Blog / Marilyn Arthur: Goodbye to a Dear Friend

Posted By Wendy Hower

ABOVE: Marilyn M. Arthur portrait by Duke Photography.

Marilyn M. Arthur, longtime supporter and friend of the Nasher Museum, passed away in Sarasota, Florida, on November 11, 2014, at the age of 80.

Marilyn’s legacy will benefit the museum for many years to come: In her will, she established a $1 million Charitable Remainder Unitrust for the Nasher Museum. Hers was a familiar smile at the museum, and she routinely drove to Duke from her home in Pinehurst, N.C., to attend artist talks and opening events. She contributed capital support to help build the Nasher Museum in 2005, and the museum store is named after Marilyn and her family. In 2006, Marilyn founded an endowment to provide support for the museum’s exhibitions and K-12 education programming. She contributed to the purchase of several works of art to the museum’s collection and was a lead sponsor for some of the museum’s most significant exhibitions, most recently Miro: The Experience of Seeing. Most recently, Marilyn joined the museum’s national Board of Advisors.

“North Carolina, Duke University, the Nasher, the world has lost a good and loyal friend,” said Sarah Schroth, Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director of the Nasher Museum. “Marilyn has been closely involved with the Nasher Museum from the beginning, lending incredible support in every possible way she could. She was a pure, open and free spirit, a truly fun and creative individual, whose encouragement was always so generous and heartfelt, and whose presence lit up the room. She was a smart, elegant lady, who touched so many people; we all adored her and will miss her so much. She will not be forgotten.”

Marilyn’s connection to the Nasher Museum began decades ago ─ long before Duke’s first stand-alone museum existed. In the ’50s, when she was a Duke student, Marilyn was a happy supporter of the arts at Duke; she worked with other students to create displays of art around campus. Marilyn graduated from the Women’s College in 1956. She was active at the former Duke University Museum of Art, which was founded in 1969 and housed in a former science building on the East Campus. Later, she met museum founder and namesake Raymond D. Nasher and helped promote the new Nasher Museum through Duke’s development committee. Her daughter Lori graduated from Duke in 1979 and her son David graduated from Duke in 1988.

“The Nasher Museum has had a wonderful outreach that goes way beyond what anyone envisioned,” Marilyn said, at that time. “It’s a very special place and a wonderful example for other universities.”

Marilyn helped the Nasher Museum celebrate many milestones, big and small. During the grand opening of the Nasher Museum on October 2, 2005, Marilyn applauded as the marching band’s drums and horns reverberated under the glass-and-steel roof. She was at the museum a few days later when nearly 2,000 Duke students swirled around the Great Hall for the very first student party. Marilyn was at the Nasher Museum to comfort the staff after namesake and founder Raymond D. Nasher died in 2007. The next year, she traveled with then-senior curator Sarah Schroth to Spain to trace the footsteps of El Greco─and she also helped underwrite a public television documentary on Sarah’s blockbuster exhibition El Greco to Velazquez in 2008.

In 2010, Marilyn served as vice president of the Friends of the Nasher Museum Board and co-chair of the museum’s annual benefit gala. She was here in 2012 to send off founding director Kim Rorschach, who became director of Seattle Art Museum; she was here to applaud Sarah as new director. Marilyn was an artist who made unique jewelry─and also a collector of contemporary art.

“I’ve always been enthusiastic about the Nasher Museum,” she said, in a 2010 interview. “We needed it. It’s been a boon to Duke University; it has brought people to campus who never would have thought of stopping by. We’ve really opened an awful lot of doors and educated the students―way beyond what most university art museums do.”

Over the years, Marilyn accompanied the director, curators and other friends on trips to Dallas, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, New York and Hawaii.

Two years ago, at Art Basel Miami Beach, Marilyn and Sarah Schroth walked around the main fair together and stopped at Arratia Beer’s gallery space. The artist Pablo Rasgado was there to talk about his large mosaic work, Unfolded Architecture, comprised of broken drywall pieces that once existed as temporary walls in art museums around Mexico. Marilyn was fascinated as he explained how his wall sculpture is a sort of origami. The flat mosaic of drywall once existed as 3D walls and spaces; one could imagine unfolding and flattening them. He built the work in Mexico, in 22 large sections that were wrapped, shipped and placed back together on the temporary wall in Miami. Right then, Marilyn bought one of the sections of Pablo’s Unfolded Architecture for her home in North Carolina.

