reflections on entering the fray: life, art and politics at 76
Saturday, December 11, 2010
MFAH's Peter Marzio: Such a Legacy
Peter Marzio died of cancer yesterday morning and I am reading obituaries that recount his momentous achievements at Houston's Museum of Fine Arts. He thought big, believed in diversity and knew how to court people with money so that they truly became partners in 'growing' the museum. I cannot imagine who can successfully follow in his footsteps.
Here is just a paragraph or two from the Houston Chronicle's obituary:
"In 1982, he was recruited by the trustees of the MFAH. Houston and Peter Marzio were a perfect match. He loved the city's entrepreneurial spirit, "can do" attitude, and diversity. Houston welcomed him, and he embraced the city and museum. As Director, Peter Marzio was the maestro; he directed major expansion and construction projects, led capital campaigns, and served on many boards and advisory councils. He was a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors, and its President from 1988 to 1989. From 1997 to 2000, Peter Marzio was chairman of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities in Washington, D.C. He became a member of the Wallace Foundation Board in New York in 2001. He was also president of the Houston Museum District Association from 2001 to 2005. A prolific author, his most recent books included American Art & Philanthropy (2010), Masterpieces from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: Director's Choice (2009) and A Permanent Legacy: 150 Works from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1989). "During Peter Marzio's 28-year tenure, the museum's collections grew from 13,000 artworks to 62,172. Attendance soared from 380,000 to over 2 million a year. Exhibitions proliferated, and grew from 26 in 1983 to 41 in 2009. But these remarkable statistics cannot convey the institution's exciting chemistry and interaction of ideas, programs and people that Peter Marzio inspired."
When Peter Marzio and his new wife Frances moved to Houston 28 years ago, he brought with him his two teen aged children. He was a widower, recently remarried. His son Steven was a friend of my daughter Jeanne. In fact, she was greatly enamoured of Steven and I remember photos of them with another couple all dressed up for a Lamar H.S. formal. Any romance was short lived, though he and Jeanne remained friends.
Steven's dad was totally immersed in his work, his dreams and plans for MFAH and with the museum's donors and funders. So much so that we and others often included Steven at family dinners during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Steven was good at developing 'second families' for himself.
The first obituary I read yesterday recounted that Peter Marzio is survived by his wife Frances. My daughter and two friends emailed me yesterday and said, "What about his children? They weren't mentioned."
Today's tribute mentions no family at all. Peter Marzio gave himself to the MFAH and to Houston. It appears that he followed his passion and had the charisma and skills to deal with bricks and mortar as well as art. We as Houstonions certainly, unquestionably benefit from his gift. His legacy is tremendous.