Ruth Carter Stevenson Timeline

"Great museums owe their success to creative and magnanimous people, all working together to collect, preserve, and interpret art."

Ruth Carter Stevenson

The daughter of the museum’s namesake, Amon G. Carter Sr. (1879–1955), Stevenson was solely responsible for seeing that her father’s wish to establish a museum for the city of Fort Worth was realized. Under her leadership, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art opened to the public in January 1961. Her involvement with the arts reached far beyond the state of Texas: the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Trust for Historic Places, the American Federation of Arts, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The Carter exists today because of Stevenson, and it is just one of her legacies.

woman in a dress leaning against a limestone column

1920s-40s

1923

Ruth Carter is born on October 19 at the Baptist hospital on Pennsylvania Avenue, Fort Worth.

1928-38

Attends the new North Hi-Mount Elementary School, Stripling Middle School, and Arlington Heights High School, counting among her earliest friends future Fort Worth Circle artist Cynthia Brants and future first librarian of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Nancy Graves.

1938-41

Attends the Madeira School in McLean, Virginia, taking her first art history course, which includes trips to the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Attends Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s third inaugural celebration. Amon G. Carter is friends with the Roosevelts (whose son Elliot married Fort Worth native Ruth Googins and settled there) and former Vice President John Nance Garner, a fellow Texan.

Her parents divorce in early 1941.

1941-45

Attends Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York, with her childhood friend Cynthia Brants. She and Brants often visit galleries in New York City, and she tries to buy her first artwork, by Lyonel Feininger, but cannot because her father, Amon G. Carter Sr., does not care for modernist works and will not grant her the money.

1946

Marries J. Lee Johnson III of Fort Worth while he is in law school at Notre Dame. Their first child, Sheila Johnson, is born on August 21 in South Bend the following year.

1948

Successfully acquires her first artwork from Knoedler Gallery, New York. Her selection of a French impressionist piece by Mary Cassatt is also influenced by her visit to the Art Institute of Chicago to see their Impressionist exhibition the previous year. Lacking a place to hang it, she approaches Sam Cantey III of the Fort Worth Art Association, who is delighted to hang it in the Association’s galleries on the second floor of the public library.

1949

Ruth Carter Johnson becomes a member of the board of the Fort Worth Art Association, which also includes Sam Cantey III, patron of the Fort Worth Circle, along with other collectors of the Ashcan school, American landscapes, and George Inness. The association includes in its permanent collection Thomas Eakins’ Swimming Hole (1885), purchased by the Association’s founder, Sally Gillespie, from Eakins’ widow. Late in the year, the Association and Amon G. Carter Sr. arrange for Knoedler Gallery to stage an exhibition at the public library, including works by Winslow Homer. This is the first major American art exhibition in Fort Worth.

J. Lee Johnson III earns his law degree from Notre Dame in June, and J. Lee Johnson IV is born on September 27.

1950s

1950

Ruth Carter Johnson begins collecting regionalist works acquired from Electra Carlin, whose gallery represents artists such as John Guerin and the Fort Worth Circle’s Kelly Fearing.

Begins her Junior League membership and is elected president in 1954. She works with the Fort Worth Circle’s Bror Utter on an art education program for all fifth graders in Fort Worth to participate in an annual art lecture at the Fort Worth Art Association gallery.

Actively lobbies for reforestation and beautification projects along the Trinity River following the massive 1949 flood.

1951

Karen Johnson is born on March 19.

1952

Works with Sam Cantey III, president of the Fort Worth Art Association, and architect Herbert Bayer on the design of the Association’s new building; the association eventually becomes the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

1953

Kate Johnson is born on December 6.

1955

The Herbert Bayer-designed Fort Worth Art Association building opens with studio space for art instruction, such as Blanche McVeigh’s classes on etching and printmaking and Flora and Dickson Reeder’s school for theater.

1957-59

Travels with Bishop Fulton Sheen and Father Edward O’Meara to New York, Rome, Paris, Lourdes, and London. During these trips, she makes excursions to the major sites and ruins in Rome, has an audience with Pope John XXIII, and on several occasions is given personal tours by the Vatican archivist.

1960s

1960

Begins serving on the Fort Worth City Art Commission, which she does until 1983, many of these years as chairman. In this capacity, she works with Dr. Richard F. Brown (who would become the first director of the Kimbell Art Museum) and Henry Hopkins, of the Fort Worth Art Association, on a City Hall sculpture commission that results in Twelve Triangles Hanging, by George Rickey.

Mark Johnson is born on March 17.

1962

Serves on the board of Trinity Valley School. The school was founded in 1959 by George Bragg and Stephen Seleny and initially provided education for the Texas Boys Choir until the facility developed into a fully-independent academy.