Marilyn told Sarah she loved his use of one red chunk of wall among the yellows, purples and blues – “balanced the whole thing.” She had always loved geometrics and the push and pull in art, she said, at the time, and appreciated modern artist Joseph Albers. Unfolded Architecture had a message, Marilyn said. “It’s transferring from one place to another place. There’s a double meaning.”

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Duke University in memory of Marilyn M. Arthur for the Nasher Museum of Art for the Marilyn M. Arthur Fund. Please mail to Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, 2001 Campus Drive, Durham, NC 27705.


“North Carolina, Duke University, the Nasher, the world has lost a good and loyal friend. Marilyn has been closely involved with the Nasher Museum of Art from the beginning, lending incredible support in every possible way she could. She was a pure, open, and free spirit, a truly fun and creative individual, whose encouragement was always so generous and heartfelt, and whose presence lit up the room. She was a smart, elegant lady, who touched so many people; we all adored her and will miss her so much. She will not be forgotten.” — Sarah Schroth, Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director, Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University

“I automatically felt happier when I was around Marilyn!” ─ Arthur Rogers, Nasher Museum Friends Board President

“Marilyn was a tremendous patron of the museum and wonderful friend to the board and staff. Her friendship meant a lot to me personally. She was incredibly engaged and supportive of the museum’s initiatives on so many different levels, from the architecture to exhibitions, collection development and educational programs. She was a warm and lovely person who passionately believed in the Nasher Museum.  Marilyn will be deeply missed. I miss her.”
─ Trevor Schoonmaker, Chief Curator and Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Curator of Contemporary Art

“Beautiful Marilyn illuminated the people and world around her with her shining grace and kindness. Her generosity, curiosity, and joy of living touched me and everyone with whom she came into contact. The Nasher was nurtured by her desire for Duke to have a first class art museum. She will be sorely missed.” ─ Mindy Solie, gallery guide, longtime museum member and donor, Duke graduate, former Friends Board President.

“Marilyn was a true friend and loyal supporter. From the beginning, she shared the vision for the new Nasher Museum at Duke, and participated enthusiastically in the early planning. She continued to support the museum very generously, and took special pleasure in helping us to build an exciting program in contemporary art, as well as supporting our most ambitious endeavors in other fields. On a personal level, she was an enormous delight: a wonderful friend to me and all our Nasher colleagues. I can’t believe she is gone and will miss her so very much.” ─ Kimerly Rorschach, director of the Seattle Art Museum

“At this sad time, I am drawing on Marilyn’s own words of comfort to me when Raymond D. Nasher died in 2007. ‘Make a collage!’ she urged me. ‘Paint something. Express your feelings!’ ” ─ Wendy Hower, Director of Engagement and Marketing

Marilyn Arthur
ABOVE: Marilyn Arthur visits the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Nasher Museum staff and Duke alumni in 2011.
Marilyn Arthur smiles at Coach K with daughter Lori Arthur (right) at the Nasher Museum’s 2010 gala. Photo by Duke Photography.


 TOP: Marilyn Arthur (center) poses with the Nasher Museum Friends Board in 2010.
Marilyn Arthur (middle) attends the 2010 gala at the Nasher Museum with her daughter Lori Arthur (left) and Lori’s fiancé Tom Stroud.

Marilyn Arthur

 TOP: Marilyn Arthur (left) checks out the beach with Wendy Hower, director of engagement and marketing, and Mindy Solie, then Friends Board President, at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2006.

Marilyn Arthur Marilyn Arthur

TOP LEFT:  Marilyn Arthur (left) with Chief Curator Trevor Schoonmaker and Anita Schwarz at a member event in 2010. TOP RIGHT: Mindy Solie (left) meets artist Robin Rhode with Marilyn Arthur in 2007 at Art Basel Miami Beach.

Marilyn Arthur 
Marilyn Arthur (second from left) visits Tyler Rollins of Tyler Rollins Fine Art with former director Kimerly Rorschach and Chief Curator Trevor Schoonmaker in 2011.

 Marilyn Arthur (left) shows off her signed record from artist Satch Hoyt with Kristen Greenaway, former director of development.




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