In Memoriam | A Tribute to John Lunsford, Curator Emeritus of the Dallas Museum of Art (1933 - 2019)


John Lunsford (1933 - 2019).


This month, the content, links, and emotional quality of the material that is routinely honored on Art of the Ancestors is dedicated to the memory of a remarkable man, John Lunsford. John was one of the last 'Catholic' curators, a cultivated person who had the rare ability to be equally at home in numerous diverse fields that constantly engaged his keen intelligence, deep knowledge, and sensitive eye. His early support for exhibiting traditional Indonesian art and his fondness for Indonesian culture helped to familiarize and popularize this material for a wider audience.

Knife with Crouching Male and Female Figures with Sheath | Batak
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

John was synonymous with the Dallas Museum of Art's transition from a small regional museum to the important far-ranging institution it is today. He worked there from 1958 until his retirement in 1986, when he went on to be the Director of the Meadows Museum. While at the DMA, and among his many landmark accomplishments, he played major roles in the foundation of creating the Pre-Columbian, African and Indonesia collections.

Personally, I owe a great debt to John Lunsford. In 1981, John journeyed to my parent's home in suburban Chicago where he saw what would ultimately become the Steven G. Alpert Collection of Indonesian Textiles (Gift of the Eugene and Margaret McDermott Foundation: 1983) and many other items that form the basis of the Dallas Museum of Art's Indonesian collection. John was enthralled with the material he saw in Chicago and with Jean Paul Barbier's traveling exhibition, Art of the Archaic Indonesians that was featured in Dallas in 1982. In those days, curators had discretionary funds and as a result of his initial trip to Chicago, John purchased a double figured bronze Batak knife (illustration) that had formerly been in the collection of the Connecticut Children's Museum. The rest is history.

While not the largest or greatest Indonesian collection in terms of topology or sheer size, the DMA's small, but choice gathering of numerous masterworks and seminal masterpieces is both unique and of world renown. The collection was inaugurated under John and greatly expanded under his successor, Carol Robbins.

In Dallas and far beyond, with John's departure we have lost a very dear friend; a mentor, a pharaoh and a marvelous gentleman, who as a traditional Indonesian might opine, has safely made the journey to the other side.

A link to an article in the Dallas Morning News penned by Richard Brettell, a former Director of the DMA, and a statement by the museum, further detail and celebrate John Lunsford's luminous career. John, your legion of friends and fans will sorely miss you.

— Steven G. Alpert, founder of Art of the Ancestors


Guardian Sentinel | Batak
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Figure from the Top of a Funerary Post | Jihe | Borneo
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Funerary Figure | Tau-Tau | Sulawesi
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA

Ancestor Figure | Itara | Atauro
© The Dallas Museum of Art | Texas, USA


Appreciating John Lunsford, key in spurring Dallas Museum of Art's global reach

by Rick Brettell, Special Contributor to the Dallas Morning News

John Lunsford and Joanne Griffith with an ancient artwork shown circa 1980. © Dallas Museum of Art

John Lunsford in 1985. © Nan Coulter | Dallas Museum of Art


Statement from the Dallas Museum of Art on the Death of John Lunsford, Legendary and Longtime Curator for Nearly Three Decades


John Lunsford, a curator emeritus of the Dallas Museum of Art, was instrumental in transforming the DMA into the ambitious and significant museum it is today. His remarkable 28-year career at the Museum started at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in 1958, where, as an associate curator, his interests were African and Pacific art. In 1970 he was promoted to full curator, in charge of all collections except contemporary art. Between June and December 1973, he stepped into the role of Interim Director and was then appointed Senior Curator of Non-Western Art in 1979.

While at the DMA, Lunsford’s primary areas of responsibility were pre-Columbian, African, Oceanic, Island Indonesian, and Native American art. The Museum’s pre-Columbian collection grew from approximately 50 works to well over 3,000, while the African collection grew from zero to over 400.

Major exhibitions for which he was the curator and catalogue author include The Arts of Man, 1962; Indian Arts of the Americas, 1963; The M. P. Potamkin Collection, 1970; Arts of Oceania, 1970; The Romantic Vision of America, 1971; and African Art from Dallas Collections, 1972.

Lunsford had a major role in the acquisition of the Clark and Francine Stillman Collection of Congo Sculpture, 1969; the Gustave and Franyo Schindler Collection of African Sculpture, 1974; and the John and Nora Wise Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, 1976; and the founding of the Indonesian collection.

John Lunsford, curator of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, in 1970. © Johnny Flynn


John Lunsford in 1963. © Dallas Museum of Art

John Lunsford was born on April 15, 1933, in Dallas, Texas. As a child, he took Museum School classes, which he continued to do on and off until 1958 as a college graduate. He received a BA in English Literature from Harvard in 1954 and completed an MA from the Graduate School of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University in 1968. After Lunsford served in the US Army from 1955 to 1957, DMFA Director Jerry Bywaters offered him his first museum job in 1958.

Following his time here, he remained a beloved friend to the DMA while a professor at Southern Methodist University and later the Director of the Meadows Museum. In addition to frequently attending and presenting talks in the DMA’s galleries, Lunsford was a generous donor of artworks to the African and Pacific collections and a contributor to the Dallas Museum of Art 100 Yearspublication.

“John was such an intelligent and sweet person who did so much for this institution,” said Dr. Anne Bromberg, The Cecil and Ida Green Curator of Ancient and Asian Art at the Dallas Museum of Art, where she has served for 43 years. “Most significantly, because he started at the Museum in the days when it did not have a large collection of art, he spent his career working to expand our global collections, which turned the DMA into the major museum it is today.”