Cochrane gift endows painting conservatorship

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Cochrane gift endows painting conservatorship
Bruce Suffield, Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane Associate Conservator of Paintings at VMFA. Photo: David Stover © VMFA.

RICHMOND, VA.- A final, long-planned gift from Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane has brought the couple’s support of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts full circle. As the result of a charitable annuity and trust benefiting the museum, $8.4 million was added to the VMFA endowment this year.

During the past five decades, the Cochranes generously supported VMFA with more than $40 million, through an endowment funded with outright gifts, 220 parcels of real estate in Manchester, and their long-time family home and farm in Hanover County. Proceeds from the sales of the real estate were added to the Cochrane endowment principal. J. Harwood Cochrane founded Overnite Transportation, and Louise Cochrane, a painter, served as a docent and member of The Council of VMFA. Each served on the museum’s Board of Trustees at different times.

A portion of this trust distribution has funded the Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane Associate Conservator of Paintings position, complementing their long-time support for the American Art collection and the Cochrane Curator of American Art.

“With this last generous donation, the Cochranes ensured that the museum is positioned to be a strong steward of paintings in our permanent collection,” VMFA Director Alex Nyerges said. “In creating the curator and collection endowments, they recognized the value in building our strategic holdings, and this newly endowed conservator position will ensure that those works remain protected under our care for a long time. This gift reflects their ultimate commitment as art patrons.”

Bruce Suffield, who first joined the VMFA as a painting conservation fellow in 1994, has been named the inaugural Cochrane Associate Conservator of Paintings. Suffield advanced to assistant conservator in 1994 and associate conservator in 2004. A member of the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works and other conservation organizations, Suffield has written and lectured on such topics as materials and restoration approaches in 15th- and 17th-century paintings, and modern painting materials. He earned his undergraduate degree in studio art and museum studies at the University of Texas at Austin and his master’s and certificate of advanced study in conservation at the State University of New York’s Buffalo State College.

“We continue to raise the profile of our conservation team and their work, and the Cochrane Associate Conservator of Painting will further highlight our commitment to becoming a vibrant center for conservation,” said Stephen Bonadies, VMFA’s Senior Deputy Director for Conservation and Collections and Chief Conservator. “Bruce is a skilled conservator, and we are delighted that this endowed position reflects his important contributions.”

“Every time I walk through the VMFA’s American galleries, I remember the Cochranes and their outstanding support of building the American collection,” Suffield said. “It is an honor for conservation to receive this generous endowment, which will allow for continued advances in our endeavors in preservation, treatment, and research.”

The Cochrane gift reinforces VMFA’s strategic investment in the Susan and David Goode Center for Advanced Study in Art Conservation—the largest of its kind in the Southeast—to increase new knowledge about its collection, ensure best practices for treating and preserving cultural properties under its care, and support professional development. The center generates cutting-edge scholarship relevant to multiple fields.

The remainder of the $8.4 million final distribution will provide additional support for the American art collections and the Cochrane Curator of American Art.

Since 1988, the J. Harwood and Louise B. Cochrane Fund for American Art has provided support for the acquisition of historic American paintings, sculpture, works on paper, and decorative arts, ca. 1700-1945, including those native to Virginia. The endowment has underwritten 79 important American acquisitions, including Prince William and His Elder Sister, Princess Sophia by Benjamin West; The Wounded Hound by William Ranney; Quince Blossoms by Charles Caryl Coleman; and Brideship (Colonial Brides) by Thomas Hart Benton, as well as William Wetmore Story’s sculpture of Cleopatra and dozens of other exquisite objects and paintings.

In 2016, Dr. Leo G. Mazow joined VMFA as the Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane Curator and Head of the Department of American Art. The department is playing a key role in the implementation of VMFA’s strategic plan, which includes a major initiative to acquire important works by African American artists in line with the museum’s efforts to reach diverse audiences. The initiative complements the department’s ongoing effort to develop a comprehensive collection of American art from the colonial period to 1950.

In recognition of their outstanding philanthropy, the museum named the Cochrane Court—adjacent to the Ancient Art and East Asian galleries—and the Cochrane Atrium for the couple.

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Cochrane gift endows painting conservatorship

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