Melva Jane Venezky Bucksbaum
Melva Jane Venezky Bucksbaum, 82, passed away August 16, 2015 surrounded by her loving family at her home in Aspen Colorado after a fight with bladder cancer. Melva was born and raised in Washington D.C. She often reminisced about her early passion for art and her countless visits to the National Gallery of Art in the nation’s capital where she was “transported into another world”. Her passion for art became deeply embedded early on and continued throughout her life.
In 1967, she married Martin Bucksbaum, chairman and founder of General Growth Properties, and moved to Des Moines, Iowa, a community she served by becoming president of the Des Moines Art Center Board of Trustees. Also, with particular personal pride, a moving force in the development and implementation of the Des Moines Vision Plan some 20 years ago; a classic example of successful urban revitalization, which today with its sculpture park and myriad attractions has become an aficionado’s destination. Melva also was instrumental in establishing Des Moines’ Drake University’s semi-annual Martin Bucksbaum Distinguished Lecture Series where her nephew Tom Friedman was the first lecturer.
In 1995, her husband Martin passed away. In 1996, in memoriam, Melva and her family endowed a chair at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University: The Martin Bucksbaum Professorship in Urban Planning and Design.
Thereafter Melva moved her residence to Aspen and New York. In New York she met and married Robert I. Goldman who sadly passed away in 1998.
In Aspen she became a Trustee of the Aspen Institute. In New York she became deeply committed to the Whitney Museum, joining the board in 1996 where she has played a leading role in the museum’s transformative move to its new location and at the time of her passing served as its Vice Chairman. During those years she founded the country’s largest cash award for an individual visual artist, the $100,000 Bucksbaum Award, given to an artist selected from the Whitney Museum’s signature Biennial Exhibition.
Melva’s interest and support of institutions committed to the arts spanned a wide arc and included participating on the boards of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., The Jewish Museum in New York, the Visiting Committees of the Museum at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; Christie’s American Advisory Board, NY; The International Council of the Museum of Modern Art, NY; the International Committee of the Tate Gallery, London, New York’s Drawing Center as well as serving on the architectural selection committee for the World Trade Center’s 9/11 Memorial Museum Pavilion. Further she served on the National Board of the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington and the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, Sausalito, CA.
In 2001, she married her fellow Whitney Trustee, Raymond J. Learsy. Given Learsy’s antecedents in Luxembourg and their many visits and gifted works of art to Luxembourg’s Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Melva was made a Commander of Luxembourg’s “Ordre de la Couronne de Chene” of which the Grand Duke of Luxembourg is the Grand Master.
Together, Melva and Ray created an important collection of contemporary art. Always passionate about the role of women artists, she fought for their full recognition and standing in the art world. In her last years she curated a focused exhibition of some 100 contemporary women artists from their collection titled “The Distaff Side” for which a significant catalog was produced and much admired.
She is survived by her sons Gene Bucksbaum and Glenn Bucksbaum and his wife April, daughter Mary Scanlan and her husband Patrick Scanlan, her husband Raymond Learsy and his daughter Dawn Learsy, his son Serge Learsy and his wife Lisa Finneran, stepchildren Bill Lese and his wife Serena, Peter Lese and his wife Lauren, Olexa Mandelbaum and her husband Leo, grandchildren Justin Bucksbaum, Martin Scanlan, Stella Scanlan, Otto Learsy-Cahill, Ezra Learsy-Cahill, Ailish Learsy, Conor Learsy, William Lese, Timothy Lese, Jason Lese, Stephen Lese, Lion Mandelbaum and Sebastian Mandelbaum and many nieces and nephews.
Memorial Services will be held at a later date in New York, Sharon, Des Moines and Aspen.
Memorial donations may be sent in lieu of flowers to Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort Street, New York, NY 10014; Des Moines Art Center, 4700 Grand Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa 50312; Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network (BCAN), 4915 St. Elmo Avenue, Suite 202, Bethesda, MD 20814; The Aspen Institute, 1000 North Third Street, Aspen, Colorado 81611; HomeCare Hospice of the Valley, 1901 Grand Avenue, Suite 206, Glenwood Springs, CO 81601.
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