinese costumes. Unfortunately, the quality of her collection was not very high. She was a woman of, I guess, far better than moderate means, and she did a great deal of good with it. One of the things she did was to provide a studio on the third floor of her rather sizable house for local artists. I think, actually, Ms. Uler, who we mentioned before, was one of the people who had a studio in her attic. I went through the house just before it was torn down because I had never been in it before, and I noticed that on the ceiling, over a stairway, as you entered that part, where it was easy to reach, a lot of artists had signed their names. They had either been visiting the studio, or maybe had studios themselves there at one time. It was not a gigantic space. I doubt there was more than one occupant at a time. She also had—among the Chinese things she had brought back were some tiles that she worked into her railing on the house. Entirely out of character with the rest of the Victorian edifice, but she had it done anyway, and I think they were there until it was demolished. I think it was demolished maybe before her demise. But what happened to the tiles, I don’t know.

EM:     12:28.5 Who else? Is there anybody else that I ever heard of collecting? I know now that there are people who collected after the museum was opened and were influenced very much by works that were borrowed from galleries, and sometimes people bought them. Every now and then, something that was bought has come back to us. I can’t think of any specific instances, but I know that Mrs. Cullinan has a number of things in her collection that came to her from her father. And one of the pieces is a promised gift. It’s a Bierstadt, and it’s a drawing of a branch. That may be what she was pointing at on the wall, which was blank—

I:          When we talked to her?

EM:     —when you talked to her because it was probably—at the time, our permanent heritage exhibition was in progress in Upper Brown Pavilion, and it’s a promised gift and he borrowed it from her for the exhibition. Only things that were either gifts or promised gifts were included in the handbook, and the exhibition was to celebrate the fact that the handbook had been completed. Unfortunately, they didn’t get the first copy until after the exhibition was over, but, nevertheless, it gave us and a lot of our friends a chance to see things that had been pulled out of the collection and put together in sort of a continuous, sunny, homogenous space. People said, “Why don’t you show us these things more often?” They’re in our exhibition all the time, but just in different context and not always this visible.


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I2:        I believe I have heard that Ms. Hogg, for example, started collecting both works of art and decorative arts back as early the 1920s or earlier than that. And didn’t she correspond with other collectors around the country?

EM:     14:32.2 I have a feeling that she did that. There are people who would know the answer to that question. Her long-time secretary is still around and would know all of these things. Even if she was not associated with her at that time, she would have found that. Do you know Jane Zively? Does that name mean anything to you? The whole time that I’ve been at the museum, she was Mrs. Hogg’s secretary. I talked to her every now and then. She has retired completely. She stayed with the Hogg estate until it was completely settled, but after it was settled, she just retired. She didn’t have to work anywhere, I believe. But she, I’m sure, would know all of these things. I really don’t know what Ms. Hogg collected before she started giving things to the museum. I think the earliest thing she gave was in 1939, and they probably were the German expressionist prints and watercolors and works of that nature. They’re not all German expressionists because there’s a little John Singer Sargent watercolor that had the strange title in the records as A Man Always Reigns. Well, someone read the French and thought they were reading English because it’s written in pen on the face of the watercolor 16:06.2 (French). So, for a long time, it was completely and entirely mislabeled. And the funny thing is, it’s a woman dressed after her bath, I think. She has a drapery. You may have seen it some time. It’s a small watercolor. And I think there is a man’s head sort of in the distance in the dark. It’s very rather dark. People who came and—Sweeney was never interested in that sort of thing. Mr. Chillman probably was. He probably didn’t pay much attention to it. He didn’t have time for that kind of detail. The person who registered it the first time just put that as the title. It seemed the logical thing. And then it was not discovered until Philippe de Montebello, a good Frenchman, you see. If Sweeney had looked at it, he would have known because he spoke French almost as well as he spoke English.


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I2:        17:10.3 In 1954, Mrs. Nina Cullinan announced a gift in memory of her parents a new exhibition hall to be designed by “an architect of international reputation.” The Cullinan Hall, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was opened on October 19, 1958. Mrs. Cullinan’s father, Joseph Stephen Cullinan, had provided, in 1917, money to purchase—(phone rings)—(break in tape).

I2:        Mrs. Cullinan’s father had provided, in 1917, money to purchase part of the land on which the museum now stands. Mrs. Cullinan herself has been actively involved with the museum most of her adult life. How would you characterize Mrs. Cullinan?

