Becky Benaroya gives Tacoma Art Museum her collection, $14 million

Dale Chihuly, “Seaform Set,” from the promised gift of Rebecca and Jack and Benaroya to Tacoma Art Museum.
Dale Chihuly, “Seaform Set,” from the promised gift of Rebecca and Jack and Benaroya to Tacoma Art Museum. Courtesy

Seattle philanthropist Becky Benaroya has donated her family art collection to the Tacoma Art Museum, along with nearly $14 million to fund a gallery for 225 pieces, an endowment for their care and a dedicated curator.

The collection includes studio glass by such international and Northwest artists as Dale Chihuly, William Morris and Stanislav Lipensky; sculptures; and paintings by Northwest icons such as Paul Horiuchi and Morris Graves.

The museum announced the donation Thursday, which is Benaroya’s 93rd birthday.

“It’s fabulous,” museum director Stephanie Stebich said of the gift, which is almost on the scale of the recent Haub gift to the museum in number of works and money donated. “It’s a great moment when you can bring an outstanding private collection like this to the public view. … We have a focus on preserving the passion and vision of collectors and, being primarily Northwest art, it fits our mission perfectly.”

A preview exhibit of the collection will open this fall and the gallery will be finished by 2018, museum officials said.

The collection was amassed during Benaroya’s 70-year marriage to Jack Benaroya, an Alabama native born to Lebanese immigrant parents who moved to Seattle when he was 12 years old.

Jack Benaroya, a major real estate developer in the Seattle area, built business parks and assembled the largest private real estate empire in the Northwest before he sold it in 1984.

Before he died in 2012, he and his wife were known for generous philanthropy to the arts and medicine.

In 1993, they donated $15 million to fund the Seattle Symphony’s new hall, which bears his name. It was the largest gift ever to a Seattle nonprofit at the time.

The couple also gave to museums, education and medical research.

The Benaroyas were art patrons, collecting and commissioning works from artists and served as trustees for the fledgling Pilchuck School of Art and other boards.

Now, the Tacoma Art Museum — rather than Seattle Art Museum or another big institution — is the beneficiary of their decades of patronage.

“(Becky Benaroya) was very thoughtful about picking an institution that would accept the entire collection,” Stebich said. “We’re deeply honored and grateful for this gift.”

Becky Benaroya was not available for comment, but the press release announcing the donation included a statement by her.

“My son Larry and I were very thoughtful in considering the best placement for the works of art that Jack and I collected,” she said. “We approached TAM for many reasons; chief among them was the museum’s focus on Northwest art …

“We also wanted to keep the collection together and in the Northwest. … It makes me very happy that (Jack) will be remembered in this way.”

The Benaroya gift is on the scale of the 2012 donation by Erivan Haub, a German grocery store magnate. His gift included 280 pieces of Western American art and $20 million for the new wing, endowment and curation.

The Benaroyas’ donated artwork includes 150 pieces of glass art by Northwest artists Dante Marioni, Cappy Thompson and Ginny Ruffner, and international artists Howard Ben Tré, Lino Tagliapietra and Kyohei Fujita, among others.

They add to the museum’s other glass collections to total nearly 1,000 pieces.

The collection includes significant paintings by noted Northwest artists Guy Anderson and Mark Tobey, and sculptures by artists like Deborah Butterfield.

Just as Haub’s gift put the Tacoma museum on the map for Western American art, the Benaroya collection will put it “in the top five” of glass-collecting museums in the country, alongside the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia, and the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, Stebich said.

The collection helps cement the Pacific Northwest as an epicenter of glass art.

“Other places include (collections of) commercial glass art,” Stebich siad. “Tacoma is different. Here in the Northwest, we have the studio movement, individual artists, museums like ours. This is a key place in the world for glass art.”

The new Benaroya wing — it encompasses 7,390 square feet, 5,700 of which will be gallery space — will be built over the current parking lot off Hood Street on the museum’s north side, with an entrance through the current Davis gallery on the upper level. It will increase the museum’s footprint by 10 per cent, and gallery space by 31 per cent.

Of the nearly $14 million in donated funds, 67 percent will go to expansion, 29 percent to the endowment, and 4 percent to planning and exhibition expenses, museum officials said.

The wing will be designed by award-winning Seattle architect Tom Kundig of Olson-Kundig, who designed the Haub wing. Becky Benaroya and her family will be involved with design of the project.

The Benaroya collection, which has been housed at the Benaroyas’ home and lent to exhibitions, will be partly displayed in a preview show at the Tacoma Art Museum in the fall, along with a complete catalog of the collection.

“This is a great gift to Tacoma,” Stebich said.

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568, @rose_ponnekanti