1963

Founds the Arts Council of Fort Worth and Tarrant County.

Appointed a regent of the University of Texas by Governor John Connally, Ruth Carter Johnson becomes the second woman to serve in this capacity. She presses for the preservation of the historic campus architecture, serving as chairman of the Buildings and Grounds Committee from 1967–69; represents the regents at an urban planning conference, where she becomes friends with Lady Bird Johnson. She works with Frank Erwin, chairman of the board of regents, on full desegregation of the University of Texas system. Her term ends in 1969.

Ruth Carter Johnson, Sam Cantey III, and Mitchell A. Wilder (director of the Carter) assemble masterworks for President John F. Kennedy’s suite at Fort Worth’s Hotel Texas. The president and Mrs. Kennedy stay the night in Fort Worth before proceeding to Dallas the next morning.

1964

Repeats her marriage vows with J. Lee Johnson III with the blessings of her spiritual advisors: Bishop Fulton Sheen of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, and Monsignor Langenhorst; the ceremony takes place in the chapel of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns at the time of Ruth Carter Johnson’s formal conversion to Catholicism.

1966-67

Tours the National Gallery of Art and the Corcoran Gallery with Lady Bird Johnson to see da Vinci’s portrait Genevra dé Benci and a John Singer Sargent exhibition, which ultimately results in the acquisition of one of the Sargents for the White House.

1966-70

At the request of Lady Bird Johnson, Ruth Carter Johnson fills the vacancy on the board of the National Endowment for the Arts left by the death of René d’Harnoncourt. During her tenure, the old Pension Building is converted into the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.

1968

Named to the Board of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

On May 4, Ruth Carter Johnson is named one of the first two women for membership on the Smithsonian Institution Gallery of Art Commission.

1969

David and Peggy Rockefeller underwrite a multi-volume publication on U.S. wildflowers, with an exhibition and unveiling of the volume on Texas at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. The exhibition opening is attended by the driving forces behind the project: Ruth Carter Johnson, Lady Bird and Lyndon Baines Johnson, and Peggy and David Rockefeller.

President Lyndon B. Johnson, Ruth Carter Stevenson, and Lady Bird Johnson at the opening of Wildflowers of Texas at the Carter.

1970s

1971

Ruth Carter Johnson meets with Paul Rudolph and Vincent Scully, architectural historians at Yale, which leads to the Carter’s publication Pueblo Architecture of the Southwest.

1975

Ruth Carter Johnson is invited by Paul Mellon and Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery, to chair a collecting group for the National Gallery of Art whose purpose is to contribute annually toward a specific artwork for the museum. This committee ultimately allowed the National Gallery to expand upon Andrew Mellon’s original bequest and include works by living artists. The group also includes collectors Burton and Emily Tremaine; Charles Ryskamp, director of the Morgan Library (and future trustee of the Carter); and Seymour Knox, benefactor of the Albright-Knox Museum. The first meeting results in the acquisition of a Joan Miro tapestry, a Robert Motherwell, and the Alexander Calder mobile in the East Building.

1975-76

Meets with Nancy Lee Bass and Junior League representatives in the Carter’s director’s office to address the condition of the Trinity River, which results in the formation of the Fort Worth Streams and Valleys Committee. Along with urban planner Lawrence Halprin, the committee develops a master plan for clean-up, beautification, and recreation along the Trinity.

1978

Joins the Visiting Committee at the Fogg Museum at Harvard. “I have a museum, and I’m going to have plenty of time to devote myself to it now. So I thought I’d learn how other museums do things. The Fogg was the stepping stone to that and how you run [a museum], and the kind of people you have within the walls.”

Ruth Carter Johnson’s divorce from J. Lee Johnson III is legally finalized and is recognized by the Catholic Church in 1980.

1979

Paul Mellon assumes the chairmanship of the National Gallery of Art vacated by Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger; he asks Ruth Carter Johnson to visit him to see his personal collection and to converse with him about asking John R. “Jack” Stevenson to be a trustee of the Gallery. On a subsequent visit to New York, Ruth Carter Johnson is invited by Mellon to serve as one of five trustees of the Gallery, filling the vacancy left by Jock Whitney. She accepts, becoming the first woman to serve in this capacity.

1980s

1980

Joins the board of the American Federation of Arts, which has a long history with Fort Worth, including bringing Thomas Eakins’ Swimming Hole to the city in 1921.

1981

Attends an Augustus Saint-Gaudens exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and becomes enamored of his work, especially Diana. The Carter acquires three variations of Diana, including a gilded-bronze version (gifted in 1998 to Fort Worth’s Bass Performance Hall) and a smaller bronze version entitled Diana of the Tower, which remains in the Carter’s collection.

