A Legacy in Art

On view Nov. 5, 2022, to May 7, 2023

In her nearly 17-year patronage of the Nerman Museum and Johnson County Community College, Mary Davidson was an influential and integral figure to both. She and her husband, Bart Cohen, designated gifts that helped construct the Museum, transform space to feature artists associated with Kansas, and acquire art. Three current installations (curated by Bruce Hartman) in the Museum honor their enduring legacy, which includes a dedicated Art Acquisition Endowment, two galleries (Cohen Gallery and Kansas Focus Gallery), and numerous works of art.

The Kansas Focus Gallery highlights Mary's keen interest in Native American art, most specifically, paintings by Navajo, Pueblo, and Plains artists. Five of the artists included (Fritz Scholder, Norman Akers, Woodrow Crumbo, Dan Namingha, and Archie Blackowl) have direct ties to Kansas. The Museum's mezzanine features six major works acquired with funds provided by the Barton P. & Mary D. Cohen Art Acquisition Endowment. Finally, the administrative corridor showcases pieces from Mary's personal art collection - much of which she gifted to the Museum. All three installations also demonstrate her long support of area artists.

Additionally, the recent installation of Wendell Castle's bronze sculpture, Dante's Heaven, is the culmination of a generous gift in 2019 from Mary Davidson. This monumental work is sited on the lawn directly outside the Museum's lobby and the Kansas Focus Gallery. Castle was born and raised in Emporia, KS and received BFA and MFA degrees from the University of Kansas, Lawrence. He was internationally renowned and exhibited as one of the fathers of the art furniture movement.

Mary, along with Bart, wholeheartedly embraced the Museum and its extraordinary art collection. Mary served on the Museum's Advisory Committee, co-chaired the 2011 Beyond Bounds · Brilliant! fundraiser, and consistently championed campus art as a means to inspire and educate students. She also hosted her own show, It's Our Community (which often featured area artists), on the college's television station. Named Kansas City Philanthropist of the Year in 2014, she supported numerous arts, education, and cultural organizations throughout the community.

Fortunately, Mary's great legacy continues, thanks to the ongoing philanthropy and work of the Barton P. & Mary D. Cohen Charitable Trust, Overland Park, Kansas.

— Bruce Hartman, retired Founding Executive Director and Chief Curator, Nerman MoCA

“A Legacy in Art” is on display through May 7, 2023, in the Kansas Focus Gallery, Museum mezzanine and administrative corridor. This exhibition was curated by Bruce Hartman, Founding Executive Director and Chief Curator (retired), Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art.