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Cullinan Hall with Olmec Head, installed on lawn by James Johnson Sweeney, June 1963. Photo by Hickey and Robertson. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Archives.

Brief stays

Sweeney was followed by Mary Buxton.

Mary Buxton Cain served as Interim Director of the MFAH between 1967 and 1969 with the alternate official titles of Administrator and Administrative Director. She concluded her tenure at the MFAH as Curator of Exhibitions in 1970.
She was there as the docent director when Sweeney came—her salary was paid by the Junior League. Mary was there a long time, and when Sweeney left I presume S.I. Morris who was president of the board at the time put her in charge. Because of her educational background—or lack of it, I would not call her ‘acting director’—she was called administrator. Mary had a lot of very good things going for her—if you can’t be anything else be born beautiful—and she was a very good-looking woman with an unbelievably charming personality. She was from Georgia and had gone to the University of Wisconsin. Her name was Mary Hancock in her Georgia days, and then she married Mr. Weaver and had two children. By the time I knew her she had shed Mr. Weaver and married Fred Buxton, a rather prominent landscape architect in Houston.

Mary took care of the Museum’s business for about two years while another director was chosen who turned out to be Philippe de Montebello. Actually his full name was Guy Philippe Lannes de Montebello. When he came south he dropped “Guy.” So he was Philippe and everybody of course called him Philippe except Mrs. de Menil, who has the same sort of Gallic antecedents. Montebello was a great pleasure for me to work with. He had really no experience as a director, and he wasn’t the curator of paintings at the Met

In Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Met, which has a chapter written by de Montebello, he notes that he was associate curator of European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art before accepting the directorship at the MFAH.
—how he got here I’m not positive, but I think it was through the good offices of John A. Beck.

I think the directors felt it was time to get rid of the Sweeney image—it was too modern—and to get back to the basics, old masters. That was where he focused his attention and what acquisition funds he had bought a lot of things. They were not great old masters, but they were very solid additions to the collections of the Museum. He had no experience, but he had a lot of savvy; French savvy. And he was bright—he was a smart man. He was Harvard-educated and learned Russian while at Harvard. He conducted one of the Museum tours to St. Petersburg or then Leningrad and Moscow—and I think he acted as their interpreter along the way.

Montebello hired E. A. Carmean, [Jr.],

E.A. Carmean, Jr., served in the curatorial department of the MFAH from 1971 to 1974.
who is now director of the Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, Tennessee. E.A. stayed at the Museum of Fine Arts until Bill Agee came, and his area of expertise and Bill’s particular interests overlapped a bit. I think he felt there was no reason to stay here, particularly when he had a chance to go to the National Gallery as their first curator of 20th century art. If I remember correctly, the next curator that Philippe hired was Jack Schraeder.
Jack Schraeder was on the MFAH curatorial staff from 1970 to 1973.
He was from Kansas and did his undergraduate work at the University of Kansas; his specialty was Medieval Art…not too long out of a graduate program—I think it was Princeton. He left the Museum before Montebello left and went to the Metropolitan also.

Under agee

(William) Agee

William C. Agee served as Director of the MFAH between 1974 and 1982.
came right after Montebello. I think there were doubts on the board that Agee could administer. Agee was a wonderful art person. I don’t think anybody there has been any better or in many ways come up to him as an art person. He really knew his field, and he knew a lot of other things, too. Bill was hampered by the onerous task of administering, and administration was not something he enjoyed. He met lots of roadblocks in the art community. Why I am not sure because he of all people was dedicated to the more recent art than any of the others. You know he’s a teacher—a full-time teacher. Teaches at Hunter, I think. He got his undergraduate degree from Princeton and then he got his masters at Yale. He did not have a PhD; we never had a PhD director until Dr. (Peter) Marzio
Peter C. Marzio has been Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, since 1982, the longest tenure of the museum’s full-​time directors.
came.

Edward Mayo (far right) and unidentified woman with William and Virginia Camfield at the opening of the Hans Hartung exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, April 23, 1969. Photo by Hickey and Robertson. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Archives.

Good progress

Progress in the visual arts today in comparison to the last 30, 40, 50 years is phenomenal. It’s phenomenal progress. In ’45, let’s see, you have to consider Ben DuBose because Ben was really the first person to do anything about providing a venue for the exhibition of contemporary artists, local artists, except the Museum of Fine Arts. For like 32 or 33 years the Museum had an exhibition called Houston Artists Exhibition.

The annual Houston Artists exhibit ran from 1925 to 1960. Its name varied somewhat over the years, but its most common official title was Exhibitions of Works by Houston Artists.
It was not only a place for them to show their work; it was the only place of significance. Every year there was a purchase prize and that collection remains intact. So far it’s not been touched. I can’t remember when the Texas Artists Exhibition
Exhibition of Texas Painting and Sculpture 1940-1965. After 1961, MFAH did not participate.
started, but it was going on in my time, and it lasted a little bit longer than Houston because Houston wasn’t in control of it. It was held each year in conjunction with the Texas State Fair in Dallas and the exhibition was exhibited there first, then in Houston and San Antonio. The Museum continued to acquire works from that exhibition. There was a purchase prize there also until Sweeney stopped acquiring works. He put an end to the Houston Artists Exhibit, much to the distress of Houston artists, some of whom have never forgiven him for doing that. Mr. Sweeney was a one-man band in many ways.

Edward Mayo was interviewed on November 4, 1997. You can listen to the interview here .

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Source:  OpenStax, Houston reflections: art in the city, 1950s, 60s and 70s. OpenStax CNX. May 06, 2008 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10526/1.2
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