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Irene Leache memorial gifts to Chrysler Museum strengthen collection, bridge past with future
ILMF President Vickie Bilisoly (left), Irene Leache Curator of European Art, Jeff Harrison, Chrysler Museum of Art (center)
ILMF Vice President Catherine Jordan Wass (right).

NORFOLK, VA.- The Irene Leache Memorial Foundation has donated its entire collection of European Old Master paintings, sculpture, tapestries, and decorative arts to the Chrysler Museum of Art. At its March meeting, the museum’s board of trustees voted unanimously to accession the Irene Leache Memorial art collection.

On long-term loan to the Museum since within a year of its 1933 opening, the Irene Leache Memorial collection comprises 27 works of art dating from the 14th through 19th centuries. Many of the works were among the earliest art on gallery view in the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences, the genesis of the Chrysler Museum.

Accompanying the gifts of art is another substantial bequest—an endowed curatorship. The Foundation has created the Irene Leache Curator of European Art, a position currently held by Jeff Harrison, who is also the Museum’s chief curator. The named curatorship is designed both to memorialize and perpetuate the symbiotic 80-year history between the Irene Leache Memorial and the Museum, giving both a more active and ongoing influence in the future of the arts in Hampton Roads.

The Memorial also will transfer a trove of books and historical materials to the Jean Outland Chrysler Library for cataloging, conservation, and community access. The archival documents, photographs, and memorabilia provide solid research background into the early collections and history of the Museum.

This extraordinary set of gifts “marks the zenith of a long-standing and richly creative relationship between the Chrysler and Norfolk’s most venerable arts organization,” Leache Curator Jeff Harrison said. “It also marks the commencement of a new and exciting era for the Chrysler and the dawn of an active, permanent, and enduring legacy for the Memorial.

“How fitting it is that at that as we reopen as the new Chrysler Museum of Art, we will present a newly unified and transformed early European collection and celebrate the Memorial’s continuing commitment to it. I cannot overstate how grateful I am—we are—for these remarkable gifts. You have immeasurably enriched both the Museum and the community we all serve,” Harrison told the Memorial’s members.

The Memorial’s board, 25 women appointed for life, also applauded the gift. “Our members are thrilled with this culmination of an 80-year partnership between the Irene Leache Memorial and the Chrysler Museum. It fulfills the founding vision of Annie Wood to create an art collection—and a museum in which to house it—in memory of Irene Leache,” said Vickie Bilisoly, ILMF president. “We hope that the art and the curatorial endowment will always serve as a living memorial not only to Irene Leache, but also to those she inspired to foster the arts in our community.”

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