Oct. 7, 1999
Vol. 19 No. 2

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    [richard gray and kimerly rorschach] by jason smith
    Kimerly Rorschach, the Dana Feitler Director of the Smart Museum of Art (at right), and Richard Gray, Chairman of the museum’s board, hold photos of Paul Kirkley and his first wife, Martha, who was an art enthusiast. Paul Kirkley and his late wife, Miriam Kirkley, who died in August 1999, left a bequest of $5 million to the fine-arts museum on the University campus. The gift will allow the museum to increase its contemporary art collections.

    Smart Museum receives $5 million

    The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art has received an unprecedented gift in the amount of $5 million, the largest single donation ever made to the museum. The bequest from Mr. and Mrs. Paul Kirkley will establish an endowment with the income dedicated to enhancing the museum’s art collection.

    “This gift will transform the Smart Museum,” said Richard Gray, Chairman of the Smart’s Board of Governors. “It catapults us into the top 5 percent of art museums nationwide in terms of acquisition endowments. A gift of this magnitude will significantly enhance Chicago’s artistic and cultural riches, benefiting the University as well as the community for years to come.”

    The Smart’s collection currently includes more than 7,500 works of art spanning 5,000 years and objects ranging from Neolithic Chinese pottery to contemporary American works. The museum serves University scholars and students as well as a broad regional and national audience.

    “Permanent collections are the life-blood of most museums,” said Kimerly Rorschach, the Dana Feitler Director at the Smart. “Building and maintaining an outstanding collection helps us fulfill our educational mission and contribute to the cultural life of the University and the nation. With this gift, we will be able to move forward much more aggressively in increasing the breadth and quality of our collections, especially in the areas of modern and contemporary art, photography and East Asian art.”

    Paul Kirkley graduated from the University in 1924, long before the Smart Museum existed. At the museum’s founding in 1974, he and his wife, Miriam, made a gift of $250 to the Smart in memory of his first wife, the late Martha Skinner Kirkley, also a member of the Class of ’24. The couple, who lived in west suburban Carol Stream, Ill., continued to support the museum, even though they were not themselves art collectors.

    In 1980, Paul and Miriam Kirkley, who had no children, decided to make the Smart Museum a major beneficiary of their estate. At that time, the estate value was modest. Paul Kirkley died in 1993, and Miriam Kirkley died in August 1999.

    “We knew we would receive a gift at Mrs. Kirkley’s death, but we had no idea of its size,” said Rorschach. “During my tenure as Director of the Smart, I had been able to get to know Mrs. Kirkley and to discuss with her what a difference an acquisition endowment, even a modest one, would make to us. Their generosity will have a truly enormous impact––though they themselves were not collectors, they will make it possible for future generations to enjoy exceptional art.”

    The Smart Museum reopens Nov. 23, following an eight-month renovation and reinstallation. The $2 million project will provide more spacious special exhibition galleries, a new Education Study Room and new storage facilities for the museum’s collections. Noted Chicago architect John Vinci of Vinci/Hamp Architects Inc. designed the renovation.