Charles Lyle leaves state Historical Society after 3 years as director

May 06, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

In a surprise move, Charles T. Lyle has resigned as director of the Maryland Historical Society, a post he has held for just over three years.

The resignation, effective last Friday, took the MHS staff and some board members by surprise. It comes as the group is about to launch a major fund-raising campaign.

That, and the unexpectedness of the resignation, have led to speculation that the director was forced out by the board's executive committee, which has launched a search for a replacement with major fund-raising capabilities.

Mr. Lyle confirmed his resignation yesterday but declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding it except to say, "I resigned because I felt it was a good time for the institution to look in new directions and for me to pursue other interests."

The resignation was dealt with by the board's executive committee. The full board was not consulted, but was sent a letter last week announcing the resignation.

The letter was signed by L. Patrick Deering, board chairman, and Jack S. Griswold, board president. MHS chief curator Jennifer Goldsborough said the staff was told about the resignation Friday.

Yesterday, Mr. Griswold denied that the director was forced out and spoke of the resignation as a mutual agreement.

"Charles and the executive committee of the board thought simultaneously if he was going to move on to greater pastures now was the time to do it," Mr. Griswold said.

"Things are better than when he arrived three years ago, and he never intended to be here the rest of his life."

The president also indicated that a projected increase in fund-raising activities was one reason for the director's departure.

"Charles is most interested in the academic and museum operational sides of it. As we go forward, we will have to have a substantial capital campaign, and turn up the volume and reach out to the community much more than in the past, and I think Charles thought money-raising and that sort of thing was not what he was best at, or really there for."

But, he added, "It's very important for Charles and the society for everybody to know that this is not a firing. It's a circumstance that everybody's been talking about for months, and it's in everybody's interests."

The society, which has an annual budget of about $1.4 million, has had deficits for several years, in part because an annual state grant of $125,000 was phased out.

The deficits have been as much as $100,000, Mr. Griswold said, but the current year's deficit is down to about $10,000.

Mr. Griswold said that Mr. Lyle had been effective in raising money to help offset the deficits, and that the endowment had not suffered.

"What was dipped into has been replaced," he said. "We have not cannibalized our endowment and we will not cannibalize our endowment, period."

The society plans to launch a major -- but as yet unspecified -- campaign partly for endowment enhancement in concert with its 150th anniversary next year, and has hired a fund-drive consultant, Nelson Cover of the Sheridan Group.

VTC The next director also will have to be a fund-raiser. "It's really too early to say" what qualifications the new director will need, Mr. Griswold said, "but one of that individual's skills will be the ability to help raise the money."

Mr. Lyle came to the MHS in January 1990 from the Historical Society of Delaware, where he had been director since 1980.

Before that, he was director of museum properties for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Historic houses have been one of his major interests.

But he has also been willing to take his institutions in new directions. While he was at the Delaware Historical Society, it began collecting material pertaining to the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and to the Vietnam War.

And the MHS took a major step in a new direction last year when (in cooperation with the Contemporary, Baltimore's museum without walls) it brought in New York installation artist Fred Wilson and presented "Mining the Museum," an installation (or ,, assemblage constructed specifically for an exhibit) about African-American and American Indian history in Maryland.

Both Mr. Griswold and Mr. Deering praised Mr. Lyle yesterday.

"Mr. Lyle is a wonderful man. I have a lot of respect for him," Mr. Deering said. "I'm convinced that what he brought to us in exhibits and otherwise the last three years was useful to the society, and I wish him very well."

Mr. Lyle will remain as a paid consultant to the society until the end of the year, Mr. Griswold said.

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