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Rita Newman Was Here

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Rita and Don Newman
Rita and Don Newman
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As a collector, Rita had a well-developed eye. She responded strongly to works and never shied away from ‘tough’ pieces. She committed to acquiring pieces by senior jewelry artists such as Kiff Slemmons but remained on the lookout for new talent such as Jennifer Trask. In doing so she built a jewelry collection that was distinctive in its outlook, broad in range and superior in quality. During a visit to SOFA Chicago in 2008, Rita surprised me by saying that she wanted to leave her jewelry to the MFAH. She and Don had family in Houston and she had greatly admired how the museum had exhibited and interpreted Helen Drutt’s collection. And so I went to Tulsa and we reviewed the collection together – me asking a million questions about why she acquired a piece and she sharing stories about experiences while wearing it, as well as notes from the artist who made it. It was quite a visit!

Rita’s gifts have enhanced the MFAH’s collections immensely, not only in jewelry but also in the area of fiber art. Unfortunately, each time that we had one of her objects on view she was too ill to travel to see them, so I would send her images of the gallery in the hope of raising her spirits. I will miss Rita greatly but I know that her legacy as a collector and great friend of the arts will live on in perpetuity.

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