CAC Announces the Death of Founding Member Peggy Crawford

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Peggy Crawford, left, with CAC Director Raphaela Platow
Peggy Crawford, left, with CAC Director Raphaela Platow

The Contemporary Art Center today announced that founding member Peggy Crawford died on April 18 in Santa Fe, N.M., where she had been living. She was one of three women who founded the CAC's precursor, the Modern Art Society, in 1939. She was able to come to the CAC last September to celebrate its 75th anniversary — an exhibition of her photography was part of the observance.

Here are excerpts from the CAC press release:

Contemporary Arts Center Director Raphaela Platow fondly recalled the impact that Peggy Crawford made on so many: "Mrs. Crawford’s life is an inspiration to me. As a young woman she was one of the three women founders of the Contemporary Arts Center (called Modern Art Society at the time), an institution she initiated, against all odds, in a moment in time when the Great Depression was still shaking the world and the second World War was about to erupt. It is so easy not to do something, to shy away from a great idea because of the many obstacles and hurdles in the way, a lack of resources, or fear of failure. But Peggy Crawford and her two companion co-founders created the Modern Art Society in 1939 because their lives urged them to do it. Mrs. Crawford applied the same passion, tenacity, and energy to her different life pursuits and I feel lucky that I had the opportunity to meet her and to spend time in her presence."

Born in 1917, Peggy Frank graduated from Smith College. In 1939, along with Betty Rauh and Rita Rentschler, she founded the Modern Art Society in Cincinnati, Ohio, which would become the Contemporary Arts Center.

The three founders had little  or no formal museum experience. For a year, their "office" consisted of a portable typewriter set up in a living room. At the start, the society had staunch backers and hard workers, but they had very little money and had only a borrowed gallery space in the basement of the Cincinnati Art Museum.

During the first year, the founders raised $5,000 to produce six exhibitions, each with a catalogue. Their first exhibition, Modern Paintings from Cincinnati (Nov.-Dec. 1939) showed their early commitment to showcasing up-and-coming local artists. 

The fledgling Modern Art Society mounted new and often controversial exhibitions, published catalogues, encouraged local artists and helped promote contemporary art collections and education. Between 1940 and 1951, the Modern Art Society exhibited such artists as Pablo Picasso (1940), George Grosz, Paul Klee and Alexander Calder (1942), Fernand Leger (1944), Rufino Tamayo (1947), Jean Arp (1949) and other new artists in abstraction, Surrealism, modern architecture and contemporary design. One of the highlights of this time was the Cincinnati showing of Picasso’s "Guernica" in 1940 because it represented the first and only time the important work was shown in the Midwest.

Peggy Frank married Ralston Crawford, a painter and photographer, who preceded her in death.

She is survived by two sons, Neelon (Susan Hill), and John, along with a stepson, Robert (Eldrid Crawford).

A memorial service was held at Kingston Retirement Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. April 30, 2015.

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