Arthur Ross 1910 – 2007
Friends and Colleagues Remember Arthur Ross
“By taste and history, I have always had a long-standing affinity for classical art and architecture, the longest-living artistic tradition in the western world.”
—Arthur Ross, May 2006
Friends, colleagues, and others who knew Arthur and shared his passion for classicism and its maintained place in modern education gave us their thoughts and remembrances of this remarkable man.
Arthur Ross spent his life supporting and advancing excellence in cultural and civic institutions. For those of us who knew and loved him at the Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America and later as the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, his passion and ability to inspire both the staff and volunteers was legendary. The Arthur Ross Awards for Excellence in the Classical Tradition, created in 1982 to recognize the achievements and contributions of classical architects, artisans, patrons, and the allied arts, will live on as a legacy to the man who believed in this tradition as a worthy, sustainable force in the modern world. Arthur’s role over more than three generations as a social and financial advisor to many of this city’s leaders, as well as their counterparts in the global community, provided structure and support for what he saw as critical elements of a great human fellowship. His friends and colleagues will remember him best for his exceptional zest and ability to inspire and call us all to action for good causes. He will be personally missed by this community of classicists, which he above all helped to forge.
The thing I remember best about Arthur, and that impressed me most, was the strength and vigor of his handshake: It told the whole story. I remember it from the first time that Chris Browne and I went to his house in East Hampton to discuss joining forces. He took my hand firmly and asked me to help keep “The Classical” at the forefront of the ICAA’s mission. I also remember the last time I shook his hand at the Arthur Ross Awards in May 2006. He was to me truly a man in full; his perennial youthfulness always an inspiration and prod. Arthur made me want to be better, to strive for the highest, to keep beauty and truth, “The Classical”, as the highest ideal to be striven for, supported, and upheld to the end. I miss Arthur and his handshake though I’ll always feel it and have him in mind. Wherever he has gone, whoever next grips the hand of his spirit, will understand its depth the moment they are touched.
—Richard W. Cameron
Arthur Ross championed the classical tradition for decades, a Sisyphean undertaking, in his inimitable way. With vigor and admirable resolve, he enabled a movement to persevere through the bleakest of times when very few seemed to care. Arthur was sharp and shrewd, forthright and fierce (as needed) and ever charming; it was thrilling to work with him. I’m just so grateful that in his last years he could see the classical movement flourish.
—Margaret Halsey Gardiner
My meetings with Arthur were usually to give a progress report on the books he encouraged and supported. Among them were Henry Hope Reed’s New York Public Library, The Library of Congress, and The United States Capitol. Most of the time we had missed stated deadlines. Arthur’s grace while making clear his disappointment was extraordinary. I came away from those meetings with renewed commitment. And over the thirty or so years that I knew him, Arthur never said an uncomplimentary word to me although I gave him many reasons to. I’m grateful to have worked with him, and will not forget his bemused smile when I think he suspected we were not performing our best. In time we did.
—James L. Mairs/The Quantuck Lane Press
Arthur was consistently driven by the power of ideas. For the Institute, he saw nothing but possibilities. His optimism translated into energy. Arthur saved us from those moments of doubt that can undermine the translation of an idea into action. He didn’t let us take holidays from our mission: Once, Arthur thought I had forgotten to follow up on something for the Institute. He saw me at a crowded cocktail party, grabbed my arm in a friendly and persuasive way, and dragged me over to a settee where he made his point, with raised voice and mirthful eyes, not letting me go until he was convinced that I understood what had to be done.
Arthur Ross made two major contributions to the ICAA. First, he made possible the “Classical America Series on Art and Architecture.” It consists in publishing basic texts on the Classical in the arts and monographs on great American classical buildings, such as The New York Public Library. The second was launching the eponymous Awards for outstanding classical works in architecture and by those who build it. He was the foremost patron of the traditional in the arts.
—Henry Hope Reed
Philanthropist, patron, cultural ombudsman; steward of deserving places, people, plants, objects, and causes; an astute observer, witty conversationalist, subtle gossip, thoughtful host, natty dresser, demon golfer, intent listener. While he was everywhere, he was never rushed or over-exposed; serious not heavy, knowing but never pompous; insatiably curious! He had a rare talent of bringing diverse, talented people together; and was deeply ambitious about the kind of “quiet”, culturally important things often overlooked in our loud, extravagantly consumptive times. He cared about so many meaningful things which we should all care about – from classical architecture to forest preserves, meteorites to disease-free Elms. So, we thank him for his leadership, insights, interests, advice and support, and for just “being around”…as a valued friend. Like his new elm, he will continue to be a man for all seasons.
—Jaquelin T. Robertson
It goes without saying that Arthur Ross had a profound impact on the growth and development of the ICAA. His leadership as a board member was an inspiration to all of us. He always challenged us to think big, take decisive action, and never lose sight of our core mission. As a young board chairman, I found Arthur to be a wise and inspiring mentor who always challenged me with his keen insight and his unfailing focus on our goals as an organization. His subtle but determined leadership style meant that he always helped you discover on your own what it was you had to do. He was the Pied Piper of classicism and we all gladly followed.
