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Developer Shares Wealth, Passion for Art with Adopted City

Many famous Americans have bequeathed their estates and their names to the art museums they helped to establish, from the Guggenheim in New York City to the Hirshhorn in Washington, D.C. At the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas, visitors might actually meet the man for whom the gallery is named. Raymond Nasher frequently roams the Center's exhibition halls and sculpture garden, savoring the works by Alexander Calder, Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore and other famous sculptors.

In fact, the Nasher Sculpture Center is home to one of the finest modern sculpture collections in the world, and Mr. Nasher usually has plenty of company at this popular downtown art museum. Gail Graves of Denton, Texas, says she and her family are frequent visitors. "We just love it," she says. "The art is exuberant and wonderful. On a day like this -- in this perfectly designed garden -- it is such a gift to the world from Mr. Nasher that we so appreciate. It fills your heart with the wonder of what people can figure out to do with their creativity."

Before the sculpture center opened in 2003, Raymond Nasher displayed some of his art collection at the upscale Dallas shopping center he developed called the North Park Mall. Nasher says art in a mall is a natural. "There should be a true partnership between commerce and culture," he explains. "Because in essence, culture creates the environment that makes this a livable world. As far as North Park and the shopping centers, there are from 20,000 to 100,000 people a day that walk through the shopping center. Whether the customers liked it or not really didn't make much difference: It was [simply] the fact they were exposed to very good art and important art."

Raymond Nasher and his late wife, Patsy, spent 50 years acquiring the more than 300 sculptures -- and many more paintings and drawings -- now housed in the Dallas museum. The extraordinary diversity and quality of the Nasher collection had caught the attention of many museums, but Nasher says he decided that the works should stay in Dallas. "The National Gallery of Art [in Washington], the Guggenheim in New York, the Tate in London, were all very interested in the art," Nasher remembers. "So we assumed we had something very important. After thinking it through, there was the opportunity to give back to Dallas. We discovered there was no city in the world -- New York, Paris, London, Venice, Rome -- that has within its inner city both a sculpture museum and a sculpture garden. With the collection we have, if we could put the collection in a garden and museum within the inner city of Dallas, it would be an opportunity of it becoming an international center for modern sculpture."

In addition to the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas, Nasher has built a new museum at his alma mater, Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina.

The Texas businessman says that while he earned his fortune in real estate, developing shopping malls and office buildings, he was cultivating his lifelong passion for art. "My parents were immigrants," he recalls, "who grew up in Boston. From the time I was seven or eight, the three of us went to a different museum every month. My mother's grandparents lived in the Bronx in New York, and when we visited them, I was taken to the Metropolitan [Museum of Art]. My wife, who went to Smith College, really studied art history. She had an incredible eye. The two of us teamed up and decided that whatever extra funds we had -- if we ever had any -- we'd like to have our three children be exposed to art in our home."

Although Raymond Nasher and his wife purchased a lot of ancient art for their collection, he says it is his modern art that excites him the most. "The variety and diversity of it -- you never know what's happening [next]," Nasher observes. "There's always something new coming on the scene. The artists are vying with others to see what they can create. It was like Braque and Picasso when they were looking for a new form of art. And they finally came up with cubism." Nasher is also intrigued by the materials artists use to create their work. "Today in the arts you have neon, of course, and the materials are unbelievable. I had a survey taken of our art collection and it was made from 39 different materials!"

Asked whether his remarkable art collection has ever inspired him to try his own hand at art, Raymond Nasher smiles. "I have one doodle I did in pencil," he admits. "It's in the bathroom. It's just there for my own annoyance!"

Now in his 80s, Raymond Nasher is still active in both his business and his pleasure: he serves on the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, as well as other local arts and urban affairs panels, and he continues to promote the art he loves.

For earlier profiles in VOA's American Profiles series click here