The museum devoted to American modernist Georgia O’Keeffe is in downtown Santa Fe, but from the list of benefactors posted on its plastered adobe walls, you’d think it was smack-dab in the middle of Texas. The roster reads like a who’s who of the state’s philanthropists and philanthropic groups, from retired Neiman Marcus chairman Stanley Marcus and Southwest Airlines founder Rollin King to the foundations named for Fort Worth’s Burnett family and Texas Instruments co-founder Eugene McDermott. Typically, Texas art lovers give to institutions closer to home, such as the Dallas Museum of Art or Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum. But the state’s arts patrons have opened their hearts—and checkbooks—to the two-year-old Georgia O’Keeffe Museum as if it were one of their own. And, in a sense, it is.
“The genesis came from Texas,” says Fort Worth grandee John Marion, who in twenty years as the chairman of the auction house Sotheby’s Incorporated gaveled down paintings worth millions of dollars, including the most expensive painting in history: Vincent van Gogh’s Irises, which sold for $49 million. It was Marion’s wife, Anne Windfohr Marion, a member of one of Texas’ wealthiest families, who decided that an O’Keeffe museum needed to be built with private money— her money. Anne Marion is the great-granddaughter of rancher and oil baron Burk Burnett and the daughter of Anne Burnett Tandy, whose husband, Charles, acquired Radio Shack for his Tandy Corporation. The seed money for the museum came from the Burnett Foundation, which Anne Tandy founded in 1978 and which Anne Marion now heads. The foundation gave almost $10 million to buy the O’Keeffe museum building and much of its permanent collection.
Other well-connected Texans—many of whom live part of the year in Santa Fe—are members of the museum’s board of directors. In fact, more than a third of the fourteen-member board are from Texas: the Marions; King, who is its president; Christopher Sarofim, who is the son of Houston philanthropist extraordinaire Louisa Stude Sarofim and investment whiz Fayez Sarofim and is a principal in Fayez Sarofim and Company; and Stanley Marcus’ wife, Linda. And one of the board’s consultants is Dallas native Juan Hamilton, the sculptor and controversial O’Keeffe friend who inherited much of her estate.
Then there are the donors who helped the museum raise $10 million before it opened. Dallas arts patron Nancy Hamon and gallery owner Gerald Peters, an O’Keeffe expert who knew the artist and whose galleries in Santa Fe, New York, and Dallas have represented her work, each gave more than $10,000, as did the Marions, the Marcuses, King and his wife, Mary Ella, and the Burnett and the McDermott foundations. This summer, more high-powered Texans gave $10,000 as well, including Dallas developer Vincent A. Carrozza, the Rio Grande Fund of Laredo, and foundations named for Dallas philanthropist Mildred Mayer and her husband, Frederick, and Dallas investor George Shutt and his wife, Nancy. In addition, Fort Worth billionaire Lee M. Bass and his wife, Ramona, contributed to an appeal for funds that raised $90,000, as did Deborah Moncrief, the wife of Fort Worth oilman W. A. “Tex” Moncrief. So did lesser-known Texans like Gayle D. Fogelson, the stepson of actress Greer Garson and the son of wildcatter E. E. “Buddy” Fogelson. Since then the donations from Texas have continued to pour in: Next to New Mexicans, more of the museum’s contributors last year came from Texas than any other state.
And that’s without any sort of full-blown fundraising drive. Up until now, in an unusually cooperative arrangement, the O’Keeffe museum has been sharing memberships and piggybacking promotion and publicity with the state-run Museum of New Mexico complex, which includes the Museum of Fine Arts several blocks away—the thinking being that the private and public museums can complement instead of compete with each other. (The O’Keeffe museum is also giving the Museum of New Mexico Foundation a whopping 75 percent of its gate receipts; in return, the foundation will loan the O’Keeffe museum some of the artist’s works it owns.) The arrangement ends next year, however, and at that time the O’Keeffe museum will begin approaching corporations and foundations, as well as individuals, to build an endowment to buy more paintings, plan more programs, and mount exhibitions. This summer the board completed a plan that includes fundraising objectives.
Not surprisingly, while the campaign will be nationwide (since the museum aims to appeal to a national audience), Texas foundations, businesses, and individuals will be key targets. “Texans have played a critical role not only in founding the museum but in supporting it,” says its director, George King, who notes that Texans have from day one consistently ranked first, second, or third in the nation in monthly attendance tallies.
It makes sense that Texans are lining up to visit and have contributed to a museum in Santa Fe. For one thing, residents of the state have long felt a strong connection with the city. George King, a transplanted New Yorker, says that his wife, Sarah, jokingly calls Santa Fe “the Provence of Texas” because so many Texans vacation there regularly or have second homes set against the backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
For another, Georgia O’Keeffe—the first woman artist of international stature to have a museum in America dedicated to her work—has strong Texas ties. It was the Texas Panhandle, after all, that inspired her to paint abstract landscapes when she taught art in Amarillo and then in Canyon between 1912 and 1918. During that period she also began a series of charcoal drawings that were startlingly personal and thoroughly modern. A friend showed the drawings to avant-garde photographer Alfred Stieglitz, a pioneering champion of modern art who later became her husband. In 1917 Stieglitz gave O’Keeffe her first solo exhibition at his New York gallery. Her groundbreaking early watercolors Light Coming on the Plains and Evening Star and her abstractions of Palo Duro Canyon burst onto the art scene long before she ever painted the New Mexico landscape.