Polly Renwick treasured her de Kooning. But when John Bullard and Anne Milling asked her to give it away, she couldn’t resist. “We didn’t have to think long and hard,” Renwick, a social worker, said of the decision she made with her husband, retired political science professor Edward F. Renwick, to donate their precious Willem de Kooning painting to the New Orleans Museum of Art as a sort of 100th birthday present. “Museums can’t survive without donations. That’s the lifeblood.”
The Renwicks’ de Kooning is one of 110 celebratory artworks that former NOMA director Bullard and museum trustee Milling solicited from local residents starting in 2009 and placed on display this past fall in “NOMA 100: Gifts for the Second Century,” the centennial exhibit that runs through Sunday.
The exhibit is the culmination of a plan that Bullard, Milling and a committee of other museum supporters began formulating in 2007 to honor the museum’s 100th anniversary by adding to the permanent collection.
Art collectors often make gifts to museums; that’s how great public collections are made. But usually they do it on their own schedules. Bullard and Milling just planned to do a little gentle nudging.
With the help of the museum staff, the art-acquiring committee prepared a wish list of artworks in private New Orleans collections – and a few out of town as well.
“We sat around and talked about who had what and what the museum really needed,” said Bullard, who is now director emeritus. Then he and Milling began paying house calls on collectors.
Milling recalls that she and Bullard tested out their delivery on the Renwicks, the first collectors they visited on their quest. A total of 75 donors ultimately contributed the trove of paintings, drawings, sculptures, antique decorative objects, glass art, photographs and sacred statuary from various cultures arrayed in the museum’s premier ground-floor gallery.
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