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Raymond D. Nasher poses with Duke’s tennis team for the yearbook. Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
Raymond D. Nasher poses with Duke’s tennis team for the yearbook. Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Raymond D. Nasher’s vision for a new art museum can be traced to 1943, his senior year at Duke. He took stock of the cultural offerings on campus and saw room for improvement.

“Our university should enfold culture of every nature,” he wrote in “Time to Think,” his column in The Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper. “Art and music are basic cultural entities which must not be lost in the shuffle of ‘bread and butter’ seekers.”

Nasher went on to become a successful real estate developer in Texas, living out his own philosophy of the importance of art. With his wife, Patsy, he became an avid art collector; together they would amass one of the world’s major collections of 20th-century sculpture. He adorned his commercial properties with beautiful sculpture, believing that art enhances the experience of every environment. Meanwhile, the cultural landscape at Duke had improved since Nasher’s student days. The university boasted a Department of Art and Art History, and the Duke University Museum of Art opened in 1969, tucked inside a former science building on East Campus. The Nashers donated a sculpture and Navajo rugs to Duke’s museum over the years.

Nasher knew the art museum was too small and cramped, however, to support his ideas for developing the arts at Duke. It took many years, but finally in 1998, Nasher made the dream of a new art museum real with his gift of $7.5 million.

In June 2004, Nasher put on a hard hat and strolled around the construction site of the new art museum that would bear his name. He gazed up at the beautiful geometry of the steel-and-glass roof soaring 45 feet above the central courtyard. “This,” he said, “will be one of the most important, most interesting university art museums in the country.”

This article was published in the book,  Nasher10: Celebrating a Decade.

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Listen to the voice of Raymond D. Nasher, founder and namesake of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, recorded in 2005 on the occasion of the opening of the museum.
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