Townsend Wolfe, 1935-2017 | Rock Candy

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Townsend Wolfe, 1935-2017

Posted By on Sat, Jan 14, 2017 at 12:34 PM

Townsend Wolfe, director of the Arkansas Arts Center for 34 years.
  • Townsend Wolfe, director of the Arkansas Arts Center for 34 years.

Max has posted on the Arkansas Blog the news of Townsend Wolfe's death. The photo Max chose of the longtime director of the Arkansas Arts Center is a great one, but I also wanted to put up this one of Wolfe with his trademark brown cigarette. A More cigarette? A Tiparillo? I don't remember, but I do remember that Wolfe was seldom seen without one. The last time I interviewed him, after the ill-fated "World of the Pharaohs" exhibit that spelled the end for his successor, he had quit smoking, but out of long habit patted his shirt pocket, where he'd always kept his cigarettes, from time to time thinking he'd find a pack there before remembering he'd given them up.
click to enlarge The February 1977 "starving artist" cover of the Arkansas Times: Wolfe and nude model hoisting champagne, artist Dan Morris eating out of a can.
  • The February 1977 "starving artist" cover of the Arkansas Times: Wolfe and nude model hoisting champagne, artist Dan Morris eating out of a can.

I had several funny interviews with Wolfe, including one years ago about censorship. Wolfe had hung a show that included a photograph of a woman's nude derriere being tickled by a feather. The outcry! Wolfe was greatly amused by the demands it be taken down.

Wolfe will be remembered for the inclusivity he brought to the Arts Center in a time that was not the most salubrious for race relations in Arkansas. He  was a Southern gentleman and he could be as snobby as the best of them, but not when it came to Arts Center attendance. He was a hard act to follow for his successor Nan Plummer, who, unlike Wolfe, did not realize she had to know everything that was going on and was trusting of folk who didn't deserve her trust.

He also understood better, perhaps, that the leadership today the public nature of the Arts Center. When an Arts Center employee declined to provide information on the results of the Tabriz fundraiser to the Times — she said she'd provided the same information to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette because they'd been a sponsor and thus had a right to name the auction items and buyers that we did not have — Wolfe read her the riot act and the information was quickly forthcoming.

The Arts Center and Wolfe were synonymous for many years; he kept it going, made it the fine institution it became, and will always be a hard act to follow. An excellent history of the Arts Center and Wolfe's tenure there can be read here.

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