The Art Institute of Chicago Announces Two Major Gifts to the Department of American Art
The Art Institute of Chicago is pleased to announce two major gifts to the museum's Department of American Art: $2 million from Ann and Samuel Mencoff to endow the first curatorial position devoted exclusively to American decorative arts, and a $1 million bequest from Jane and Morris Weeden, which will be used to establish a research fund for the department. The two gifts are among the largest ever made to the Department of American Art, headed by Judith A. Barter, the Field-McCormick Chair and Curator of American Art.
"The gifts from the Mencoffs and the Weedens exemplify how private philanthropy leads to tangible progress for institutions with public missions," said Douglas Druick, President and Eloise W. Martin Director of the Art Institute. "Because of their support, the Department of American Art can remain at the forefront of scholarly inquiry. But critically, this support also ensures that we can continue to bring our research to the public in the form of new acquisitions, beautiful publications, and popular exhibitions, all of which the department presented last year. We are grateful that both the Mencoffs and the Weedens recognize the signal importance of having a strong presence for American art particularly in Chicago, the quintessential American city."
Judith Barter, the chair of the Department of American Art, commented: "Both the Mencoffs and the Weedens are philanthropists in the greatest meaning of the word: loving one's fellow beings and providing the resources for others to achieve and excel. Delight in the accomplishments of the arts and the museum is central to their life philosophies. These resources will keep our scholarly staff strong, our research cutting edge, and our exhibitions, programs, and acquisitions of the highest quality."
Samuel Mencoff is the current chair of the Committee on American Art, a curatorial advisory committee for the department. The Mencoff gift will be used to endow a position in the department devoted to American decorative arts. This position, the Ann S. and Samuel M. Mencoff Assistant Curator, is currently held by Monica Obniski. Obniski holds an MA in the history of decorative arts, design, and material culture from the Bard Graduate Center and is pursuing a PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Most recently she coauthored For Kith and Kin: The Folk Art Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago and assisted in the presentation of the decorative arts in the recent and popular exhibition,Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine.
The late Jane and Morris ("Mike") Weeden bequeathed $1 million to the department, which will be used as a research fund. Married for nearly 70 years, the Weedens were charter members of the museum's Sustaining Fellows membership group, and they helped build the group into the significant philanthropic force for the Art Institute that it is today. Jane served as president of the museum's Antiquarian Society, and they were both members of the museum's Classical Arts Society, Old Masters Society, and Textile Society. Additionally, Jane volunteered for nearly 30 years at the museum's front desk. Though they had wide interests, their true passion was American art. Jane joined the museum's Committee on American Art in 1991, and Mike was elected a trustee of the Terra Foundation for American Art in 2002. The Weedens were also significant supporters of both the exhibition and the catalogue for Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine.