Harriet Spencer, who played a hugely important role in the growth and success of the Walker Art Center over many decades, passed away last month. An amazing woman and incredible friend of the Walker, Harriet joined the Board of Trustees in 1976 and became an Honorary Trustee in 2000. During the past 36 years, she frequently served in a leadership capacity on the Board, also chairing numerous committees during her long tenure. In addition, she served on the Capital Campaign Advisory Committee for the $100 million drive to expand the Walker seven years ago.
Together with her husband Ed, who passed away in March 2012, Harriet was exceedingly generous to this institution. Two of their major gifts supported the capital campaigns to create the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in 1988 and to build the 2005 expansion. Their generosity included contributions supporting Walker exhibitions, including Picasso and American Art, Dirt On Delight: Impulses That Form Clay, Sol LeWitt: 2D+3D, and Graphic Design: Now in Production; as well as donations and/or contributions for the acquisition of 13 works of art for the Walker Collection, among them Deborah Butterfield’s Woodrow, the beloved sculpture of a horse located in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. We are especially touched that Harriet included the Walker in her estate plans, ensuring that the institution would receive additional works of art from her collection. An extraordinary couple who were married for 62 years, the Spencers were also great travelers, whose many Walker trips included such destinations as Los Angeles, Havana, Paris, and Roden Crater in Arizona.
Harriet’s contribution to the vitality of this institution is truly astonishing. She was a close friend and confidante to my predecessors Martin Friedman and Kathy Halbreich, who, like myself, greatly benefited from her wisdom, wit, and steadfast support during their tenures here. I was also inspired by her tremendous spunk and verve for life and living. She and Ed not only modeled for me the merits of leading a joyous life, but also maintaining a deep commitment to curiosity and learning as one grows older. They were both incredibly open and generous people, engaged with the Walker and its programs until the very end. I will miss seeing Harriet at her frequent lunches at Gather, which became her custom following Ed’s passing. She is also deeply missed by many other friends at the Walker and in Minnesota, as well as in Arizona and Wyoming—places where she also had homes and made a significant difference in the quality of life.