The Generous Kimbells of Whiteright Texas

Small Town Youth Marry, Amass Fortune, Create Legacy With Kimbell Art Museum


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Kay and Velma Kimbell from Whiteright, Texas, spent their fortune on art and funding the Kimbell Art Museum. Courtesy photo

“Portrait of May Sartoris” by Frederic Leighton is one of the many world-acclaimed masterpieces at the Kimbell Art Museum.

The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth easily ranks as one of the top visual art venues in Texas, but few may know that its origin is tied to an art-loving couple who themselves originated from rural Upper East Side of Texas.

Kay and Velma Kimbell donated their own art collection and some of their personal fortune to create the museum. Born in 1886, Kay attended school in Whiteright, Texas, where he met his future wife, Velma Fuller, born in Whiteright in July 1887. They married December 24, 1910. After a visit to see paintings on display at the Fort Worth Public Library in 1931, both were committed to collecting art as well as making art available to the general public somehow, someday. By 1936, they had established the Kimbell Art Foundation along with her sister and her husband, Dr. and Mrs. Coleman Carter.

Kay Kimbell was the head of more than 70 corporations doing business in flour, feed, oil, groceries, and insurance. Over the years, they had amassed a multi-million-dollar art collection made up mostly of European Old Masters.

Kay died in 1964, before the dream of an actual art museum for Fort Worth and all of Texas came true, but Velma helped turn the first shovel of earth at groundbreaking ceremonies for the museum in 1969.


“Portrait of May Sartoris” by Frederic Leighton is one of the many world-acclaimed masterpieces at the Kimbell Art Museum.

True to the art benefactors’ belief that an art museum should itself be a work of art, the foundation secured famed architect Louis I. Kahn. He created what is considered one of the finest art museums ever built. His inspiration of finding the perfect balance between light and structure is evident in each part of the museum that visitors enter.

Velma was honored by the Cultural Achievement Award of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce in 1972 and the Patron of the Arts Award of the Arts Council of Greater Fort Worth in 1973. She was also named Outstanding Citizen of the Year by the Exchange Club of Fort Worth in 1973. Velma’s health was poor for the last two years before her death on April 24, 1982.

In 1998, the American Institute of Architects gave the museum its prestigious Twenty-five Year Award, which is awarded to no more than one building per year. Robert Campbell, architectural critic for the Boston Globe and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, declared it to be “the greatest American building of the second half of the 20th century.”

Inside the museum today are masterpieces of world acclaim. The best-known works are Michelangelo’s “The Torment of Saint Anthony,” Picasso’s classic Cubist painting “Man with a Pipe,” El Greco’s “Portrait of Dr. Francisco de Pisa,” Rubens’ “Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Buckingham,” Gauguin’s “Self-Portrait,” and Cézanne’s “Man in a Blue Smock.” Living up to the founders’ vision, the museum has broadened its collection to include art from any period in history and in any medium or style. The Kimbell also attracts visiting exhibits of international renown.

For more information about the museum, visit www.kimbellart.org.

 

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