EM:     First of all, she’s one of the nicest, most thoughtful people in the world, and is, I find—more recently than I thought—I had not found earlier—that she is a woman of great backbone and fortitude. I heard her defend a mutual acquaintance—a friend of hers and the person that she had to defend her against—in a way that I thought was absolutely marvelous. I’m sorry that I cannot tell you exactly who it was. But one person vilifying another one—all three people known to each other—and Mrs. Cullinan very staunchly sticking up for the third party without being rancorous with the person who was mad. And she did it absolutely wonderfully. I think it was a side of her character that I’d never had a chance to observe before. I’ve always liked the lady. First of all, I’ve always liked Mrs. Cullinan’s looks. She has always been a handsome woman that I remember. She’s never been—I probably didn’t know her when she was very young, but she, I think, is one of these people who have really matured wonderfully well. Now, we’re not talking about her in the proper context of this museum. She has been a continuous friend to this museum, but she is also a continuous friend of art in more than this location. She is a friend of the arts, other than just the classic arts—paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints. She once told me that she always liked to go to the new operas, but she wasn’t very interested in going to the old warhorses. I know that she’s now a big supporter of the ballet foundation, too. I’m sure she is. And she has always been a staunch supporter of the Contemporary Arts—as it was first known—Association, now known as the Contemporary Arts Museum. I don’t think I have ever seen it in writing, but I understood from the time that Cullinan Hall was built that she had said that it should be made available to the Contemporary Art Museum on occasion when they need it. That’s when they had a much smaller facility than they have now, and it has been used on several occasions for exhibitions and on one occasion for a ball, when Lefty Adler was director of the Contemporary Arts Museum. They asked for it as a location for a fund-raising ball, and it was granted. I don’t think they have used it since then, and now don’t really need to use it. They have their own space, adequate for the moment, anyway.

I2:        21:31.6 Do you believe that her influence has been one of the greatest factors in the mutual agreement—or the mutual friendship—between the two museums?

EM:     I don’t know for a fact that that is so, but I would think that it could not help but have been very influencing. There have been times when there was no interaction between the two museums at all. But for the longest period of time, there was. The first two exhibitions that the Contemporary Arts Association did were done here in this museum.


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I:          After the flood in 1976, is it true that this museum helped the Contemporary Arts Museum, took things in?

EM:     We did. We were fortunate at that moment not to have any damage ourselves and also not to have an exhibition in Cullinan Hall, so we had an empty space. So many, many, many wet things were brought over and laid out to dry. Big fans were brought in. Air was passed over them to hopefully keep them from molding. Not everything that got wet was destroyed. Unfortunately, a great deal that got wet was destroyed. Records in particular were hard to protect. NASA did their part in providing some sort of a freeze drying technique. They were able to dry documents and remove the water at the same time—I mean—to freeze them and remove the water so they wouldn’t stick together. Many things did. There were a lot of things damaged, but the minute everybody knew what happened over there, this museum rushed to offer our help.

I:          Mrs. Cullinan has commented that she feels one of the very important qualities of a board member and an art collector, also, is to be open-minded. Is that evident in her influences here?

EM:     Well, I presume so. Mrs. Cullinan, from time to time, has been on what is known as the Session Committee. The Session Committee is an anonymous group up made up of—it’s not an anonymous group entirely because the group must be picked from the board of trustees. But it is an anonymous group from the board of trustees. Since Mr. Agee has been here, they have met regularly. In Mr. de Montebello’s time, they met regularly. In Mr. Sweeney’s time they met once, and I don’t think they ever met again. I think they all got mad at him and resigned. But she has been on a lot. I’m sure that she has always had something to say. I’ve never been privy to be on a Session Committee. It’s not appropriate that I be, and it sure isn’t necessary. But I think maybe that it has affected the collection in that fashion. I really think that the thing that she did that has affected the museum the most is the gift of Cullinan Hall. I don’t know what would have happened, or when anything would have happened, if she hadn’t done it. Her desire to have an architect of international repute I think was very well echoed by most everybody who was involved with it. I was not involved with the museum at that time. I was rather put out that a local architect was not chosen. I was trying to be an architect myself. I don’t mean that I should have been chosen, because I surely would not have been capable. In fact, I haven’t tried to be an architect for a long time, long enough to find out I couldn’t be. But I thought, after World War II, Houston was an emerging—it had never stopped, except it sort of simmered down during the war. It had been building, building, and building my whole life, and has continued since the war to build more and more and more. But we had firms here that were designing structures the size of which had never been designed before. My nose-out-of-jointness (sic) was not at Mrs. Cullinan by any means. I just felt, “It’s too bad they didn’t get somebody local.” Now I don’t feel that way at all. I think Mr. van der Rohe was capable of making the space as anybody else. However, he was capable of bringing something else to the museum I never realized was here until I looked. I finally found the real joy of architecture. To be in Cullinan Hall—to walk down the stairway—was a very joyful experience, something I could never have ever have hoped to achieve in my efforts at architecture, but I found out that they were there. There were some advantageous aspects of the neatest parts of this building. There were some advantageous aspects of Mr. Franzheim’s part of the building that was called the Blaffer Wing. And there were some to Mr. Watkin’s original structure. But the real joyful aspects are still here, and using them is a challenge. Cullinan Hall is a challenge. Mr. Sweeney met it, and he did it with an innovative approach to handling it. But it’s not the typical sort of space, and it can’t be handled in a typical manner. I think, therefore, that her foresightedness in giving the museum—therefore the people of Houston—the structure—first of all, the first part of the structure, as you all remember, do you not—where the metal work was painted white and the glass wall up about 30 feet—which is about the height of the ceiling—was a beautiful building. It was really more beautiful than what we have now. But this is a more typical building.


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I:          The one we have now?

