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Wednesday, 18 September 2013 17:39

Revered Bayou Bend Curator Passes Away

Michael K. Brown, a longtime curator at Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, passed away on September 8, 2013 following a heart transplant. Brown, a leading scholar in the field of American decorative arts, was 60 years old. He touched many lives as a scholar and as one of the most gracious and kind lights of the decorative arts world.

Bayou Bend, one of the nation’s premier collections of American paintings and decorative arts, welcomed Brown as associate curator in 1980. An authority on American silver and a specialist in the work of 19th-century New York cabinetmaker, Duncan Phyfe, Brown leaves behind an inspiring legacy. During his time at Bayou Bend, Brown worked tirelessly to better the institution and helped lead a renovation and restoration to the room settings that are the museum’s landmark.

In addition to his work at Bayou Bend, Brown published dozens of books and articles on American decorative arts, architecture and history and regularly spoke at forums and symposia. He was also an active board member for Houston’s Heritage Society, Preservation Houston and the Victorian Society in America.

David B. Warren, founding director emeritus of Bayou Bend, said, “Michael Brown was my colleague at Bayou Bend for more than two decades; he was a quiet, intense man, who always pursued excellence. As a curator his work was marked by impeccable scholarship, diligent research and, exercising an extraordinary eye, an intrepid pursuit of acquisitions of the most superb quality, whether large or small.”

Brown is survived by his three brothers and their families along with Bart Truxillo of Houston. The museum will hold a memorial in October. Contributions may be made to the Bayou Bend Collection Accessions Fund in Memory of Michael K. Brown; or, to the Michael K. Brown Metals Endowment Fund, c/o Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, P.O. Box 6826, Houston, Texas, 77265.

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In the 2012 Anniversary issue of Antiques & Fine Art, Peter Kenny, administrator of the Met’s American Wing, introduced readers to the landmark exhibition Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which opened at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in June and extends through September 9, 2012. It is fitting that this retrospective was conceived at the Met, since that venerable institution was responsible for bringing Phyfe to the attention of the American public in 1909, and ever since has played a leading role in championing his work.

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On October 15, 1922, The Metropolitan Museum opened to the public Furniture from the Workshop of Duncan Phyfe (Fig. 1), the first exhibition ever held in an art museum on the work of a single cabinetmaker. Ninety years later and only for the second time in history, a major retrospective on this iconic American craftsman and his furniture is again on view there, in the Erving and Joyce Wolf and Israel Sack Galleries of the American Wing. Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York (Fig. 2) seeks to provide a fresh new perspective on Duncan Phyfe (1770–1854) and his work by bringing together for the first time documented furniture made during each successive style phase of his long, distinguished career.

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