Remembering 

Gifford Phillips

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   In Memory of Gifford Phillips

After a long and delightful life, we say goodbye to and remember Gifford Phillips, who died April 17, 2013, in Palm Desert, California.  Throughout his life, he touched the lives of many people, and through all of his endeavors left the world a better place.  We will miss his wisdom and unassuming guidance and will remember him well.

In 1989, with his wife Joann and with wise counsel from Ohkay Owingeh elder and scholar, Alphonso Ortiz, and writer and scholar, Edward T. Hall, Gifford founded the Chamiza Foundation with the intention of supporting programs that would help insure the cultural continuity of New Mexico’s Pueblo tribes.  Gifford articulated a vision for the Foundation’s work with Pueblo communities.  His belief was that Pueblo tribes offer a culture to be emulated, and one that is very much worth sustaining.  It has been in this spirit that the work of the foundation was fostered and continues to be carried out.  Gifford and Joann’s deep involvement in and support of Pueblo and Native culture was also evident in their collections of Pueblo art that they have donated in part to the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe and the Heard Museum in Arizona.  

The Chamiza Foundation is nationally renowned for its innovative grant making to Pueblo communities which is guided by a board of directors that includes a majority of Pueblo members.   In 2009, the foundation’s work was recognized by Resolutions of New Mexico’s House of Representatives and State Senate.  Gifford’s commitment to the work of the Chamiza Foundation is continued by his wife, Joann, his son, James and his daughters, Alice Swistel and Marjorie Elliott.

Gifford Phillips was born June 30, 1918 in Chevy Chase, Maryland, the son of James Laughlin Phillips and Alice Conyngham Gifford.  His father died suddenly from influenza just four months after his only son’s birth.  Alice Phillips subsequently remarried to Charles Alfred Johnson.  Gifford was raised with his younger brother, Charles Johnson, in Charlford Castle, a residence south of Denver.

Gifford attended Stanford University, but transferred to Yale University, from which he graduated in 1942.  In 1949, in a foreshadowing of what would be life-long activism, Gifford founded Frontier magazine, a liberal West Coast political monthly, with editor, Phil Kerby after moving to Los Angeles.  Frontier published its blacklist expose, “The Hollywood Story” by Elizabeth Poe Kerby in 1954.  The expose’s appearance signaled the passing of the “red scare” era.  Gifford published the magazine until 1966 when it was folded into The Nation magazine.  He served as Associate Publisher of that magazine from 1966 to 1970.

Gifford and Joann Kocher married in 1953, after having met at a Democratic Party function.  His deep connection to California politics had begun with being Treasurer for Helen Gahagan Douglas’ congressional campaign against Richard Nixon in 1948.  Gifford would serve as a delegate from California to Democratic National Conventions in 1952, 1956, 1960, and 1964.  He was an early supporter of Eugene McCarthy in 1968, co-chairing McCarthy’s California campaign with future governor Jerry Brown.  He was an ardent supporter of George McGovern’s presidential campaign, which eventually earned him a place on President Richard Nixon’s 1972 ‘enemies list’, much to Gifford’s delight.

During the 1950s, Gifford was a partner in Pardee Phillips, a real estate corporation that built houses and shopping malls in southern California and Nevada.  However, art and politics were to always remain at the forefront of his interests.  He and Joann became great friends and supporters of southern California artists including Richard Diebenkorn, Emerson Woelffer, Lee Mullican and Claire Falkenstien.   As one of Diebenkorn’s earliest patrons, Gifford introduced Diebenkorn’s figurative paintings to his uncle, Duncan Phillips, founder of the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. Gifford also recommended the work of Mark Rothko to his uncle leading to the acquisitions that form the celebrated Rothko Room at the museum.  Gifford was the founding chairman of the Contemporary Art Council at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 1961.  He joined the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1966 where he served for four decades including eight years as Chair of the Painting and Sculpture Committee.  He served on the Phillips Collection Board for over 30 years, and was a member of the Board of Governors of the Yale University Art Museum from 1985 to 1999.  Gifford was also a member of the Mark Rothko Foundation and Trustee and President of the Pasadena Art Museum from 1970 to 1974, the period during which that institution would become the Norton Simon museum and the setting for the landmark case on the rights of museum donors.

In 1987, Gifford and Joann moved permanently to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where as previous summer residents, they had been involved in local arts efforts since 1968.  Gifford chaired the board of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival for several years, and was an avid art collector, building a collection that included Impressionism to Cubism and Abstract Expressionism, while also giving meaningful attention to the preservation of the arts of the Pueblo Indians.

 

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