—Gilbert P. Schafer, III
The day of Arthur’s death, rushing through the city and going through the great classical gateway of Grand Central (which survived in part due to his vigilance along with that of the Municipal Art Society and its long-time trustee, Janet Ross) had startling new meaning. All I could think about as I made my way was that every single passing New Yorker has been touched to some degree by the generosity and philanthropic vision that was Arthur Ross. We in the thick of the ICAA community are so fortunate that his far-reaching civic interests long included the support of Classical America and its publishing mission and even more fortunate that he saw the potential of what, in 2002, became the combined ICA&CA.
Arthur challenged us every time we met or spoke. We looked forward to his notes on his immediately recognizable stationary, which often were missives of congratulations on a newsletter or event, yet always included a new set of expectations. We marveled that he had the time to notice or read about current programming and initiatives. His demands and standards were high; we tried to aim higher lest we risked not measuring up. When he occasionally called my cell phone on a weekend (usually before a board meeting or the Arthur Ross Awards) I was honored and on notice. I’d be on my toes, determined not to let him down in any way. Even so, he was warm and gracious and everyone felt special in his presence. He, his widow Janet, his son Alfred, and their remarkable circle brought such commitment and support and not a little glamour to all that we do. I treasure my memories of Mr. Arthur Ross!
The Arthur Ross Awards gave Classicists a sense of pride and worth in an era when we were battling, sometimes wearily, against majority opposition. Arthur was essential in the rebirth of this wonderful tradition that might otherwise have been lost forever.
—Elizabeth Meredith Dowling
Many years ago, when Arthur helped inaugurate the Ross Awards Program, in the minds of too many architects the classical tradition was of no more than historical interest. Today a re-invigorated classicism is regaining its place in the mainstream contemporary architectural discourse. Architecture and its allied professions owe a debt of gratitude to Arthur and to the program he developed and nurtured for celebrating today’s classicists, both those who are well-known and those whom he discovered and brought to broader attention. We are indebted to him for rallying the entire community of classicists and encouraging those who wish to contribute to tomorrow’s tradition.
—Robert A. M. Stern
In a time when most are reluctant to pass judgment on what is right and beautiful in this world, Arthur showed a strong and lasting commitment to a language and tradition that to this day has brought boundless joy and richness to the lives of so many.
—Charles J. Stick
In recalling and celebrating Arthur Ross it is useful to consider not only his trail-blazing leadership and generosity at the helm of Classical America and then later at the combined ICAA, but also his good works across a broad public-spirited spectrum in each case sustaining and promoting livable places. These philanthropic endeavors describe his many innovative efforts to preserve and encourage anew the best lessons of the past for the sake of a dynamic collective future.
In New York, he restored two courtyards at Barnard College coincident with its overall academic flourishing of the Milbank Courtyard and the Arthur Ross Courtyard, along with restoration of its rooftop greenhouse. Nearby the Arthur Ross Architecture gallery at Columbia University’s Buell Hall stands as our only place devoted exclusively to the exhibitions of architecture drawn from the models, prints, drawings, and blueprints that together reveal it best.
He made possible the Hall of Meteorites and a splendid new garden terrace at the American Museum of Natural History, as well, across the park, as the restored garden and terrace of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. In between is the wonderfully maturing Pinetum in Central Park along with the restored Vanderbilt gates beckoning all so elegantly to the Conservatory Garden at 104th Street. In the case of the Pinetum, his vision of a public/private partnership set an example for the Central Park Conservancy, which subsequently took splendid hold and inspired countless other municipal parks across the nation today.
And in like appreciation of the landscape arts is the Arthur and Janet Ross lecture hall, gallery and conifer arboretum of the New York Botanical Garden, the restored decorative fence delineating the renewed Bryant Park, and the Arthur Ross Garden at Mt. Sinai Medical Center.
Meanwhile in Philadelphia, he established a gallery in the historic Furness Library building, while in the District of Columbia, visiting dignitaries enjoy the inner garden of Blair House, and at Hyde Park the Roosevelt Institute library welcomes all with its adjacent courtyard garden.
In Rome at the American Academy, where the Institute now sends annual fellows alternating between architecture and the fine arts, Arthur allowed restoration of the magnificent library reading room, the Villa Aurelia, equal even to the main McKim, Mead and White complex and its extensive surrounding gardens, as well as an annual fellowship in classical studies. In November 2007, fittingly, the Academy’s library was named in his and Janet’s honor.
At the ICAA besides constant stream of general support and keen trustee vigilance manifested for example by the now decades-old “Classical America Series in Art and Architecture,” Arthur brought to bear a permanent endowment fund with proceeds earmarked for the office of education. He also contributed a precious cash reserve fund that spells confidence and institutional stability as no other financial tool can.
In sum, Arthur Ross bestowed on us as on so many others the promise of long-term stability and an inspiring example of hopeful determination.
All of us pledge hard to merit his vote of confidence and play our part in the overall envisioning of a humane future in America and beyond.