A Conversation with Margaret McDermott, by Dorothy Kosinski (2003)
_The following interview, between curator Dorothy Kosinski and lifelong DMA supporter Margaret McDermott, took place as part of the museum's centennial celebration. _
Margaret McDermott I have always loved the Museum. My mother took me to Fair Park before there was a museum. We're talking about the 1920s. Dallas's population was only 200,000.
When I got out of college I worked on the Dallas __Morning News for five years. The world war came and I started traveling. I've lived abroad in India, Europe, and Japan. In between trips, I was asked to be on the Museum staff by Jerry Bywaters, who was the director. Jerry was my neighbor in Highland Park; he lived on Stratford, two doors away. He was a friend and a friend of the family. My first real job was Chief of Public Relations in the 1940S. So I've been officially connected with the Dallas Museum since the 1940s, a long time.
The Arts of Man was the exhibition I was particularly interested in. It happened when I was President of the Museum from 1962 to 1964. The exhibition was my idea. I felt that it was what Dallas needed. It was ambitious because we pulled it together in about a year. The shipping and organization for a regional museum was not easy. Our budget was $40,000, which Roberta Camp and I had raised. It was the most money for an exhibit that had been raised at that time. I remember that Jerry, [curator] John Lunsford, and I went to New York to borrow art for this world-class exhibit. At a meeting with Louis Goldenburg, who was President of Wildenstein [Gallery], he said, "Margaret, if we were having such an exhibit it would take us three or four years to organize. We would go to Paris, to Berlin. And here you are—The Arts of Man! Impossible!" But he added, "I' ll help you, " and he did. Everyone did. The Arts of Man was on view for six months-a great success and a wonderful show. It started with the Cycladic pieces, pre-Columbian, Greek, Roman objects. The money allotted for educational programs ran out. We had so many schoolchildren who wanted to come. Mrs. Cecil Green gave us $5,000 more to bring in more children. I was thrilled that The Arts of Man gave Dallas children a view of different art and different cultures. In a small way, we succeeded.
Jerry was dedicated—he had great taste but no money. I think that the Museum budget for the entire year was $50,000. What he did on so little! He worked on a great regional museum; however, people wanted more than that. But he was right in making a good start, a solid start. He was a real leader.
Dorothy Kosinski So by "regional" you mean focused on artists of this area?
MM Jerry felt that he should assist artists in Dallas and Texas first, and did so. It's wonderful the Museum is returning during its hundredth anniversary to varied programs showing Texas artists and recognizing them.
DK So Jerry Bywaters laid the foundation, but at some point a new vision was conceived that the Museum should be something more than a regional museum. Who brought that vision?
MM When I was President [1962-1964], the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts and the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, with all its passionate collectors and fine pictures, were merged. The Contemporary Museum had just been in existence for something like eight or nine years. They achieved wonders. Al Meadows helped them enormously in a financial way. He was a great friend of mine, and a really great friend of my husband's. He was for the merger—a very important voice. I worked really hard for one museum, feeling that in this community there were not enough financial resources for two outstanding institutions. Betty Marcus, Evelyn Lambert, Betty Blake, and John O'Boyle were the leaders of the DMCA. Fred Mayer and Ruth Spence worked with me at the DMFA. (Most of these people are gone now, but they're very vivid to me.) We used to meet daily. It was a true dilemma. There were great arguments. It was at that time I realized how passionately these patrons felt about contemporary art .
DK So the merger was not smooth?
MM It was terrible! But let me say that some of my current great friends are the very people involved in that controversy! Clearly, a new museum needed new leadership. I stepped down as President of the DMFA, as did Jerry Bywaters as Director of our Museum and Betty Blake at the DMCA. And that was when Merrill Rueppel was hired as the director of the new Museum. The new president, a wonderful man that everyone luckily approved of, was C.A. Tatum. After C.A., Jim Clark was the president. With all his scholarly expertise, background, and knowledge of the art world, that was the thing that really, really pulled the Museum forward. That was the beginning.
DK I know you still have very warm, strong feelings about Harry Parker and his role here.
MM Harry was thirty-two years old when he came to Dallas, arriving during my husband's last illness. After my husband died, Harry and the Museum came to me and asked if I would be Chairman of the Board. And I said no. I'd been President, and my heart was-well, I wasn't interested in much at that point. Then Harry said the one thing that really and truly made the difference. He said ,"You know, Mrs. McDermott, I really need you." It was at a time when I felt that no one really needed me. So I accepted, and I was Chairman of the Board for four years [1974- 1978]. During that time, I was head of the Acquisitions Committee too. The president during those four years was John Murchison. John was a treasured friend. John and I complemented each other. I took on more of the social planning—he the finances. I'll always be grateful for John 's friendship and his lovely wife, Lupe.
DK When you look at the Museum 's history is there an event or moment that you think is the high point of its evolution?
MM One thing that I'm really proud of is the purchase of the Wise Collection of pre-Columbian art. I first saw pre-Columbian art in Peru and fell in love with it s beauty and history, everything about it. Gene and I bought one or two of the first things that entered the collection, the Paracas mantle was one. We became friends with John Wise, but Al Meadows was the one who pulled the purchase together, getting four families to help buy the entire collection: Jake and Nancy Hamon, the Murchisons, the McDermotts, and the Meadows. Also, I'd have to mention the 100 Hour Celebration during this year's 100th anniversary. I thought that was splendid to see all those people at two o'clock in the morning—to see how they were enjoying the Museum. lt was a triumph for the Museum.
Dorothy Kosinski, "A Conversation with Margaret McDermott," in Dallas Museum of Art, 100 Years, ed. Dorothy M. Kosinski (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 2003), Pamphlet number 94.
The Museum of Modern Art Oral History Program
Read a transcript of Margaret McDermott's 1998 interview with Sharon Zane where they discuss Mrs. McDermott's passion for promoting art in Texas and her service on MoMA's International Council.