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Rockefeller donates $2.5 million to RISD Museum

Museum to construct gallery in name of benefactors David and Peggy Rockefeller

The Rhode Island School of Design Museum received a $2.5 million gift March 5 from David Rockefeller, as well as a promise for pieces of artwork from his private collection as bequests, according to a March 9 RISD Museum press release.

Of the total donation, $2 million endows the David and Peggy Rockefeller Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, a position currently held by Elizabeth Williams. The remaining $500,000 will support the transformation of a 400-square-foot space in the museum’s Radeke Building into the David and Peggy Rockefeller Gallery.

John Smith, director of the RISD Museum, said the $500,000 supporting the gallery will specifically go toward renovating the space, updating the lighting and funding the installation of the pieces. The remaining sum will be kept in reserve for ongoing maintenance of the gallery, he added.

The David and Peggy Rockefeller Gallery will be situated on the floor dedicated to European art. The pieces that Rockefeller promised to the museum will be featured in this gallery and “will elevate the quality of our collection and fill voids in our collection,” Smith said. His gift includes furniture and decorative pieces from England, as well as European silver and porcelain objects, according to the press release.

“The furniture piece of the donation is exciting,” said Kevin Remy, a senior at RISD. Many professors have expressed interest in the museum’s current collection of furniture, so “it’s nice that the donation includes something that includes an overlap of their interests,” he said. 

Before the museum receives Rockefeller’s bequests, pieces from its current collection will be featured in the gallery, Smith said. “We will be conscientious in capturing Mr. Rockefeller’s personality as much as we can in these works,” he said, adding, “What’s been so wonderful about working with (Rockefeller) is that he trusts and values the expertise of the curators here.”

The donation tells diverse stories, offering visitors various points of access to the new gallery, Smith said. “The objects will help us tell a global story about art and design,” he said.

Rockefeller’s recent donation is part of a narrative of support from his family beginning nearly a century ago. This “long history of generosity and philanthropy to the RISD Museum is a wonderful story in and of itself,” Smith said.

David Rockfeller is the oldest living child of John D. Rockefeller, after whom Brown’s John D. Rockefeller Library was named in 1964.  He has also been the oldest living member of the Rockefeller family since July 2004. A banker and philanthropist, he previously served as chairman and chief executive of Chase Manhattan Bank, which is now J.P. Morgan Chase.

Smith said he expects renovations to begin in fall 2016 and the gallery to open in early summer 2017.


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