Toni Beauchamp succumbed to a hard-fought struggle against ovarian cancer on March 9, 2012, leaving a void in the graciousness, scholarship, and patronage of our Bayou City. When T. S. Eliot wrote "In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo," he might as well have been referring to Toni. Thinking, talking, and writing about art was her great joy and she became a creative mainstay of the Houston and the Texas art scenes. The civic conversation was weakened with the death of Toni. This is not to diminish the deep personal loss to her close friends and to her lifelong companion and devoted husband Jeff. But our memories of Toni remain with us and her stellar works and deeds will fuel those future citizens of Houston and Marfa, Texas who champion civic and cultural causes.|
A native Houstonian, Toni Beauchamp was born on September 11, 1945, to Margaret Brown and Raymond Gin. Her father's Asian parents objected to the interracial couple, resulting in the dissolution of her parents' marriage and leaving Toni to be reared until school age by her nurturing grandmother, Minnie Bell Caddell Brown. This childhood disjuncture provided Toni with an abiding desire to bridge cultural divides as well as a self-reliant spirit. Toni's mother later married John Nobler and Toni soon gained a sister, Carolyn.
While attending Lamar High School in 1961, Toni met her future husband and soul mate Jeff, then at UT Austin, when he dropped by to visit his former homeroom teacher. Toni and Jeff married in 1963 and celebrated 48 anniversaries, once gifting one another with an artwork by a fellow Texan, Robert Rauschenberg, which was created the year of their marriage. Following Toni's college graduation and using a vagabond budget, the two toured Europe extensively for seven months. It was during this trip, while in Bulgaria, that they met Kosta and Ganka Kostadinov and later worked tirelessly to sponsor their immigration to America where they remain steadfast friends. "You gave us courage in the most trying times and hope when it was not possible to see," Ganka. Toni and Jeff have been on an inseparable and consequential journey ever since, one that has meshed a loving home life with their joint, highly successful entrepreneurial exploits.
With an MS in engineering, Jeff founded Intermat, Inc., a data management firm, in 1978. Toni was integral to the business, managing the facilities and the company's finances until the first sale of the business in 1997. When the Beauchamps reacquired and subsequently resold Intermat in 2004, Toni assisted with due diligence for the transaction. The Beauchamps' professional success, in turn, enabled another nearly fulltime vocation: supporting artists and art and civic institutions.
As a college student, Toni was immediately drawn to art and art history and came to believe strongly in the transformative power of public art. She earned her BA from the University of Houston and her MA from The University of Texas at Austin. Her master's thesis in 1983 was a groundbreaking work of Houston art historical scholarship, James Johnson Sweeney and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The thesis recounted the life of the renowned museum curator and director, not only as a biographical narrative but also as an exploration of the city's art institutions and the development of the local art world. As such, it remains a seminal text.
The concept of the thesis was one that she would systematically apply to later publications such as the Blaffer Gallery exhibition catalogues Hassell Smith in Houston and 1980 Houston Area Exhibition and Recapitulation: 1928-1960, which included Toni's extensive chronology of Houston visual arts—one of the first such documents. Finally, through endless hours of work on boards and advisory committees, Toni tried to help others to contemplate the future, informed by the history that she so studiously was documenting. At this task, she beautifully succeeded. "For years I have watched as you have taken on one project after another. You recognized the necessity, took action and built foundations that affect so many lives. Your genius and graciousness are the tools you use to make incredibly complex endeavors look easy. You create new constellations of energy, hope and enlightenment for whole communities. Life is easier for so many people because you care so much." Charles Mary.
Toni wanted to herald the Millennium in some way. Recognizing the then nascent need to advance the level of serious, published cultural criticism in the city, she integrated those thoughts into a publication, entitled good, which she then meticulously produced. It was while shepherding that project Toni wrote what stands as a credo, "I am a great believer in ritual observance of rites of passage—a way for the individual to become a part of the larger society and a source of sustaining memories." The special edition container, designed by the artist Mel Chin, followed by the book edition, brought together the thoughts of a diverse cross-section of Houston thinkers—an architectural historian, a poet, an oncologist, a sociologist, a museum curator, and others: a look back in order to project forward to the 21st century.
