Howard Cohen

Real estate developer traveled around the world and donated many African pieces to BMA and Morgan State.

October 09, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Howard Cohen, a retired real estate developer, African art collector and philanthropist, died Oct. 2 of complications from the neuromuscular disease myasthenia gravis at his Dickeyville home. He was 79.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Windsor Hills, he was a 1946 graduate of Mercersburg Academy.

After graduating from Princeton University in 1950, he enlisted in the Army and served as a lieutenant and forward observer in Korea from 1951 to 1953.

In 1968, Mr. Cohen earned a master's degree in liberal arts from the Johns Hopkins University.

He was a co-founder in 1957 with his brother-in-law, Howard Caplan, of CapCo, a development company that built houses, apartments, office parks and shopping centers in the Baltimore-Washington area.

The company was dissolved in the late 1990s, family members said.

In the early 1970s, Mr. Cohen began collecting African art and was considered a lay expert in the field.

Mr. Cohen was a longtime member of the Baltimore Museum of Art's accessions committee for the arts of Africa, the Americas and Oceania.

"Howard was one of our most devoted supporters of our African art collection and the arts of Africa, the Americas and Oceania department," said Jay Fisher, deputy director of curatorial affairs at the BMA.

"He had a remarkably keen eye for interesting objects, and he wasn't trying to build a comprehensive museum collection. These were objects that spoke to him," Mr. Fisher said.

Mr. Fisher said that Mr. Cohen, who also did research in the field of African art, maintained an interest in modern and contemporary art, as well.

"He was also a very outgoing and forthright person when it came to expressing his opinions," Mr. Fisher recalled.

Mr. Cohen donated African art from his personal collection not only to the BMA but also to Morgan State University, family members said.

"When it was shown, he wanted his name unlisted. He preferred anonymity," said a son, James Cohen of Miami.

Another philanthropic interest was the disabled community because his youngest son has developmental disabilities.

He was a life board member of the Arc of Baltimore and Chimes, where he had served as chairman.

Mr. Cohen's other board memberships included the Baltimore Opera Company and Friends School.

He was a world traveler and had visited more than 100 countries during his lifetime. He also maintained a particular interest in China, to which he traveled six times.

He was also a founder of the U.S.-China Peoples Friendship Association.

Services were Sunday.

Also surviving are his wife of 46 years, the former Jane Whitehouse; two other sons, Eric Cohen of Baltimore and Michael Cohen of Chicago; two daughters, Elizabeth Cohen of Austin, Texas, and Emily Cohen of Oakland, Calif.; a sister, Carol Caplan of Baltimore; and a grandson.

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