Evan Hopkins Turner, 93, an art historian who was director of both the Philadelphia Museum of Art and, later, the Cleveland Museum of Art, died Thursday, Dec. 17, from congestive heart failure at his home in Philadelphia.
Dr. Turner came to Philadelphia after a directorship at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1964. He succeeded Henri Marceau as director of Philadelphia’s museum and remained director until 1978.
His dedication to art came from both his academic studies, which produced three degrees including a doctorate in art history from Harvard, and also through his family legacy.
Dr. Turner was related to both poet Emily Dickinson and German American artist Albert Bierstadt, his great uncle, known for his large landscapes of the American West.
As director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Dr. Turner established new departments for American and 20th-century art and brought many important curators to the museum, among them Anne d’Harnoncourt, Joseph Rishel, and Stella Kramrisch.
Dr. Turner also created the Alfred Stieglitz Center for Photography and supported the museum’s focus on the work of Marcel Duchamp.
“He was a remarkable man: distinguished in bearing, yet genuinely accessible; authoritative and knowledgeable, yet possessed a humility and a sharp sense of humor that made him approachable and always fun to be with; thoughtful and, best of all, ever curious,” Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener director and CEO of the Art Museum, said in a statement.
After leaving the Philadelphia museum, Dr. Turner was named director of the Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina in 1978. He then left to become director of the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1983, and retired there in 1993.
Dr. Turner was born in Orono, Maine. He was the first of two sons of Albert Morton Turner and Percie Hopkins Turner, both English professors at the University of Maine.
He studied art history at Harvard University, graduating in 1949, and later earned his doctorate there.
A few years later, he met his wife, Brenda Bowman Turner, who was a proofreader at the Museum of Modern Art, at a party. They married in 1957, said their son, John.
John Turner, who is a painter, animation artist and cameraman for 6ABC in Philadelphia, said he grew up thinking of the Philadelphia Museum of Art as his playground.
He said important artists were always coming and going in their home, but, as a child, he never thought of them as important.
On one occasion, he recalled when he was 7 or 8 and his father took him to a meeting with Robert Sturgis Ingersoll, a former president of the Philadelphia Art Museum, at Ingersoll’s home. Because there were no toys around, John Turner said, he went outside and began climbing several structures. It turned out that he was hanging off of Picasso’s Man with a Lamb.
Years later, as an adult, he visited the Metropolitan Museum and came across the same sculpture on display behind a velvet rope.
“I started to laugh when I saw it, and a woman near me scoffed and said, ‘You have no respect for art.’”
In 1991, Dr. Turner was awarded the Cleveland Arts Prize for distinguished service to the arts.
In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by a daughter, Jennifer Swedberg, two grandchildren, and other relatives and friends.
A memorial service may be held sometime next year when it is safe to gather.