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"His life changed the moment he crossed the threshold"

A gift to endow the directorship of Evergreen Museum & Library honors a longtime Hopkins doctor and ensures the historic mansion and its collections will inspire future generations of students
Posted March 15, 2017
  • Hopkins junior Samantha Igo and Wagley Director Jim Abbott examine miniature paintings from the Evergreen Museum and Library's art collection.

  • Igo, the 2016-17 Evergreen curatorial intern, will base her capstone exhibit around the paintings, which belonged to Evergreen matriarch Alice Warder Garrett.

  • "We've had student workers considering careers in the sciences, something just clicks for them here, and they decide on a different path in museums." Abbott says. "That's the most rewarding aspect of my work."

When Philip Franklin Wagley, MD (Med '43) began visiting Baltimore's Evergreen House as the physician to its matriarch, he probably thought he'd be the one giving the advice and she would be taking it. But the reverse became equally true as his patient, Alice Warder Garrett, began teaching her young doctor about the world of art.

"Eventually, Mrs. Garrett didn't need to be seen medically every week. She was delighted to have company and to talk about her art. Their friendship awakened him to a whole new world — one that he'd be interested in for the rest of his life," says Mary Frances Wagley of her late husband, a beloved member of the Hopkins faculty for nearly 40 years and a leader in the teaching of medical ethics.

"I’m doing what Mrs. Garrett was doing when Dr. Wagley sat by her bedside, educating the young man and encouraging him to collect and explore art"
Jim Abbott

To honor Philip Wagley's lifelong love of art and affection for Evergreen, which was bequeathed along with its library and Asian art collections to Hopkins in 1942, Mary Frances made a lead gift of $500,000 to endow its directorship. Joined by several other individual donors — including members of the Evergreen House Foundation, which was created upon Alice Garrett's death in 1952 to assume ownership of Evergreen's fine art collection and on which Philip Wagley served several years as president — the endowment has reached a total of $700,000 toward its $1 million goal.

James "Jim" Archer Abbott, Evergreen Museum & Library's leader since 2007, has been named the inaugural Philip Franklin Wagley Director and Curator.

"It's an honor to have this title because Evergreen means to me what it meant to him," Abbott says. "His life changed the moment he crossed the threshold because he had an inspirational patient who was passionate about engaging with and sharing art."

Providing financial resources to support Abbott's position frees up other funding sources that Evergreen can use to serve the public through exhibitions, outreach programs, and more professional staff. But perhaps most importantly, the Wagley directorship will enable Abbott to strengthen the ways he works with students, including those from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences' Museum and Society program.

"I'm doing what Mrs. Garrett was doing when Dr. Wagley sat by her bedside, educating the young man and encouraging him to collect and explore art," Abbott says. Hopkins students may apply for a yearlong curatorial internship and, if accepted, take part in the day-to-day operations of the museum in the fall and work with Abbott to develop their own exhibition at Evergreen in the spring.

Courtney "Kit" Harris, A&S '11, now a curatorial research fellow at Boston’s famed Museum of Fine Arts, calls her experience as Evergreen's 2010-11 student curator invaluable.

"I learned so much from Jim about loan negotiation with institutions that aren't your own, and how to write compelling object labels, train docents, and effectively speak about an exhibition," Harris says. She credits her Evergreen exhibition with helping propel her to graduate school and, later, a position with the European Commission on Looted Art.

Months before Samantha Igo, the 2016-17 student curator, was slated to begin her term, Abbott already had introduced her to some potential topics ― a set of miniature paintings featuring landscapes and interiors that have never been publicly displayed.

"He emailed me in the middle of the summer to check in on my progress, even though he really didn't have to until September," Igo says. "He's a very dedicated mentor, and I'm excited to learn from his professional wisdom."

"We've had student workers considering careers in the sciences, something just clicks for them here, and they decide on a different path in museums. That's the most rewarding aspect of my work," Abbott says.

For Mary Frances Wagley, the reward is in honoring her husband and supporting Evergreen Museum and Library. Her gift to endow the directorship is one in a series of generous gifts she's made to Hopkins and Baltimore community organizations whose missions were important to the couple ― but the Evergreen gift may be the most personal.

"On my first visit to Baltimore, Philip picked me up at the Belvedere Hotel and brought me to Evergreen. He sat me in the library while he visited Mrs. Garrett. I remember looking at the books, the art, and being impressed and overwhelmed," she says. "Evergreen meant a great deal to him, and this gift is a gesture of gratitude to Evergreen and to Baltimore, where our lives intersected."

With two-thirds of the funding for this position in hand, Evergreen is eager to reach its financial goal by June 2017. To learn about how you can support the Philip Franklin Wagley Director/Curator endowment or to discuss other opportunities at the University Museums, please contact Liz Courtemanche, associate director of development, Sheridan Libraries and University Museums.