In July 1990, Richard H. Glanton, rainmaker for the law firm Reed, Smith, Shaw & McClay, student of power, and trustee of Lincoln University, was elected president of the Barnes Foundation.
His ascension hit the long-quiet world of the Barnes like a fragmentation grenade.
"I never purported to know anything about art," Glanton told The Inquirer a few months after his election. "But I can lead."
Some would say he led the foundation into a tangle of woes that is still unraveling.
Not long after assuming his leadership position, the ambitious and flamboyant Glanton proposed selling art to raise money for renovations and other projects, a violation of the Barnes' governing trust indenture drawn up by Dr. Albert C. Barnes, founder and collector, who died in 1951.
When the sales plan set off blazing opposition from myriad art-world denizens and old-line Barnes partisans, he dropped the idea and pushed instead for a world tour of Barnes paintings. He also talked of documentary films, coffee-table books, art studios, catalogs, increased prices, and ever more visitors.
Glanton seemed to see the foundation as a force asleep for decades; he was the prince who would deliver the kiss and awaken the brand.
Born in rural Georgia, he worked his way to the top of political and legal power in Philadelphia. Indeed, his life saga bears more than a passing resemblance to the story of Barnes, who traveled from Kensington poverty to Merion power and irritated and angered many along the way.
Glanton's efforts to extend hours, increase visitation, hold fund-raisers, and build a parking lot led to endless dustups with the Barnes' neighbors. And he made no bones about who was in control; those who opposed his policies and decisions were dismissed or resigned.
While lawsuits, court hearings, and publicity certainly marked the struggle over the Barnes' world tour - which launched in 1993, after Montgomery Count Orphans' Court had given approval the year before - what really ignited partisan emotions was a civil rights suit Glanton filed against Lower Merion and several neighbors in 1996.
Glanton, an African American, argued that Merion racism had spurred opposition to various visitation and construction plans proposed by the Barnes. The courts dismissed the suit and Glanton had to apologize, but the residue of bitterness lingered on. "As a player of the 'race card,' Glanton had no equal," former Barnes art adviser and Lincoln trustee Richard Feigen noted in a 2000 essay.
Glanton's litigious and expensive era came to an end in 1998, when he was forced out of his Barnes post. His reign was marked by enormous legal expenses, a battered endowment, and oceans of animosity in Merion.
But he also raised more than $16 million in fees through the highly publicized world tour (and about $3 million more in ancillary sales), applied $11 million of that to renovating the Barnes' Merion gallery (the remainder is in a fund restricted to capital projects), and certainly resurrected awareness of the Barnes throughout the cultural and media world.
Glanton, who opposes the move to Philadelphia and is writing a book about the Barnes saga, has made sure people remember not simply litigation and bickering when they think of his time at the foundation.