David Winfield Scott

American artist, author, teacher was founding director of the National Museum of American Art

April 05, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

David Winfield Scott, a noted American artist and author and former Eastern Shore resident who was the founding director of the National Museum of American Art, died of multiple organ failure Monday at an Austin, Texas, hospice. He was 92.

Dr. Scott was born in Fall River, Mass., and raised in Claremont, Calif., where his father was a professor at Pomona College.

After graduating from the Webb School in Claremont, he studied painting with Millard Sheets, a prominent California watercolorist, who became a formative influence on the young artist.

He moved to New York City in 1937 after earning a bachelor's degree in English with honors from Harvard University, and enrolled with the Art Students' League, where he studied with such notable artists as John Sloan, Ernest Fiene, Jean Charlot and Alexander Abels.

In the late 1930s, Dr. Scott earned teaching credentials and taught for several years at Riverside Junior College in Riverside, Calif.

With the outbreak of World War II, he enlisted in the Army Air Forces and was assigned to a photo intelligence unit that created the maps used for the invasion of southern France.

His wartime experiences "led to an interest in the history of European art, and he did his doctoral dissertation on French Romanesque architecture," said Mary Corddry, a friend and reporter, who had been The Sun's Eastern Shore correspondent.

Dr. Scott held two master's degrees, one in art history from Harvard University, and the other in fine arts from Claremont Graduate University in California. He received his doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley in 1960.

In 1946, he was appointed to the art faculty at Scripps College in Claremont, where he taught art history, and eventually became department chairman.

After his 1947 marriage to Tirsa Saaveda, a Panamanian-born artist, the couple spent summers studying painting and Mexican art.

He later traveled extensively in France, Spain and Italy, where he became acquainted with the "work of a new era of artists there," Ms. Corddry said.

He described his own work, according to Ms. Corddry, as "abstractions and mindscapes."

In 1963, Dr. Scott, who was then living in Washington, joined the Smithsonian Institution's staff as assistant director of what at the time was called the National Collection of Fine Arts, which he expanded into what became the National Museum of American Art.

"Here he discovered an antiquated collection with almost no 20th-century works. By the time the National Collection opened in 1968 in the remodeled Patent Building with an expanded collection of art, he had become its director," Mrs. Corddry said.

In 1969, Dr. Scott joined the National Gallery of Art when he was named planning and program officer and served as liaison for the planned East Building that was designed by architect I.M. Pei.

Dr. Scott also played a pivotal role in the acquisition and installation of Alexander Calder's "Untitled," a mobile, and "Woman," Juan Miro's tapestry, in the East Building.

After retiring in 1984, he worked as an art and museum consultant.

Two years after his wife died, he married Doris Fitch White in 1988, and moved to Whitehaven, Wicomico County.

He was busy renovating an old barn into a studio when he received a call in 1990 from the trustees of the Corcoran Gallery in Washington.

The Corcoran's director had resigned amid public uproar over a canceled exhibition of Robert Maplethorpe's homoerotic photographs. The gallery asked Dr. Scott to take over as acting director.

He politely declined.

After an article in The Washington Post mistakenly reported that he had agreed to take the job, Dr. Scott dropped his opposition, and served as acting director for nearly a year.

Dr. Scott continued painting at his Eastern Shore farm until he moved to Austin in 2004 to be near family members.

In 1994, Salisbury University mounted a major exhibition of Dr. Scott's work in watercolors, acrylics and oils, which filled three galleries.

Dr. Scott's published works include Highlights of the National Collection of Fine Arts, two books on the life and paintings of John Sloan, and The Eye of Duncan Phillips: A Collection in the Making, which he co-authored with Erika D. Passantino.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete Saturday.

Also surviving are two daughters, Tirsa Scott George of Tucson, Ariz., and Elizabeth Scott Enright of Singapore; four stepsons, Rollie White and Campbell White, both of Austin, Thomas White of Escondido, Calif., and Wesley White of Princess Anne; a brother, Homer Scott of Hartford, Conn.; a sister, Sally Tankard of Wargraves, England; and three granddaughters.

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