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David Steadman

1936 - 2017 Obituary Condolences
David Steadman Obituary
(News story) David Steadman, who was mindful of his forebears' legacy as he led the Toledo Museum of Art for a decade, during which he helped secure land that made possible the future Glass Pavilion and saw through plans to build the University of Toledo's fine arts school at the museum, died March 11 at the Kaiser Permanente hospital in Irvine, Calif. He was 80.

He had been ill with the flu, bronchitis, and then pneumonia for about three weeks and was expected to recover but developed complications, his daughter, Kate Palfrey, said. Family and friends made it to his bedside and shared stories with him and each other before he passed, she said.

"We all decided that as far as ways to die, being surrounded by love and laughter of those you love in a safe place with no pain is about as good as it can get," Ms. Palfrey said.

Mr. Steadman was director of the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Va., when he was chosen in 1989 to succeed Roger Mandle as director of the Toledo Museum of Art. Mr. Mandle became museum director in 1977.

Mr. Steadman had a bachelor's degree from Harvard University, a master's degree from the University of California-Berkeley, and a doctorate from Princeton University in 17th-Century Flemish art.

In October, 1998, as he announced plans to retire in 1999 from the museum, Mr. Steadman said he would pursue graduate studies in theology at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, an Episcopal seminary in Berkeley, Calif. He had no plans to be a pastor, but made his focus the relationship of art and spirituality. In 2004, he was ordained as a deacon in the Episcopal Church. He retired in 2011 from ministry at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Sebastapol, Calif.

Mr. Steadman traced a deep love for art inspired by faith to his boyhood, when he spotted a Buddhist sculpture in a Honolulu museum. In the mid-1990s, he began taking summer courses in theology at the University of Notre Dame.

"They showed me how deep my interest in theology is and that I could be a student and still enjoy it," he told The Blade in 1998. "If I hadn't had that experience, I wouldn't have made that decision. It was a gradual process to realize that the thing that really interests me most is the relationship of art and spirituality. There was this realization that I was being led. I also realized that I could have 20 years of being really productive."

Roger Berkowitz, who became a museum staff member in 1974, was deputy director under Mr. Steadman and succeeded him as director.

"We worked closely during those 10 years," said Mr. Berkowitz, who retired in January, 2004. "I have to say I was very impressed with his whole kind of decision-making process, the way he listened, the way he discussed, and the way he made a decision."

Mr. Berkowitz said that Mr. Steadman kept a photo of glass giant and museum founder Edward Drummond Libbey - seated on a camel - behind his desk.

"For every major decision he had to make about the museum, he [Mr. Steadman] asked the question, what effect would this decision have 50 years from now. I think Mr. Libbey really inspired him to think that way," Mr. Berkowitz said.

A museum-University of Toledo collaboration was under way when Mr. Steadman became director to build the UT Center for the Visual Arts adjoining the museum, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.

Mr. Steadman worked with Mr. Gehry and UT officials to shepherd the project's construction forward to completion in 1992. There was a strong national movement in that era to bring university art schools and museums together, said current TMA director Brian Kennedy.

"It was David's wish ... to establish a university building on the campus. He foresaw that the museum school, which we had since the '20s, would need to be accredited," Mr. Kennedy said.

The Age of Rubens exhibition at the museum in 1994 was a triumph, attracting more than 230,000 visitors.

"He followed very much the sort of Otto Wittmann approach to the collection," Mr. Berkowitz said, referring to the museum's director from 1959-76, "adding to strengths and doing it in all areas of the museum, from ancient to contemporary, and keeping that balance."

Mr. Steadman made sure the museum acquired additional land in the Old West End and worked with the city to close an extension of Jefferson Avenue, which created the parcel on which the Glass Pavilion was constructed, Mr. Berkowitz said.

He worked with museum benefactors Georgia and David K. Welles to have a circle of trees placed at Monroe Street and Collingwood Boulevard, a visual signal that ahead "you were in a different place, that this was a museum space," Mr. Berkowitz said. "It caused you to slow down in an aesthetic way."

Mr. Kennedy said since becoming museum director in 2010, he and Mr. Steadman communicated by phone, but they had not met. He said that Mr. Steadman operated the museum during a shift in economic dynamics that forced budget cuts and personnel cutbacks - but also during an exciting time in which Mr. Steadman continued such community-advocacy programs as the Toledo Museum of Art Ambassadors and a strong docent program.

"It was difficult financially, and I suppose, a little bit into a broad context, David's period was a period where museums were starting to professionalize," Mr. Kennedy said.

He was born Oct. 24, 1936, in Honolulu to Martha and Alva Steadman. He and the former Kathleen Reilly married Aug. 1, 1964. She died June 14, 2011.

Survivors include his daughter, Kate Palfrey; son, Alex Steadman, and grandchildren.

Memorial services will be set at a later date at Mr. Steadman's home parish of St. Stephen's in Sebastopol, Calif., where he made his home until he moved in January to Southern California, his daughter said.

This is a news story by Blade staff writer Mark Zaborney. Contact him at: [email protected] or 419-724-6182.
Published in The Blade on Mar. 22, 2017
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