Hedy Landman Dies; Arts Expert Lobbied for Chicago Cultural Center

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Curator and museum director Hedy Landman fought to save the Chicago Cultural Center.

Curator and museum director Hedy Landman fought to save the Chicago Cultural Center.

When Mayor Richard M. Daley offered the Chicago Cultural Center to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Hedy Landman successfully lobbied to keep it the “People’s Palace.”

Mrs. Landman, a curator and director of some of the nation’s most prestigious museums, died Sept. 29 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. She was 94.

Her eye for design extended from buildings to jewelry and everyday household objects.

She started out as a porcelain maker in Sweden, a post her family believes kept her out of harm’s way during the Holocaust. Born Hedy Heiman in Bratislava, Slovakia, she moved to Sweden at 18, where she was hired by Rorstrand, one of the world’s most famous porcelain companies.

After a stint curating Swedish art at the Institut Tessin in Paris, she immigrated to the U.S. in 1952 and earned a master’s degree in art from Oberlin College.

Mrs. Landman became acting director of the Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard University.

She engaged in her first major arts battle as a curator at New York City’s Cooper Union Museum, said her nephew, Neil Tobin. When funding issues threatened it, she helped rally philanthropist Henry F. DuPont and allies of Sen. Jacob Javits (R-NY). It survived as the Cooper Hewitt design museum, and became part of the Smithsonian Institution in 1967. It is housed in a landmark mansion once owned by industrialist Andrew Carnegie.

She and her late husband, David, relocated to Chicago. In 1989, when Daley offered to lease the Cultural Center to the Museum of Contemporary Art, she became part of a grass-roots campaign to maintain the center as a beaux arts hive of free lectures, chess matches, art exhibits and dance and theater events.

The mayoral proposal didn’t fly, and the Chicago Reader later singled out Mrs. Landman and several other advocates for founding the Friends of the Chicago Cultural Center. “We formed a committee to see what we could do to stop this,” said Marta Nicholas, a fellow activist. “Very early on, she had the idea that it should be saved.”

“We just want [citizens] to understand that it’s theirs,” Mrs. Landman told the Sun-Times in 1993. “And for heaven’s sake, it doesn’t cost anything to visit.”

A sought-after art expert, Mrs. Landman studied Sears & Roebuck’s massive collection of paintings and prints for an exhibit of corporate art. Later, she was quoted in Crain’s Chicago Business when Sears prepared to sell some of the work during a 1996 downsizing. “There are no portraits of an old fisherman with a pipe,” she declared.

In 1984, she curated a well-received show about city architecture at the Chicago Cultural Center, “The Sky’s the Limit.”

And “she lectured on Chicago architecture in Glasgow,” her nephew said. “She had a huge appetite for architecture, fine arts.”

For a time, Mrs. Landman worked as a curator at the Princeton University Art Museum, where the New York Times singled out her “impeccable catalogue” for a show of Chinese paintings.

She penned the book “The Story of Porcelain” and wrote publications for Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Penn State University and the Rhode Island School of Design. She also presided over an award for lamp and lighting design bestowed by the National Home Fashions League, and she judged a national jewelry competition for the Everhart Museum in Scranton, Pa.

Mrs. Landman is survived by her stepchildren, Alicia Landman-Reiner and Michael Landman, and four stepgrandchildren. A memorial is being planned.

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