EM:     28:47.5 The façade that we now see. I believe that Mrs. Cullinan felt that her Cullinan Hall was diminished a little bit when it became the interior court. That was Mies’ intention from the very beginning. Had there been enough money to build the whole building, he would have built it as it has been built since. Certain areas might be different, but this is essentially what he wanted.

I2:        One more question about Mrs. Cullinan. She did continually say that an open mind was the most important quality that a person could have. We understand that she collects a number of different types of art for her own pleasure, I gather, and I was wondering if that comes through in her gifts to the museum?

EM:     I don’t think she has given many works of her own. Let’s just look and see what she did here. Some of this—you didn’t want a list, but this is short and it’s varied, so probably what you are saying may be going out there better than I thought it would be. The very first work that she herself contributed, in 1945, she gave 30:33 (Twelve Mothers??), by a French artist. In 1947, she gave the Charles Umlauf (__??), the bronze that’s on the south lawn of the museum. Three years later, she gave a couple of John Sloane illustrations. They’re black, as I recall, oil paintings, but the style of oil painting that were done just as book illustrations. And she gave a pen and ink sketch of Howard Pyle. Nobody knows very much about Howard Pyle these days, but at one time his name was very well known. And she gave a Persian bowl in 1964.

(Break in Tape)

EM:     31:32.1 There’s the (Mango??) painting, and Edward Rucha drawing—gun powder drawing—called Babycakes, because the words in the drawing spell Babycakes. There’s a Ralph Humphrey, which is an extremely difficult painting for me to take. It’s right outside the door. It’s pink and yellow and blue, I believe, and has a lot of                  three-dimensional pieces stuck on it. I’m beginning to like it. And there’s a very dark, black painting that appeals to me tremendously by Lois Lane. It’s hanging now in Cullinan Hall. I think the pink card is of interest. You notice all the other cards are blue. This says, “Gift, not to be accessioned. Groundbreaking spade. Gift of Mrs. Nina Cullinan.” And you will be happy to know that it was used to break ground for Cullinan Hall. It was a regular, long-handled spade with a pointed end that had been chrome plated or nickel plated. And not at the time, but not too long thereafter, she had a little silver plate made for the groundbreaking at Cullinan Hall. The hall, of course, she gave in memory of her mother and father. This spade was used for groundbreaking at the Brown Pavillion. It was used for the groundbreaking of the Glassell School.


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I2:        Mr. Harris Masterson has been interested in the museum for many years and has served as president of the museum in the recent past. He and Mrs. Masterson had made numerous donations of works of art over the years and continue to do so. What has been Mr. Masterson’s role in the development of the museum, especially from the standpoint of building collections?

EM:     33:36.2 This big stack of cards is Masterson gifts. A lot of them are individual cards, but the first bunch of cards—see—they were just one right after the other. Almost everything that Mr. and Mrs. Masterson have given, it’s really augmented the decorative arts collection and it’s mostly porcelain. He’s still interested in that. He has been a big collector himself in that area. He’s given us a wide variety of things. Our associate curator here that is real interested in decorative arts can tell you exactly the sort of things that he has given. But he has given us some paintings over the years, and he has of course collected omnivorously himself. He’s collected paintings and I think probably considerable varying degrees of the finest. Maybe his decorative arts are that way, too. But when he finally built a fine house, he wanted fine things for it, and it’s a very great pleasure to go there. You feel like you are surrounded by just the sort of thing that that kind of house should have in it.

I2:        You know Mr. Masterson personally?

EM:     I know him personally, and I feel I know him well enough to call him Harry. He calls me Ed. But I don’t think I know Mrs. Masterson well enough to call her Carol, so I call her Mrs. Masterson. And she speaks to me, and I don’t know if she’s ever called me by name or not. But I would not say by any means that we could be called close friends. But he has always been extremely nice to me. He is one of the presidents, and when we had the salaried president, his title was changed to chairman of the board. And now Mr. Arnold, even though we do not have a salaried president, is stilled called chairman of the board. I presume that it is a title that will remain. We don’t seem to be getting another salaried president, and I don’t imagine that we will any time soon. But Mr. Masterson is thoughtful. He must be one of the nicest people in the world. He always remembered us. The best aftershave lotion I’ve ever had in my life was from him. And he’s changed; he doesn’t do that anymore. But he still remembers you even though he’s not chairman of the board anymore.

I:          Has he spent significant time at the museum?

EM:     Oh, yes indeed. I once—at a party that wasn’t too large, where I did have a chance to chat with Mrs. Masterson—I said something about how impressed I was with his apparent dedication. Because of the time he spent here—early in the morning they had budget committee time of the year. They met here, and the committee met early. And I said, “Is it his natural way of life to get up early in the morning?” She said, “You can believe it is not. It’s not his way at all.” But he did it, and he was at their meetings. I’m sure they were at 8:00, and the museum staff doesn’t begin—is not expected to be here—until 9:00. So I think that his—once he was made president, which started off that was his first big job—I don’t know if he had any other position on the board. He’d been a board member, but he was here a great deal. And I notice now that I don’t see him as much, but he is still, I think, on the executive committee and he continues his interest. And he’s still interested in giving us things. He had some things shipped to us recently from London. So he’s still interested in acquiring, not just giving us things that he has acquired.


