The Kimbell celebrates its birthday with – what else? – a birthday party!

(Photo by Amber Shumake)

The Kimbell Art Museum held a birthday party Tuesday – the museum opened the Louis I. Kahn Building to great acclaim on Oct. 4, 1972 – and used the occasion to launch a year-long celebration of its spectacular 50-year history.

“The Kimbell fuels my soul,” said Fort Worth entrepreneur and hotelier Jonathan Morris in a video clip shown at Tuesday’s party, which was attended by an array of dignitaries and VIP guests.

“The Kimbell,” said Museum Director Eric Lee, “transformed Fort Worth with its permanent and special exhibits.” In the realm of art, he said, the Kimbell “put Fort Worth on the map.”

Lee said he liked Morris’ characterization so much that the museum just might make “Fuel your soul at the Kimbell” its new slogan.

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The Kimbell got its start as the Kimbell Art Foundation, established in 1936 by two families: Fort Worth entrepreneur Kay Kimbell and his wife, Velma, along with Kay’s sister and her husband, Dr. And Mrs. Coleman Carter. The original collection was comprised mostly of British and French portraits of the 18th and 19th centuries. Upon Kay Kimbell’s death, his estate went to the foundation with explicit instructions to create a museum. The intent was to grow the collection by acquiring what was then described as “works of definitive excellence.”

Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker was among the distinguished guests at the birthday party and she came bearing an official proclamation that read, in part: “Over the last 50 years, Fort Worth’s collaboration with the Kimbell has educated, inspired and transformed the city into a global art destination.”

Whenever she travels, Parker said, “People talk to me about the Kimbell.” She also noted that Fort Worth annually attracts 9.4 million visitors from all over the world and credits the Kimbell as one of the reasons.

The birthday party, billed as “The Kimbell at 50 – A Golden Anniversary Preview,” took place on a sunshine-filled October morning that made the most of the natural light coming in through the museum’s famed vaulted ceilings. The Kimbell pulled out all the stops, serving not just coffee and pastries, but yogurt parfaits, quiche, caviar and lox, as well as a multi-tiered 50th birthday cake made by Fort Worth’s Creme de la Creme Cake Company. White and pink rose centerpieces adorned the tables on the main floor of the Louis Kahn building. Enormous planters with roses stood at the doorways leading out to the patio and the Renzo Piano Pavilion.

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The party opened a week of anniversary events, including a family festival on Saturday, Oct. 8, on the Kimbell’s great lawn main stage.

A new exhibition, “The Kimbell at 50,”  chronicles the history of the foundation and museum. It features the design and construction of the Louis I. Kahn Building in 1972 as well as the Renzo Piano Pavilion, which opened in 2013.

The birthday presentation included a collection of five videos, dubbed the Kimbell Stories. In each, the subject addressed the museum’s importance to them.

Larry Eubank started at the Kimbell as an assistant building manager in 1972 in charge of grounds and galleries. He was responsible for the interior and exterior, including the museum’s 9 1/2 acres. He said as the years passed his department had to redesign fixtures to match the originals from the ’70s.

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“We tried to keep the building architecturally correct,” he said.

The second video featured choreographer and Texas Ballet Theater dancer Alexandra Farber. She was filmed not only walking through the galleries and grounds, but dancing in a tutu and toe shoes. She said that for artists, the Kimbell brings everyone together to see the rich history of art.

In the third video, art teacher Denise Huddle from Southlake Carroll ISD told how the Kimbell helped teachers expand their knowledge of art.

“The Kimbell does a great job of educating the educators,” she said, adding, “People need a place to come to understand culture and enjoy art.”

Besides fueling the excitement with his fuel-for-the-soul remark, Jonathan Morris – co-owner of the Hotel Dryce in Fort Worth’s Cultural District –  said: “The Kimbell is a magnet for all communities and connects people to our city. It is a leader in thought and design.”

Benjamin Munoz, a printmaker and wood artist, was the subject of the fifth and final video. He said, “I look at the museum for inspiration … I really like art that is conveyed and easily digestible.”

Munoz said he grew up in a small town with no museums. “Now, as a father, I can bring my own kids to the Kimbell,”  he said.

In addition to the Kimbell Stories, the museum’s deputy director, George Shackelford, spoke about the many museums that have lent their collections to the Kimbell over the years, including the Barnes Foundation from Philadelphia; the Musee d’Orsay from Paris; and the Museum Capodimonte in Naples, Italy. Jennifer Casler Price, curator of Asian, African and Ancient American Art, shared the history of some of the museum’s major acquisitions. And Nancy E. Edwards, curator of European Art, talked about how the Kimbell cultivates life-long learners, from toddlers to teens to college students.

For more information about the Kimbell’s Golden Anniversary go to https://kimbellart.org/50