12/22/26 - 5/29/2020 Peggy Phelps, Longtime Patron of the Arts, Dies at 93 Peggy Phelps, who loved and supported the arts in southern California for decades, died on May 29, 2020 in Claremont, California. She was 93. Ms. Phelps was a founding member and past president of the Fellows of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, past president of the Pasadena Art Alliance, and former board member of the Pasadena Gallery of Contemporary Art and the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena. Once a trustee of the former Pasadena Art Museum, she was elected to the board of fellows of the Claremont University Center and Graduate School, where she was a longtime advocate for the arts. She was also a docent for the ArtCenter College of Design. She collected art not for the notoriety or worth but because she loved a particular piece. She owned a Josef Albers and a Jasper Johns but also a tall, wooden giraffe she bought on the streets of Johannesburg for $12 that she loved equally as much. Born Margaret Taylor in Buffalo, New York, on December 22, 1926, she went by Peggy from a young age. She was the middle of three children born to Reginald Taylor, who went by Commish, and Cecilia Evans, who went by Peach. Ms. Phelps attended boarding school at Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut, then studied art history at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. She met her first husband, Mason Phelps, a U.S. Marine during World War II, and they married in 1947 and had three children: Mason, Jr. Evans, and Taylor Phelps. It was when the family moved from Lake Forest, Illinois, to Pasadena, California, in 1959, that Ms. Phelps became involved in the art scene in Pasadena. Years later, her youngest son, Taylor, was diagnosed with HIV during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. He died of the disease in 1995. Ms. Phelps became a longtime supporter of the AIDS Service Center in Pasadena, which began as a hotline on an answering machine in 1987 and flourished into a multi-million-dollar social service agency that served thousands of people with AIDS. Her home away from home was an island in the northern channel of the Great Lakes in Ontario, Canada, called Campement D'ours, where her family first built a summer cabin in 1907 and where she spent nearly every summer of her life. This is the place where the true love of Ms. Phelps' life, an acclaimed chemist named Nelson Leonard, proposed marriage in a canoe. Ms. Phelps responded, "I'll have to think about it." She said yes as soon as they pulled the boat into shore. This is also where her son Taylor's ashes were scattered and where she most enjoyed drinking her iced tea on the deck, looking out over the water. She and Mr. Leonard traveled the world together and were happily married for 14 years until he died in 2006. Ms. Phelps had a prominent thirst for travel and adventure. She kept meticulous travel journals, documenting her exploits in Africa, India, Pakistan, Morocco, Bali, New Zealand, and Japan. She took many art trips and started an art travel program with the Pasadena Art Alliance. She even did wilderness courses with Outward Bound in her 40s and 50s, then joined the company's national board and paid the way for her grandchildren to take Outward Bound, too. Ms. Phelps was generous beyond belief. Ms. Phelps is survived by her sister, Marion "Taddy" Dann, her two children, Mason Phelps, Jr., and Evans Phelps, her four grandchildren, Miles Michelson, Erin Thiem, Megan Michelson, and Larissa Roelofs, her great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. A service will be planned for a later date at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, where Ms. Phelps was once a member of the vestry.
Published in Los Angeles Daily News on Jun. 3, 2020.