Dena Katzenberg, 78, museum textile curator

December 01, 2000|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Dena Katzenberg, a museum textile curator who brought the intricate quilts hand-stitched by Baltimore women of the 1840s to national attention, died Saturday at Johns Hopkins Hospital of complications following a heart attack. She was 78 and lived on Blythewood Road in North Baltimore.

As a consulting curator at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Mrs. Katzenberg championed the Baltimore Album Quilt - coverlets whose squares suggest a Victorian keepsake album's colorful pages. She organized a celebrated 1981 exhibition of the quilts for the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and wrote the catalogue for it.

The exhibit traveled throughout the country and was widely praised and photographed in magazines and journals.

"She was one of those rare combinations - a remarkable collector, a donor and a curator," said Doreen Bolger, director of the Baltimore Museum of Art. "People forget just how her exhibition became an ambassador for the city throughout the country."

In the past 30 years, Mrs. Katzenberg, who joined the BMA in the 1970s, donated about 800 objects to the museum, including French art nouveau posters, decorative cloth made by the 19th-century English designer William Morris, samplers embroidered by girls in school and hand-decorated Pennsylvania German marriage certificates.

Friends remembered her as a refined perfectionist and a diligent scholar who saw the beauty in objects that other museum curators often overlooked.

In 1973, Mrs. Katzenberg unveiled an unusual BMA show on the color blue, blue dyes and their applications in history. The multidisciplinary exhibit, "Blue Traditions," combined ceramics, clothing and indigo plants grown at the Cylburn Arboretum.

Mrs. Katzenberg also promoted Native American crafts in her 1977 BMA show, "And Eagles Sweep Across the Sky."

Born in Baltimore, the former Dena Swartz was a graduate of Forest Park High School, the Johns Hopkins University and the New York School of Interior Design. Fascinated by color and its unorthodox applications, she often visited the color laboratory at the Farboil Paint Co. on Key Highway, a business owned by her father, the late Milton Swartz. The factory made paints for the maritime industry. She studied pigments and color spectrums.

Early in her career, she headed the interior design studio of the May Co., later the Hecht Co.

In 1946, she married Morton C. Katzenberg, whose family founded the Merrygarden sportswear manufacturing company. He survives her.

A son, David M. Katzenberg, died June 24.

Funeral services were private.

She is survived by a son, Steve Katzenberg of Baltimore; two sisters, Nancy Hammond of Greenspring Valley and Mary Louise Robins of La Jolla, Calif.

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