Head of Arts Commission dead at 67

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- J. Carter Brown, who for three decades nurtured and protected the monuments and architecture of the nation's capital as chairman of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, has died at age 67.

Brown, who succumbed to a cancer of the blood, died Monday at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston after six weeks of intensive care for pulmonary failure, his family said in a statement.

"For someone undergoing such intensive treatment," it said, "he became quickly known within the hospital for his strength of spirit and determination in the face of such heavy treatment."

The statement, released through the National Gallery of Art here, said that at the time of his death, Brown was in the company of family members.

Their statement said that during his hospital stay, he had worked on a book project covering his and his father's life and read e-mails regularly.

Brown left his imprint on major additions and countless minor revisions to the National Mall and the surrounding landscape in the nation's capital.

"He really had a profound influence on the way the city looks," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Brown's panel arbitrated intense national debates over designs for the Vietnam wall and the planned World War II monument, and also oversaw the Korean War and Franklin D. Roosevelt memorials from start to finish.

He resigned from the commission and more than a dozen other arts and education boards on May 21, when he was hospitalized for lung ailments that followed treatment for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer.

Most of his tenure as arts commission chairman coincided with his 23-year service as director of the National Gallery of Art. Brown oversaw construction of its angular East Wing, by renowned architect I.M. Pei.

He greatly expanded the museum's collections and was known as a popularizer with a yen for grand shows designed to attract a wider audience.

After leaving the gallery in 1992, Brown helped found Ovation, a cable television network devoted to the arts. And was director of the "Rings" exhibit of international artwork at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

"I come from a great line of preachers. I believe in the arts, and I have a sort of Messianic zeal about broadening their audience," Brown told The New York Times in 1996.

Born John Carter Brown in Providence, R.I., in 1934, he was scion to the wealthy family that founded Brown University. Brown, however, graduated from Harvard and prepared for a career in arts administration by studying in Florence, Paris, the Netherlands and New York University's Institute of Fine Arts.

He became assistant to the director of the National Gallery of Art in 1961, then director in 1969.

Brown was appointed chairman of the fine arts commission by President Nixon in 1971 and continued to serve as gatekeeper of the capital's public art under the next six presidents. He has been called the pope of public art, the Supreme Court of Washington architecture.

Brown is survived by two children, his son Jay and daughter Melissa, and a brother, Nicholas Brown and sister Angela Fischer.

A memorial service will be held June 25 in Providence, R.I., the family statement said, and a memorial service at National Cathedral in Washington will be scheduled.

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