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I2:        Has he ever told you about the scholarship that he has acquired over the years in various fields where he collects?

EM:     No.

I2:        Has he ever discussed that with you?

EM:     38:03.5 No, I’ve never talked to him about anything like that. Actually, I find communicating with him, as nice as he is, strangely enough, a little difficult. Maybe it’s because I’m different when I’m around him. He surely is not a difficult person. It’s just sometimes knowing the right thing to say comes very easy to some people and very difficult with other people.

I2:        In 1969, the Agnes Cullen Arnold Endowment Fund for the purchase of works of art was established. Mrs. Arnold’s son, Issac Arnold, Jr., as you mentioned a minute ago, is currently chairman of the board of the museum. To what extent have the Cullen and Arnold families been involved in building up the collection?

EM:     Actually, whatever their interest was before the foundation gave the gift of 2 million dollars, subsequently augmented by, I believe, 600 thousand dollars, the proceeds from the investment of which were to be used only for the purchase of works of art. Not only was the amount prodigious and significant and a first, the real first thing was that something was given that could be used only for the purchase of works of art. They need to keep the door open, and that’s the kind of gift that is sought from everybody all the time. A maintenance fund drive is to maintain all sorts of things, but when you get a gift of this nature, it is a joyful plum. It is a wonderful thing for the curators and the director and, naturally, for the people who come to see us who have had this gift made that will provide things—and things that we would probably never have otherwise. Some of the finest things in that collection have been bought since that time with the money that has come from the investment of that endowment. And it has provided us with a great many things. Mrs. Arnold was a student at Rice who was influenced very much by Mr. Chillman’s artistry course that she took. I think that is what really started her interest. And I used to see her here when I first came. She had a friend, the wife of a doctor, who had had polio. They used to come together, and the doctor’s wife was always in a wheelchair. And getting into our museum, at that time, in a wheelchair was not always the easiest thing. It’s finally become a lot easier. We finally have a passenger elevator that stops on all levels so that you don’t have to go up in the freight elevators in a wheelchair, which is a very unpleasant thing. But Mrs. Arnold, I think, died suddenly, as I recall. And the gift was a great boon to then director, Philippe de Montebello. The proceeds have been regularly used from time to time to provide us with some really fine things. And they’re so good; I think we ought to mention some of them. The very first thing was considered, at the time of its purchase, by some sources in this country, the finest work of art acquired by a museum that year. It’s the Penitent Magdalene by Philippe de Champaigne. Shortly after that, in a vastly different area, the Vishnu and His Avatars, 10th Century sculpture from Central India, was acquired. And there was the Severin Roesen, Victorian Bouquet, which belongs to this museum just as Bayou Bend belongs to us. But in contrast to most of what is at Bayou Bend, it is our painting over there, even though they are part of us. They have their own collection, and they have their own—all their collection is identified with their own system of numbers. Probably the best 19th Century landscape that we have is a Theodore Rousseau that came along in 1972. And in ’73, two great works of art where purchased—the Benin, our first Benin bronze plaque and The Pastoral Landscape by Claude Lorrain, which is next year going to the National Gallery and to the Louvre in a large photo exhibition.


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I:          Are the decisions about these purchases with the proceeds of the foundation gift generally made by the director of the museum?

EM:     43:34.9 The director is responsible for the selection, but he cannot acquire the work without the approval of the foundation. And a number of people in the foundation are the people who are concerned with it. They all come and look at the work, the people. They don’t always come together, either. It’s been sort of touch-and-go sometimes to whether or not they were going to approve the works.

I:          You mean the work has ordinarily been brought to Houston before it was actually acquired, or do they actually travel to see it?

EM:     No, it’s usually been brought here. Now, I don’t remember about the Vishnu. Something that’s that heavy, I think it was probably brought here with that intention. I don’t know that anything has ever been proposed that has been turned down. Now and then, things have been held on the bench because sometimes you have to wait for the (night?) to approve, but you might want to get the approval anyway so that you might have it before it is actually a part of the endowment fund bequest. We have a charming small painting by Theodore Chasseriau, (__??). It’s off of—a Moorish young lady is seated in an appropriate background—a very small painting. It is entirely different than anything else we ever had in our collection. He’s not an exceptionally well-known name to the            art-going public. We have our first and only Stuart Davis and our first and only Georgia O’Keefe. We have a wonderful Henri Mastisse, portrait of a woman, Portrait of Olga Merson, and a Patrick Henry Bruce painting. What have we had since then? A Roman sarcophagus, which is unique to our collection. We have nothing like that. I think you also asked what influence this gift had on the rest of the family. Well, I believe that probably the biggest influence has been the interest that Mrs. Arnold’s son, Isaac Arnold, Jr., has shown in the museum. Significant gifts have been given by him and by his wife in memory of his grandmother and grandfather, in memory of other people as well. One of the works that was acquired during the curatorship of Patrice Marendel, the Veronese—which is a really major addition to our collection—was given by Mrs. Arnold in memory of  Hugh Roy and Lillie Cullen—grandmother and grandfather. I suppose the most prodigious piece that has come in the last 4 or 5 years was the Assyrian relief, which is another foundation purchase. And then we have just acquired—it hasn’t been announced yet, but there’s no reason why we can’t put it here. It’s been standing in the director’s office now for a while—a bronze sculpture by Aristide Mayol, which is not the first Myol in our collection, but the other one has not been seen for years. It’s only about 10 inches high, or maybe that’s with the base that it’s only 10 inches high. This is a lady who is 67 inches tall. Mr. Arnold gave this in honor of his wife, Antonette Tilly Arnold, known to most people as Tony.

