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Joan Davidow: Nancy Hanley

Friends and family last week said goodbye to art patron and collector Nancy Hanley. Commentator Joan Davidow worked closely with Hanley at museums in Arlington and Dallas, and remembers her impact on the Texas art community.  

Nancy Hanley made her presence known in quiet ways. She always showed up - at gallery openings, artists’ studios, museum events, art talks, as a buyer and a donor. She and husband Tim became the lifeline of the North Texas art scene by doing the unfashionable:  She collected the art of our region. Serious area collectors rarely do that. Haute collectors travel worldwide rubbing shoulders with other collectors who prefer to watch the international scene, visiting New York galleries and faraway art fairs. Nancy Hanley recognized great art created right under her nose, and she wanted it. She never waivered.  
I last saw Nancy at Linda Ridgway’s recent opening of tender graphite drawings of her memory-laden, little-girl dress. How fitting that was, since Linda Ridgway introduced me to Nancy 15 years ago. As budding director at Arlington Museum of Art, I faced a board eager for more community attention, wanting us to show lovely landscapes and familiar flowers. That didn’t fit our mission to show edgy contemporary Texas art. For a board member who understood our mission, Linda Ridgway suggested Nancy Hanley, a Dallasite collecting young Ridgway’s experimental work.

Meeting in her kitchen, the shy, reticent Hanley and husband Tim agreed to serve as a couple. They quietly changed the museum’s dynamics, inviting board members to their home and engaging their friends to serve. Patrons par excellence, they supported every fundraising event, popping up their paddle often at our annual auction to spur the bidding. Out of the blue, Nancy decided on an annual gift beyond any other’s giving. Like clockwork, that handwritten check came twice yearly. Not long after, other boards engaged this unassuming couple to serve, Nancy to McKinney Avenue Contemporary and Tim to the Dallas Museum of Art, climaxing as its president.

Eager for another Dallas venue to show emerging Texas artists, the now seasoned Nancy Hanley joined the board at Dallas Contemporary when I became director. The Hanleys set the bar, leading Dallas Contemporary’s campaign for its new home. They capped off each million we raised and found fellow donors to match their gift!      

I watched this art lover make art in her studio, morphing glass into sensitive wall pieces.  She returned to SMU to study art, and her classmates became lifelong friends: David Bates, John Alexander, and teacher Roger Winter. Her love for Texas art began there. She supported these artists early and throughout their whole career, visiting their studios and adoring their progress.

Gracious in her Southern charm, she and Tim opened their O’Neil Ford home to area artists, young collectors, museum visitors from all over the world. The house and collection enchanted guests who followed their eye to the galleries that sold these artists’ works.

Nancy Hanley’s impish grin led the parade. Her dear teddy bear husband followed in style.  Together they set a gold standard, true to what they adored. With such deep sadness we must face Nancy gone. Life is short, art is long recalls the ancient wisdom of the Greeks. This most special woman lives on in the art she purchased and donated, the institutions she supported, the advocates she assembled, and most importantly, in the whole Dallas art community.

Joan Davidow is Director Emerita of the Dallas Comtemporary.