Toledo Museum of Art remembers philanthropist Rita Kern

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Exterior view of the Toledo Museum of Art.

Toledo Museum of Art façade Photo Credit: Andrew Weber

The Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) and the entire Toledo community are mourning the loss of TMA supporter and donor Rita Barbour Kern of Perrysburg, Ohio. Mrs. Kern (born in 1925), whose husband, Dr. Edward A. Kern, passed away in 1987, was an active member of the Museum for nearly half a century.

“We are mourning the passing of Rita Kern, who was a cherished part of the TMA family for decades,” said Museum Director Brian Kennedy. “She treasured this Museum as her own, and on behalf of current and former Museum staff and supporters, we pay tribute to her vision, dedication and enthusiasm. She will be deeply missed. Rita loved the natural world: birds, frogs, flowers, trees and her view to the Maumee River. She honored equally the capacity of human creativity to make beautiful and meaningful objects. She truly believed in lifelong learning. She wanted everyone in Toledo to value its great art museum.”

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Louis Comfort Tiffany (designer, American, 1848-1933), Tiffany & Company (maker), Necklace, about 1912, gold (18 carat, cast and chased), nephrite beads, l. 13 ½ in., (34.2 cm), w. 3 3/8 in. (8.6 cm), Toledo Museum of Art, Purchased with funds given by Rita Barbour Kern, 1996.1

Raised and educated in northwestern Ohio, Mrs. Kern first joined the Museum as a member of the TMA Ambassadors in 1970, and served as an honorary board member from 2011 to 2016. She was a current member of the Director’s Circle, Georgia Welles Apollo Society, Libbey Circle and Library League.

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English, Tiara, about 1845, gold and coral, ht. 1 5/8 in. (4.1 cm), l. 6 7/8 in. (17.5 cm), w. 3 in. (7.6 cm), Toledo Museum of Art, Purchased with funds given by Rita Barbour Kern, 1996.27

Over the years, Mrs. Kern provided support for a number of significant projects across the Museum, such as the renovation of the Rotunda and the development of the Jewelry Gallery; an array of collections-based educational initiatives and special exhibitions; and campus enhancements that incorporated new exterior lighting, beautifications to the Museum grounds and the establishment of the Rita B. Kern Garden, which encompasses flowers, herbs, a fountain and a chef’s garden for the Museum Café.

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Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson (American, 1940 – 2015), The Ragmud Series: Volume 10, Harlem Book, 1987-2008, mixed media, Toledo Museum of Art, Museum purchase with funds given by Rita B. Kern and Dorothy Mackenzie Price, with additional support from the artist and Hammond Harkins Gallery, and Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William E. Levis, by exchange, 2009.6A-H

Highlights of her considerable and wide-ranging gifts of art to the Museum include contemporary sculpture by Petah Coyne, jewelry designed by Louis C. Tiffany and Georges Braque, glass art by Lee Bul, artist’s books by Aminah Robinson, works on paper by Dale Chihuly and European and American decorative art and furniture. Most recently she helped purchase Jaume Plensa’s monumental outdoor sculpture Spiegel (2010) for the Museum.

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Jaume Plensa (Spanish b. 1955), Spiegel, 2010, painted stainless steel, H: 148 1/2 in. (377 cm); W: 92 1/2 in. (235 cm); Depth: 96 1/2 in. (245 cm), Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, OH), Purchased with funds given by Rita Barbour Kern and Gift of Mrs. George M. Jones, Jr., by exchange, 2012.84A-B

“Rita was extremely kind and generous, elegant and unassuming,” said TMA Director of Development Todd Ahrens. “She loved the Museum, and we were fortunate to have her so involved. We will miss her, but remember and celebrate her life and her commitment to supporting the arts and art education.”

Mrs. Kern’s generosity extended to other greater Toledo organizations, especially the Toledo Symphony.


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