I2:        In 1970, the Brown Foundation made a gift to the museum which enabled the museum to complete the master plan of Mies van der Rohe. This resulted in the Brown Pavilion, which opened on January 14, 1974. At the same time, the Brown Foundation made possible the first substantial endowment. Is this correct?

EM:     That’s right. Ten million dollars in eleven years or eleven million dollars in ten years, I can’t remember, but it is substantial, to say the least.


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I2:        And this is not only to maintain the new pavilion, but also to establish operating funds for the entire museum. In 1976, the Brown Foundation gave a 10-year challenge grant to the museum for operations and acquisitions as well as a direct grant for purchases. Can you comment on Mrs. Brown’s influence? Do you believe that she is the primary reason for the Brown Foundation’s interest in the museum?

EM:     Yes, I do.

I2:        You do?

EM:     49:22.6 Yes, I do. I think that Mr. Brown is surely in agreement or it wouldn’t have been done, but I think that she is the one who has had the interest. Strangely enough, before Mrs. Herman Brown died, the big interest in the museum seemed to be hers. But I do not remember that she ever—she may have given us one thing, and I do not know what contributions she made. She made a—she and her husband—or, I think, she outlived Mr. Brown. We recently received sort of a spin-off from Mrs. Herman Brown’s—should I say—demise. The people who bought her house and had lived in it a long time gave us two lead cats—two cat sculptures—done by—I can’t think of Zorach’s first name. A well-known sculptor, particularly well known in the ‘40s and ‘50s. I think Zorach is now dead. But the people lent the cats to an exhibition in San Antonio, and when they came back they’d been sitting outside near the door fastened around the brick. They’re not really cats. They’re like little pumas, but they are cat kind of figures. They were offered to us, and it was through Mrs. Brown once again because the Browns used to live next door to each other at Inwood. And I think that the homes they live in now are probably good friends with Mrs. Brown. I’m sure she’s a friendly neighbor. So she was the one that really sort of suggested that they give them to the museum.

I2:        Why do you think that Mrs. Herman Brown’s interest was so great? Did she come here often and do volunteer work?

EM:     She was here, yes. I used to see her here. Now whether or not she did anything other than come, I don’t know. But I did see her here because I had never known who she was until I worked at the museum. The name Brown was already a familiar name. We knew that there was Mr. George Brown and Mr. Herman Brown. I know that Mr. George Brown went to Rice. I don’t know that he ever graduated, but I know he is an engineer, so he may have graduated. But I think the Brown interested in Rice is Mr. Brown, and I think the Brown interested in arts is particularly Mrs. Brown.

I:          Does she spend much time at the museum?

EM:     I’ve seen her here many, many, many times. She’s a board member. She comes to the board meetings. She brings her friends. She brings her grandchildren. I’ve seen her a great deal. One of her friends that she has brought on a couple of occasions is a lady named Lady Bird Johnson, who I was very happy to meet through Mrs. Brown and found to be a very charming woman. This was in the midst of the opening of the Brown Pavilion. In this crowd of people, she stopped and introduced me and we chatted for 3 or 4 minutes. And as we left, Mrs. Johnson was so adroit as to say, “It’s been nice to meet you Mr. Mayo.” How she could have remembered my name when she must have met hundreds of people that evening that she never met before—? And then she was back with Mrs. Brown once again, and she remembered having met me before. Believe me; I was impressed, very impressed. But Mrs. Brown is particularly nice to me. And I know that her interest in art is very sincere. Every now and then she gives us something that she has owned for a while. One of the recent things is the only Tomayo painting that we have, and a good one, too. The director I don’t think would have been at all interested to have it if it hadn’t been, but he was very happy to have it. That’s just one of many things. I say that Mr. Brown may not be as interested. One of the things that he has given us, as you notice when you walk in the front door—and have added to the Brown Pavilion recently—was the John Singer Sargent portrait. He gave that in honor of Alice, his wife.


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I:          54:07.2 Does it seem to be extremely difficult for people who have had a piece of art in their homes and enjoyed it to part with it when they get it to the museum?

