Toledo Museum of Art director Brian Kennedy, left, greets former director Roger Berkowitz.
A season of portraiture melded with the centenary of an iconic building to create a lavish “thank you” Saturday to those whose generosity has sustained the Toledo Museum of Art through the decades.
More than 400 attended the formal-dress event at the museum for members of its President’s Council, made up of donors of $1,000 or more.
“With such a gem in our city, it’s easy to contribute, because it’s a world-class museum,” said Billie Johnson, president and chief executive of the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio, who also is on the museum board and a President’s Council member. “I want to expose this beautiful gem to seniors, to people in the minority community. It’s part of this wonderful Toledo legacy.”
The museum is a great place to bring visitors, and “we get to see the magnificent art we otherwise wouldn’t see,” said Dr. Richard Ruppert, former president of the Medical College of Ohio, which is now the University of Toledo Medical Center. “There’s nothing like it.”
Dr. Elizabeth Ruppert, his wife, added: “Having an outstanding museum makes it an outstanding city.”
The guests mingled — women in gowns or smart suits; men in tuxedos and black tie or polka dot or check — and they toured the museum’s special exhibit of portraits by 19th-century French artist Edouard Manet.
“I can’t believe the number of people who are here,” said former museum director Roger Berkowitz. “"The museum looks beautiful.”
The event was free to the guests. The evening was underwritten by an anonymous donor, said Brian Kennedy, the museum’s current director.
“We wanted to acknowledge the centenary of the Toledo Museum of Art main building opening to the public in 1912,” he said.
What led to that opening, though, was a $50,000 gift from museum founder Edward Drummond Libbey and his invitation that the gift be matched, Mr. Kennedy said. The people of Toledo came through, including schoolchildren who donated thousands of pennies toward a new museum building.
“This history of giving we wanted to acknowledge,” Mr. Kennedy said.
The President’s Council was founded in the 1960s by then-director Otto Wittmann and Harold Boeschenstein, the first president of Owens Corning and a leading museum benefactor, as a way to encourage major donations by individuals, Mr. Kennedy said. The private museum’s endowment once depended overwhelmingly on its Libbey heritage. Now, 25 percent of the endowment is from the Libbey legacy and the rest from other gifts.
“The major donors have really come to the good,” Mr. Kennedy said.
Mr. Kennedy knew that he wanted the museum to thank the major donors, perhaps with an event. Already in the works was the exhibit, Manet: Portraying Life, which opened last week and has its only U.S. showing at the museum with major support from Block Communications Inc. — parent company of The Blade — and BP-Husky Refining LLC. Separately at the museum through Jan. 10 is Museum People: Faces of TMA, a collective portrait of 700 people, from museum visitors and volunteers to supporters and staff.
“We decided to make it a season of portraiture,” Mr. Kennedy said, “taking the idea that the people have made the museum happen.”
The gala event “also is an acknowledgment of people, another 400 people” — the major donors, Mr. Kennedy said.
“Without the major donors, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” said Susan Reams, an honorary director of the museum and arts advocate. “We all want to support something that makes our community vibrant.”
While in the Manet exhibit, Dr. Richard “Chip” Munk, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, said: “The museum has long recognized that spending a few extra minutes to honor its donors is time well spent.”
Benefits or not, he said that he and others would still contribute. “It’s such a resource for our community that not supporting it would be obscene,” he said.
A hush fell as “TMA Dinner Fanfare” sounded, a piece composed by Christopher Dietz and performed by Lauraine Carpenter, principal trumpet of the Toledo Symphony.
Row upon row of long tables set for dinner stretched through gallery after gallery of the museum’s west wing, creating a near mirror effect. Guests dined on French cuisine: lobster bisque, chicken ballotine, spinach and shiitaki mushrooms with lavender-infused mousseline, dauphinois potato, haricots fines, and crusty baguette bread, and tarte tatin for dessert — a white wine paired to each course.
Afterward, “Vento-Vetro-Vernice”— in English, “Wind-Glass-Paint” — a fanfare by Mr. Dietz, greeted them as they settled into the Great Gallery for a program about the museum, followed by entertainment.
Contact Mark Zaborney at: email@example.com or419-724-6182.