Dick Scaife: ‘Art can … inspire us to live better lives’
The 20th anniversary of Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum reminded me of the day I met the artist.
It was in 1981 at Warhol’s Manhattan studio, “The Factory.” Over takeout sandwiches, he agreed to paint a portrait of another Pittsburgh icon — industrialist-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie — that I would donate to Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art.
I met Warhol one more time along with his famous protégé, Ultra Violet.
One word best described her: Fun.
Some of you may be surprised to learn that I admire Warhol’s work; it might not seem to be my style.
But art of all kinds is one of the greatest joys, great treasures, and most worthwhile philanthropies of my life and my family’s.
In 1930, near the end of a decade as Treasury secretary, my great-uncle Andrew Mellon donated his $40 million art collection and $10 million in construction money to create Washington’s National Gallery of Art.
Andrew’s niece — my mother, Sarah — did something similar here four decades later. She and I gave money and art to create a gallery in her name at the Carnegie. It doubled the museum’s exhibition space; a New York Times art critic called it an “unflawed paradise.” Today, its collection includes European and American art, as well as African and Egyptian pieces.
I’ve donated works to the National Gallery and to other museums. But Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg and Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, Pa., hold special places in my heart; both have great collections and excellent staffs.
I’ve been fortunate to fill my homes with beautiful art. I love 19th- and 20th-century American landscapes; I never liked most French or Modern Art, although I’ve acquired some of each.
I’ve always been proud of the many painters and other artists from Western Pennsylvania. One of my favorites, Chas Fagan, has painted and sculpted American presidents — and painted a portrait of me so lifelike that some visitors think it is a photograph.
I mention all of this not to toot the family horn, but to make a point:
Of all the money I’ve donated or spent, the most enduring pleasure and reward came from buying art.
This country is blessed with many wonderful museums with spectacular collections and exhibitions you can see for free or a nominal fee.
Some of our Founding Fathers recognized the value of public art and promoted it from our nation’s outset.
I’ve heard many people mention their joy at spending a day in a museum, the beautiful works they’ve seen (and some works they didn’t consider “art” at all).
Yet, sadly, the arts usually suffer first when schools, museums, cities or the nation fall on hard times. This is shortsighted, in my opinion.
Beautiful art — paintings, music, literature, movies, whatever — can transform our moods, lighten our hearts, make us think or change our minds, inspire us to be creative or to live better lives.
As I near the end of my life, I hope many others continue to support America’s museums, artists and art programs so future generations can enjoy and benefit from them.
I know most people don’t have the freedom I’ve had to collect paintings. Yet all parents, however rich or poor, can — and should — encourage their children to experience and appreciate the arts.
And if you buy some work of art — a simple sketch, a print, an original painting, a great book or recording — you will never spend more worthwhile money.
(This is another in a series of articles by Tribune-Review publisher Dick Scaife, who announced in a May 18 column that he has inoperable cancer. In these, he shares with readers some current issues or concerns, recollections and personal interests that he considers important.)