EM:     Sometimes that’s true. And before 1965, you could part with it and give it to the museum and keep it for your lifetime if you wanted and still take your tax benefit. You can’t do that anymore. IRS rules changed in 1965. We own one Picasso painting and it was given to use in 1965, just before the rules changed. So it goes back and forth. The 54:49 (s/l Tienlaws??) who gave it to us like it in their house very much. However, it’s been at our house quite a while. It came for the Permanent Heritage exhibition and hasn’t gone back yet. It’s gone to conservation this very day, strangely enough, but it will probably go home after that. So they’re generous of letting us borrow it whenever we want, and often we have other paintings that they own. (inaudible) But some people can’t part with them at all. There was a piece of oriental sculpture that Mr. and Mrs. John Blaffer gave to us, and as far as I know—well, I know in 20 years it hasn’t been in the museum. It’s fastened to a wall in the Blaffer residence—now Mrs. (__??)55:43 residence, I guess. Or maybe it’s her son’s residence. Anyway, it’s in what was the John Blaffer house. It’s called a flying apsara. I’m not sure I pronounced the word correctly. I keep forgetting to tell our relatively new curator of oriental art that we have it. We’ve tried to get it, but nobody knew how to get it off the wall. And it’s surrounded by mirror, of all things. You can’t fiddle around trying to get it off, so I suppose it will stay there, maybe, a long time. It was given when you could retain. That was given long before ’65.

I:          I guess the Brown Pavilion had already, essentially, been designed before the gift was made to build it. Is that true?

EM:     Oh, yes. Oh, yes. It was in Mies’ head. It was a part of the original model, which disappeared; nobody knows what happened to the original model. And it was in some perspective drawings. The only changes he made—now, he made the changes that are visible from the exterior. He made those changes before he died. When James Johnson Sweeney knew that there was not enough money to build the building—he knew the structure needed enlargement, and he knew Mies well enough to know that he was an ill and elderly man—he managed to find—and I think it was from the (Holly??) Foundation—the funds to have the working drawings produced while Mies was still alive. Mr. Sweeney wrote the program for the interior spaces—the offices and things of that nature. What we now call the Upper Brown Pavilion was always designed as one large gallery, looking down to Cullinan Hall. And the entrance was pretty much the same. The courtyards on the end had been added. They were not in the original, but Mies added those. He also had an eyebrow projecting canopy over the main entrance, which I think is, in a way, too bad that it is not there. That was the only thing that was changed in the exterior appearance after Mies died. They could not, apparently, design it to be structurally sound and still look the way they wanted it to look, so they just took it off. I figure it could have been made. It’s on the second level. (inaudible)


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I2:        Another couple who have donated a great deal of art to the museum is Mr. and Mrs. John Beck. Could you tell us a little bit about them and how that all came about?

EM:     58:55.0 Well, until a few weeks ago, I thought that Mr. Beck was the person who was interested in art collection. But I found out from Mrs. Beck herself that he only became interested because of her very adroit handling of him. He was an engineer. Engineering was his business, and he continued long after he and Audrey were married. But they built a house and they built a partition for the house, so they had a lot of space. They bought a few not-very-expensive paintings. But she would borrow something from a gallery that she was interested in, and it would be hung in the house. And he would say, “We couldn’t possible afford that,” apparently, and then he would become very attached to it. So gradually, she managed to win over his interest. And when they travelled—they travelled to France a lot. They were a very close couple. They were very close to each other. They didn’t worry, I don’t think, too much with a lot of other friends. They had friends, but they just didn’t have great, gigantic parties. Audrey has apparently never liked that sort of thing. But until Houston Endowment—which we all know is, shall we say, the offspring of her uncle and grandfather, Jesse Jones—gave us the South Pacific Crocodile and the Chillida sculpture that sits on the lawn, I don’t think I’d ever seen her. She was just very well known. I might have seen her once or twice, but she came to the Chillida exhibition opening, which the sculpture on the lawn was part of. Those were the only two things the Houston Endowment gave us, but they are two very important things. One you will find in the handbook, one you will not. I think the real collecting—they bought minor artists to begin with, a good many of which they disposed of. I think if Mr. Beck had stayed alive, the collection would not have remained as it is. I think there are lots of things in it that he probably would have traded in on other things, because he was spending—or they were spending—full-time. I think he had retired, and, at the time, the Brown Pavilion was to be opened. Other art galleries had become—or other spaces had been turned into galleries, spaces that had been offices. Part of the space that was once a little auditorium—before it was a little auditorium—was the original library and the director’s office. These became available for other friends. John and Audrey Beck had agreed to lend us their collection for the inauguration and to leave a part of it here. It was housed in part of what is now called the Lower Jones Galleries and the Jones (Curve??).

(End of tape two)

(Start tape three)


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EM:     The Becks had agreed to lend to the museum almost their total collection for the inauguration of the Brown Pavilion. They also suggested that they would leave a number of those on long-term loan to the museum. Unfortunately, during their stay, before the termination of the original period that, I think, had been decided upon, Mr. Beck died. Mrs. Beck was very reluctant to take the paintings home for security reasons, so she almost immediately gave us nine of the paintings and left the rest here on long-term loan. She has never given us any of the others that she left, but she has given us five or six other paintings to add to the collection since that time. This brings up the question that refers back to Mr. Masterson and will show you the generosity of his spirit. There is one of the galleries housing that collection. I think it’s the most southerly—easterly—they’re all on the east side of the building and it’s the most southerly gallery. The one you enter off of the older part of the building. That was the Masterson Decorative Arts Gallery. When the Brown Pavilion was opened, it was opened for the first time. Mrs. Beck felt that the paintings hung in the corridor were in too small a space. They were too enclosed. Now who actually arranged for the change of the situation, the restructuring of the galleries, I’m not sure, but the Masterson’s agree to let the Masterson Decorative Arts Gallery be used to hang the Beck paintings. And that’s what’s happened since then. And I think that—with Mr. Masterson’s particular interest in decorative arts—I think that was an extremely generous thing for him to do. Well, we hope to someday own all of those paintings. There’s not a one that’s there that we wouldn’t like to have. But whether we will or not—I don’t know. It depends on how well she continues to like us. Anyone can change their mind.

