Helen Frankenthaler Foundation is donating $2 million to the Smithsonian American At Museum, to endow a new fellowship there.
Helen Frankenthaler was an American abstract impressionist painter who rose to prominence in the 1950s and painted into the early 2000s. From Manhattan, she was influenced by Jackson Pollock, Hans Hofmann, and Clement Greenberg, her mentor. Her large scale art has been exhibited all over the world for over 70 years, and she was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2001, ten years before her passing at age 83.
She created the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation to promote public access to and understanding of visual arts. The Foundation was the principal heir of Frankenthaler’s estate, and maintains her work and her collection of other artist’s works, along with issuing grants to museums and galleries.
The $2 million donation to the Smithsonian American Art Museum is the largest donation the museum has received in 53 years. It will be used to endow a fellowship position, for a scholar to study, teach, research, or create modern and contemporary American art. The donation completes a $10 million campaign to raise capitol for the endowment.
“Writing a dissertation or book can be a lonely and tedious process,” SAAM director Stephanie Stebich wrote in an email.“ It takes a very long time, and much of it is spent alone traveling between various libraries and archives. There is also a history of scholars carefully guarding their work. SAAM’s fellowship program is a sort of antidote to this isolation—it is a nurturing space where scholars learn from each other, deepening and expanding their thinking.”
In an emailed interview, Frankenthaler Foundation executive director Elizabeth Smith said the decision to support the fellowship program can from its distinguished “focus on American art—a field that was central to Frankenthaler and one she helped to shape over the course of her extended career.”
The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation Fellowship will launch this fall, with applications for the spot due on November 1, 2023 to be awarded in time for the 2024-25 academic year.