- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 20, 2002

The death Monday of John Carter Brown left writers and editors scrambling for the proper yes, proper, and all the respect it conjures adjectives and superlatives befitting a man who changed the landscape of the nation's capital. "Part Barnum, part Albert Schweitzer," said the New York Times. "Populist patrician" and "unashamed elitist," quoth The Washington Post. To be sure, Mr. Brown was that. And much more.
He was part Barnum because he was master showman and part Schweitzer because of his messianic-like views of art and human nature, all of which explains why some considered him "the pope of public art," and the man and his directorship of the National Gallery of art and chairmanship of the Commission on Fine arts fit together perfectly. To have made his acquaintance at a dinner partner was to have had a charmed experience indeed.
Mr. Carter, who was assistant director of the gallery beginning in 1961 and named director in 1969, acquired thousands of gifts for the gallery, and the names of the donors and the works were hardly insignificant. Think of the likes of Whitney, Mellon and others in their stratosphere, and you imagine the art Picasso and Pollock, Michaelangelo and Matisse, Raphael and Rodin and you can see art through the eyes of J. Carter Brown. He was masterful at special exhibitions, such as the splendid and exotic "Treasure of Tutankhamun" in 1976, the likes of which Washington had never seen. Appointed chairman of the fine-arts panel by Richard Nixon in 1971, Mr. Brown oversaw much of the change of Washington's cultural landscape from the I.M. Pei-designed East Wing of the National Gallery of Art to the hugely popular Wall that is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, to the construction of the Korean and FDR and Korean War memorials.
He and his legacy make that legacies are a testament to who he was and who he knew Washingtonians could be. "Carter was a visionary giant who was larger than life," Joanna Shaw-Eagle, art critic for The Washington Times, said yesterday. "He dared to change the way Washington looked and felt. Though from the patrician John Nicholas Brown family of Providence, R.I., he was concerned about people in an almost messianic way. He cared about art and people so deeply that he always went those extra 10,000 steps to get the job done. What will we do without him?"
Fortunately, J. Carter Brown, 67, who died of blood cancer Monday in his native New England, left many ways and wonders to ponder that question.

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