I:          02:54.1 I think that you said, if I understood right, that Mrs. Brown felt that the corridor was not adequate?

EM:     Did I say Brown? I’m sorry I meant Beck. If I said Mrs. Brown, I meant Mrs. Beck.

I:          I wanted to clarify.

EM:     That’s good. If I said Brown—I heard that she felt that they were a little tight. We had, at the time, a curator on our staff, Thomas (Peeley?), III, who now is a curator in San Francisco at the San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts. He’s at the Legion of Honor, but his office is at the de Young Museum. They have the same administration. He was, and still is, a very close friend of Mrs. Beck’s. Maybe it was he who ascertained how she felt about them and who broached the subject to Mr. Masterson. I haven’t any idea, but apparently he did it without any reluctance. I can imagine he might have been disappointed because it was a very handsome decorative arts gallery.

I2:        Now what has happened to the things that were in the—that the Masterson’s gave—the decorative arts that were in there?

EM:     There were other decorative arts that they hadn’t given, but right now most of them are not on exhibition because of the rearrangement of the galleries on the second floor. The Arnold gallery, which is what we used to call the Weiss Balcony—or the Weiss 04:25 (__??)—right outside the Weiss Gallery—is to be decorative arts, but the cases have not yet been built. There are a few pieces of decorative art, some of his porcelain, integrated into appropriate parts of the museum—in the new situations upstairs. But there will be a lot more exhibited.


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I:          Was there another acquisition through the Cullen Foundation that we missed earlier?

EM:     Yes, there is one. It’s a very important one. I don’t know how I could have missed it. This is not the Agnes Cullen Arnold Foundation, this is just the Cullen Foundation which is separate. When the four Matisse backs were acquired, their price was such that no one person would give them all. One of the backs was given by the foundation in memory of Hugh and Lily Cullen. It’s probably doubly appropriate in that they are thought to be really acquired for the forthcoming sculpture garden, and they will be exhibited outside. The set that the Museum of Modern Art owns is exhibited in its garden. When the sculpture garden is a reality, or when it’s going to be, we don’t know. We don’t see it happening right now. But something must be in the works because our public information officer came and asked us for some more of the photographs for the models. I guess something is afoot.

I2:        Mr. Mayo, have we left out anyone who should certainly be mentioned here among the museum’s—?

EM:     06:27.4 The only people that we haven’t talked about that we really should have talked about that I can think of offhand—there are lots of individual cases. We could probably go on and talk for a couple of more days if we listed everybody who has done something good for the museum. There are people who have done things that we don’t even know about. But we probably should have talked about the Blaffers. I wonder if maybe we shouldn’t do it right now, at least briefly. First of all, at the time the Blaffer wing was constructed, there was a great step forward for the museum. First of all, it was the first structure that had been added to the museum since 1926. This was in—

I2:        I believe it was in the 1950s, wasn’t it?

EM:     I think it was about ’54?

I2:        1953 is when the Blaffer Memorial Wing was completed.

EM:     Yes. That was the first structure that was built in a long, long time. It made certain spaces available, and it produced the first air-conditioned space in the museum. The Kress Foundation wanted to give the paintings that they were going to give to us, but they would not give them until there was a space available that had climate control. In other words, it needed humidity and temperature control. Well, the Blaffer Wing was connected to what was known as the Sterling Wing. It wasn’t so much the Sterling Wing; it was the Sterling Galleries. And the Sterling Gallery was the upstairs portion of the east—I sure hope I didn’t say that the Beck Galleries were on the east because they’re on the west. I bet I did. Anyway, the Sterling Gallery became the Sterling Gallery because the money that refurbished it—that completed it—was an empty shell of a structure that was used as a museum school. The senior school was upstairs and the lower portion was the junior school. They had never been completed as galleries, but they had been planned to be used as galleries. When Mr. Frank Sterling died, he left his house to the Museum of Fine Arts. The Museum of Fine Arts sold it to Mr. Gus Wortham.

I2:        Where was this house located?

EM:     09:25.9 It was located on South Boulevard, where it still is, and I see is in the process of being remodeled again, since Mrs. Wortham died.


cue point


I:          The Worthams lived there for a long time.