1982

Works with National Gallery of Art board president, John “Jack” Stevenson, on extensive cultivation for the gallery’s $50 million Patron’s Permanent Fund. Ruth Carter Johnson and Queen Beatrice of the Netherlands preside over the gallery’s opening of Mauritshuis: Dutch Painting of the Golden Age from the Royal Picture Gallery, The Hague, featuring Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring.

Amon Carter Jr. dies on July 24, and Ruth Carter Johnson assumes the presidency of the Amon G. Carter Foundation.

1983

Marries New York City resident John “Jack” Stevenson at Fort Worth’s Holy Family Church. Stevenson had served as legal advisor to the first Nixon administration and is involved in activities at the United Nations, Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Council on Foreign Affairs, in addition to his work with the National Gallery of Art. Both continue as trustees of the Gallery.

1984

The Stevensons travel to The Hague. Jack Stevenson, serving as a legal advisor to the U.S. State Department, argues the case at the World Court between the United States and Canada regarding fishing rights on the Georges Bank.

1985

The Stevensons open the Treasure Houses of Britain exhibition at the National Gallery of Art; they receive President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan for the pre-opening festivities; a reception for the Prince and Princess of Wales takes place the following month.

1986

Ruth Carter Stevenson joins Lady Bird Johnson in fundraising for the Wildflower Center at the University of Texas, Austin.

The Stevensons host a reception dinner at the National Gallery for the joint opening of the Washington Opera’s Goya at the Kennedy Center and the National Gallery’s Goya: The Condesa de Chinchón and Other Paintings, Drawings, and Prints from Spanish and American Private Collections and the National Gallery of Art.

1987

Ruth Carter Stevenson is honored at Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s luncheon for “ladies who did things” at the Supreme Court Building.

1988

Archbishop Paul Marcinkus arranges a viewing for Ruth Carter Stevenson of the restoration of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. “Having seen it years before, when it was all dirty, there is no way to describe how it looked. We were up on the scaffolding and, if I had dared, I could have touched it, but I wouldn’t have for the world.”

As a representative of the National Gallery of Art, Ruth Carter Stevenson joins the State Department’s Friends of Art and Embassies Program.

She presides over the official inception of the Fort Worth Cultural District encompassing a complex of museums, the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens, and the Fort Worth Zoo.

Jack Stevenson is named to the Human Rights Commission for the Organization of American States (OAS).

1989

At the request of fellow Fort Worthian Robert Bass, Ruth Carter Stevenson begins a second three-year term serving on the board of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

1990

1991

The first expansion of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, since the 1974–1977 addition, is initiated.

1992

Dedication of the Ruth Carter Stevenson Chair of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin.

1993

Jack Stevenson retires from the National Gallery of Art, and Ruth Carter Stevenson becomes chairman of the board, the first woman to serve in that capacity.

1994

The Stevensons travel to Buenos Aires for an Americas Society meeting.

1995

Retires as chairman of the National Gallery of Art’s Collectors Committee.

1997

Visits architect Philip Johnson in New Canaan, Connecticut, to finalize plans for a revision of the Carter’s glass façade. The discussions develop into the beginnings of a full expansion of the museum.

A day trip to Santa Fe with Nancy Lee and Perry Bass for the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum opening leads to the Bass’ donation of funds to acquire Stuart Davis’ Bass Rocks No. 2 for the Carter.

Ruth Carter Stevenson retires as chairman of the board of the National Gallery of Art.

Jack Stevenson dies at home in Fort Worth on October 25.

1998

Stevenson inaugurates the Visiting Committee at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Under the guidance of Nenetta Tatum, the museum launches a group for young professionals called The Gallery.

1999

The Amon Carter Museum of American Art closes for renovation and expansion. Philip Johnson continues his association with the museum by designing the new structure.

2000s

2001

Grand reopening of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art; the expansion quadruples the museum’s gallery spaces and includes a conservation lab and cold and cool storage for the photography holdings.

In April of 2011, she is honored at the museum’s 50th Anniversary Gala on the plaza, which is attended by some 400 guests from around the country. The festivities culminate in a spectacular fireworks display. “It’s a great institution because of her,” says Earl A. Powell III, director of the National Gallery and a longtime friend. “Over its history, the Carter has put together one of the great collections of American art ... It’s a great, great place she has created for Fort Worth and the nation.”

2002-12

Ruth Carter Stevenson continues to serve as president of the Carter’s board of trustees and is active in many civic, philanthropic, and botanical endeavors.

2013

On January 6, Ruth Carter Stevenson passes away. In reflection of her legacy, Michael Conforti, then director of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, said of the museum:

"It’s one of the most important collections of American art in the country. Ruth Carter Stevenson was responsible for the breadth and quality of its collection."