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Saint Louis Art Museum Receives Major Gift from Danforth Family
Parfleche Case, c.1880; Western Plateau; hide and pigment; 27 1/2 x 14 x 3 3/4 inches; The Donald Danforth Jr. Collection, Gift of Mrs. Donald Danforth Jr. 106:2010.

ST. LOUIS, MO.- The Saint Louis Art Museum announced that Carolyn Danforth has initiated a series of donations that will bring the extraordinary collection of American Indian artworks assembled by her late husband, Donald Danforth Jr., to the Museum. In addition to Mrs. Danforth’s gift, the Danforth Foundation has pledged $2 million to name the Donald Danforth Jr. Gallery of Native American Art to house the collection. In the Saint Louis Art Museum’s 131-year history, a handful of generous patrons stand out for their transformational gifts of significant collections.

“This gift transforms the Museum’s collection of Native American art,” said Museum Director Brent R. Benjamin. “The Museum is indebted to Carolyn Danforth and the entire Danforth family for their commitment to fulfilling Mr. Danforth’s legacy. This generosity is an inspiration for others in the St. Louis community and beyond.”

Donald Danforth Jr. was well-known as a successful businessman and local philanthropist. Less well-known is that Mr. Danforth was also a great art collector. During his lifetime, Mr. Danforth amassed a collection of nearly 300 objects made by members of Indian tribes from the Northern and Southern Plains between 1850 and 1890, when Native Americans were adapting their former nomadic lifestyles to the confines of reservations.

Mrs. Danforth’s donation will initiate a new chapter in the presentation of Native American art to Museum visitors. The Danforth collection comprises a rich array of objects from the major tribes of the Plains, complementing a number of masterpiece-quality objects from the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere already in the Museum. This gift will constitute roughly 40 percent of the Museum’s holdings in this area.

“The Museum would like to thank Carolyn Danforth and her family for sharing this legacy with generations of St. Louisans to come,” said Andrew Walker, assistant director for curatorial affairs and curator of American art.

The Danforth Foundation’s gift will fund the publication of a catalogue and an annual lecture series about Native American art featuring nationally recognized experts. The endowed gallery will comprise the core presentation of the Museum’s collection of Native American art.

“Just as Morton D. May’s gifts enabled the Museum’s core presentation of ancient Mesoamerican art, the Donald Danforth Jr. Collection gives the Museum a new strength in art from the Plains for its Native American art collection,” said Matthew H. Robb, assistant curator of ancient American and Native American art. “This gift fills entire categories of objects that the Museum previously did not have.”

Born in St. Louis in 1932, Mr. Danforth developed a love for Native American culture and the West in his childhood, during which he spent 13 summers visiting a ranch in Wyoming. However, he only began collecting Plains Indian objects in the 1980s.

As the youngest of Carolyn and Mr. Danforth’s five children, Christopher Danforth is happy that his own children will have the opportunity to learn about their grandfather through the objects he collected. “It’s great that they can go to the Art Museum and learn about Pops—that’s what we called him—and how he collected all these things.”

“He had a great eye for these objects,” said his daughter Kathryn Danforth Hollo. “He loved describing where they came from and how they were made—the stories they told.”

Donald Danforth passed away in 2001. He is survived by his wife Carolyn, their five children—Carol Danforth, Kathryn Danforth Hollo, Laura Danforth Barnes, Donald Danforth III, and Christopher Danforth—and their grandchildren. Donald was the brother of former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, Washington University Chancellor Emeritus William Danforth, and St. Louisan Dorothy Danforth Miller.

Established in 1927 by William H. and Adda Danforth, the Danforth Foundation is one of the largest private foundations in the St. Louis region. At the time of its 75th anniversary in 2002, the Danforth Foundation had awarded nearly $1 billion nationally to 60 programs.

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