EM:     Yes, they lived there for a—actually, they remodeled it, and before it was completed it burned in a very serious fire. They had to do it all over again. After that, they lived there until he died, and then she died. But the Frank Sterlings, of course, were Mrs. Harris Masterson’s mother and father. The whole thing just ties together rather beautifully. Mrs. Sterling lived a long time. We have a little gallery named in her memory. It’s called the Isla Turner Gallery, because she married Mr. Turner after Mr. Sterling died. That money refurbished that gallery—or the place into a gallery—and the air conditioning for that section of the building was built into the basement of the Blaffer Wing. The school moved downstairs below the Blaffer Gallery and the Blaffer Wing, and what had been the school section in the old building was fresh as a junior gallery called the Masterson Junior Gallery. And that was probably the first thing that Mr. and Mrs. Masterson had done for the museum that had their name attached to it. And they had given us a few paintings before that. I don’t remember exactly when the paintings were given that they gave. The Masterson Junior Gallery is now called the Masterson Study Gallery. This is a change of terminology approved by him, once again, showing the very cooperative attitude. We not only had a new gallery with air conditioning, Mrs. Blaffer then started to give us paintings, and she gave us a number of important things—the Cezanne, Madame Cezanne in Blue, probably the most important. Two Canalettos were important, also. Her daughter, Jane Owen, gave us—Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Dale Owen—gave us the Guillard, a large Guiliard, which is considered one of the gems in our collection. They gave us the painting by (Franz Haas?). Well, a number of other things, too. Two paintings by Giavoanni di Paolo and a Cosimo Rosselli, Man with Paint—a late Renaissance painting, I believe. So they might have given the best paintings to their children. I’m not absolutely sure about that. Who knows what she gave them and what they acquired for themselves if they were in a position to do that. But she gave us the Degas. She also gave us a Soutine, and borrowed them back. Maybe Mr. Malone lent them to her at the time Cullinan Hall was built. I don’t know. And when it came time for the inaugural of the Brown Pavilion, Mr. de Montebello asked if Mrs. Blaffer would let us borrow the Soutine and the Degas back in honor of the opening.

I:          Borrowed?

EM:     Borrowed them back, I guess. I’m sure he didn’t say, “Can we have them back.” I don’t know exactly what he said. But the idea was to have them for the opening and probably let her have them back after that if she wanted them. But she wouldn’t do it. (Laughs)

I2:        She had grown fond of them.

EM:     13:37.6 Why she wouldn’t do it I don’t know. I think probably it was all based on the fact that she lost her affection for the museum, maybe a number of times, but surely the last time, when she offered a painting to the museum when Mr. Sweeney was here. He was suspicious of its authenticity. I think finally, with the aid of people he thought were experts—that it was not what she said it was. She took it back, and she gave us a painting in place of it.  I presume she had already taken a tax deduction on it, and she had to have something. The 14:22 (Vertucci??) that she gave now hangs regularly and is in the handbook. It’s the last thing she ever gave us. I think if she had lived to be 2000 she never would have (inaudible). And that was sort of the end of her relationship—friendly relationship—with this museum. She gave the painting away again, however. She gave it to the Fogg Museum at Harvard, and they accepted it. (Laughs) But do they show it? We don’t know. She was an exceptional person.

I2:        Well, is there anyone else that you think that we should—?

EM:     I can’t think of anyone else. For some reason, I’m terribly tired today. I think it’s because we have just received five van loads mostly of sculpture, also of paintings and some drawings by Mr. Herbert Ferber. Mr. Ferber arrived last night and arrived on our doorstep this morning just about the time the ten pieces that were too large to go up in our freight elevator had to be craned up outside through an opening that is only the Upper Brown Pavilion wall because Philippe de Montebello, for some reason, anticipated we were going to need something like that. He was the one that influenced the architects to design this moveable portion.

I2:        Is this the first time it’s been used?

EM:     No. They’ve used it several times. The 80,000 dollars that we saved by not building a bigger elevator has probably been more than used up paying crane operators fees.

I:          The day in the life of the Museum of Fine Arts.

EM:     We used to—these ten pieces all went up very well. We enlisted the aid of someone who has done a lot of heavy moving of works of art, as well as other things. We got Jim Love, who has had some of his heavy pieces moved by these same people to supervise because Jim knows about heavy sculpture, and he knows about doing things like this. The services that were provided wanted somebody to be there for supervision. They worked together beautifully. Everybody cooperated. Our preparations department had to take things in upstairs and move them aided and abetted by people in our maintenance department. We have a number of people who have some versatility, and some of the maintenance people work downstairs. But it’s a very great load—pun, I guess, is intended—now we’ll see what happens. Mr. Ferber is going to be here and brought his assistant with him. A good many of the sculptures belong to him, so it’s quite all right for him to do anything he wants to his own. But the curator in charge has canvassed everybody else to see if they will permit him to do what he feels is necessary to sculptures that you may not have seen for 10 years or something like that if they need attention. Most of them said yes; only two or three said no. (Laughs)

I2:        Well, thank you so much for your great generosity of time. This has been quite a long interview, but it certainly has been most informative.

EM:     Well, you’re quite a liberty to remove anything you need to delete.

I:          We would not consider it.

I2:        We wouldn’t think of it.

I:          Thank you so much.

I2:        Thank you very much.

EM:     My pleasure.

(End of dictation)