Toni's commitment to charitable projects ran deep. The Beauchamps' financial contributions were substantive and often sustaining, but it was as an arts leader and advocate that Toni really shone. She brought an intellectual heft, sense of history, and big picture bravada to all her dealings, and such commitments were legion. Toni began her arts administration career by serving for nearly a decade as assistant director of Blaffer Gallery, UH, beginning in 1974. She was a key player at the alternative artspace Diverseworks during its salad days, where she served on the board and was Vice-President, President, and Chair for various periods from 1986-96. In a corollary activity she became Founding President in 1988 for the resurrection of historical Houston Market Square Park. She worked tirelessly on the board of the Cultural Arts Council of Houston from 1984-87 and in 1997. Her passionate commitment to community service was evident during the multiple years she served on the board of the Contemporary Art Museum Houston. Toni was a supporter of the Menil Collection and believing strongly in the museum as a cultural oasis and place of learning. She served as an advisor, juror, and panelist on such diverse art projects as the Houston Festival, International Sculpture Symposium, Houston/Harris County Arts Task Force, National Endowment for the Arts grants jury, Moody Park Renovation, Hobby Center for the Performing Arts arts committee, and the Glassell School of Art at MFAH. During her tenure at the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, Toni served as Chairman of the Board of Directors and chaired the Master Plan Steering Committee, initiating the Buffalo Bayou Master Plan and providing oversight through its' completion. From 2002-2004 she was president of ArtLies, a quarterly international arts journal. Following recovery from her initial cancer treatment in 2006, Toni conceived of and founded the Friends of Integrative Medicine at UTMDAnderson Cancer Center as a vehicle for raising awareness of the alternative and complimentary practices available to cancer patients.
More recently, at the opposite edge of Texas, the Beauchamps have turned their attention to Marfa, an art outpost internationally famous due to the legacy of Donald Judd and the Chinati Foundation. Toni was a strong supporter of Marfa Public Radio, The Chinati Foundation, the Marfa Book Company, the Lannan Foundation and numerous individual efforts there. Toni was especially drawn to Ballroom Marfa for its' interest in helping artists and curators achieve projects that have significant cultural impact but would be impossible to realize in a traditional gallery or museum setting. Toni and Jeff have restored the former Pharmacy Building, an important center-of-town structure, as residences and retail spaces. Following this decade-long process, Toni applied her visionary prowess to one final project which she worked on until days before her death. She envisioned a multi-author book of essays entitled Marfa Moment (to be published posthumously) chronicling the architectural, cultural, political, and socio-economic make-up of Marfa. The book's aim is to document the current transition in Marfa's history and serve as a stimulus for discussion about its future. As ever, Toni has been a catalyst for fostering progressive, mutually beneficial improvements to the communities where she has lived.
This lengthy recapitulation of "official" responsibilities should not omit an even more fundamental gift Toni bestowed on the Texas art scene, one which occurred at a quiet, personal level. She was a friend, listener, and go-to confidant to a panoply of artists, curators, museum directors, and arts administrators for nearly four decades. Toni loved living with visual art, and her collecting habits often nurtured emerging artists. Her receptiveness was exceeded only by her tenacity: to lead by example, to revisit history in order to shape the future for the benefit of society.
Toni's friend and co-conspirator Mel Chin created the book cover for her Millennium project based on his childhood memory of the grocery store of his parents, who in the 1950s were part of Houston's then tiny Asian minority. Mel's awareness of cross-cultural conflicts is one that Toni shared and she worked to help overcome such prejudices. The book cover depicts the store's screen door with one word imbedded into the fabric, a fragment from the logo of a local bakery that read: "Rainbo is good bread." The extracted one-word title of the book is simply "good." This modest yet hopeful adjective serves as a most fitting epitaph for Toni's generous and art-filled life. She too was, very simply, good.
Toni is survived by her loving husband Jeffery O. Beauchamp, her mother Margaret Brown and her father Raymond Tong Gin. She is preceded in death by her sister Carolyn Nobler and her grandmother Minnie Bell Caddell Brown. Toni was giving of spirit and advocated for the support of causes one believed in. In lieu of flowers, Toni would be pleased if you would make donations in her memory to a charity of importance to you. Charities that were of particular interests to Toni are Friends of Integrative Medicine and the Integrative Medicine program at MD Anderson Cancer Center, The Menil Collection, Ballroom Marfa and Marfa Public Radio. You can refer to the on-line version of this document for more on Toni's thoughts about charitable giving. A gathering will be held on Wednesday, March 14, 2012 from six until eight o'clock in the evening at the Bradshaw-Carter Home, 1734 West Alabama Street, Houston, Texas 77098. Life Celebrations in Houston and Marfa are planned for the coming months. Details will be available in the coming weeks. Online tributes may be posted at www.bradshawcarter.com.
Published in Houston Chronicle on Mar. 11, 2012