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Art Scholar Richard Wunder Donates
Personal Library to Hope College

Posted March 31, 2003

HOLLAND -- Richard Wunder never attended Hope College, but he is having a lasting impact on those who do.

Wunder, an art scholar who died on Sunday, Aug. 4, 2002, at age 79, left the college more than 4,500 books through his estate. The gift complements the several thousand books he had already donated to the college since 1984.

The volumes, more than 15,000 collectively, have been designated the "Richard Wunder Collection." According to David Jensen, director of libraries, together they provide Hope "with one of the finest college art history collections in the Midwest."

"I think this is an outstanding addition to our collection, particularly in art and art history," he said. "This was a scholar's collection, and there are some very fine works here."

"He had wide-ranging interests in art, so there are volumes on architecture, painting, sculpture, interiors, decoration, jewelry, fashion," Jensen said. "I don't know of any area of art in which he did not have some material."

The bequest includes a mix of books published from the 18th century to the present. In addition to volumes concerned with art and art history, the collection is rich in biographies, social histories, literary works, and works on religion and travel.

The gift also includes the research material that Wunder had collected while writing a book about American sculptor Hiram Powers, as well as Wunder's personal correspondence and unfinished memoir. A variety of other items were included in the bequest, among them formal clothing and furnishings, and have been shared with departments ranging from the department of theatre to the Joint Archives of Holland to the college's physical plant.

Wunder was introduced to Hope by John Dryfhout, a 1964 Hope graduate who is superintendent and chief curator of the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, N.H. Dryfhout was doing graduate work at the University of Michigan in the mid-1960s when he first met Wunder, who was visiting as guest curator. They became friends as their professional paths crossed in later years.

When in the early 1980s Wunder shared his concerns about his library, which he'd placed in storage when he had moved from his large house to a New York apartment, Dryfhout suggested a destination that could make a lasting difference.

"I said, 'Have you ever considered the possibility that this collection might be a great anchor for a college?,'" Dryfhout said. "'This would make a fantastic collection for my college library.'"

That Wunder acted on the suggestion, Dryfhout said, was completely in character.

"He was an extremely generous person," he said. "He was generous not only to Hope College, but also to many institutions and individuals all over the country." Wunder, who lived most recently in La Jolla, Calif., was a past president of appraisals and estates with Christie, Manson and Woods International in New York City. He was founding director of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum (now part of the Smithsonian Institution) in New York City, having previously served as curator of drawings and prints at the Cooper Union Museum. He had been a senior research fellow in art, assistant director, and curator of painting and sculpture with the National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian (now Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.). He had also been an assistant in the Department of Drawings with the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University. He had been a visiting professor at Middlebury College in Vermont.

He was a past member of the Pierpont Morgan Library Council, and had currently been serving as a trustee of the Saint-Gaudens site. He was an active Episcopalian and was named a knight of the Venerable Order of St. John of Jerusalem in 1987. He was on the board of A Christian Ministry in the National Parks.

Wunder's books included "Extravagant Drawings of the Eighteenth Century in the Cooper Union Museum," "Frederic Edwin Church" and the two-volume "Hiram Powers: Vermont Sculptor, 1805-1873."

He received the Smithsonian Institution's Charles Eldredge Prize in 1992 for his work on Powers. Hope presented him with an honorary degree in April of 1999.

Wunder served as an officer with the United States Army during both World War II and the Korean War. He held his bachelor's, master's and doctorate from Harvard.

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