A life celebration will be held Sunday, Feb. 12, for Ann S. McPhail, 88, of Center City, whose love of art and travel found expression during a half-century as a tour guide at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

She died at home on Wednesday, Nov. 23, of complications from asthma.

Mrs. McPhail devoted much of her life to giving tours at the Art Museum, where she began volunteering in 1963.

Mrs. McPhail worked under five museum directors, including current director and CEO Timothy Rub.

"Feisty, funny, and fully engaged with the museum, Ann will be deeply missed," Rub said.

Born in Essex, Mass., she was the daughter of Orman and Neva Perkins Smallidge. She graduated from the School of Practical Art in Boston and from the Barnes Foundation, studying art history and horticulture.

She and husband Donald W. McPhail were generous patrons of the Art Museum, but her intellectual contributions were no less significant.

When Mrs. McPhail became a guide, no volunteers were well-versed in South Asian art, so museum leaders asked her to study the subject.

"She did so by reading, traveling, joining organizations like the Asia Society and the Japan Society, and attending lectures," her husband said.

She became so knowledgeable that she was given a seat on the museum's South Asian Art Advisory Committee.

Even as her health declined, Mrs. McPhail was determined to continue, giving her last tour two weeks before her death, with her husband there for support.

Mrs. McPhail also excelled in gardening. When she moved to Philadelphia in 1951, she joined the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

She helped design and build an 18th-century garden, and led a team of society volunteers in maintaining it for 25 years.

In 1986, the society honored her, saying all that digging "and sweating in the heat of Philadelphia's summers must not go unrecognized."

In 1991, she led the restoration of the garden at Shofuso, the Japanese house in Fairmount Park.

Kim Andrews, executive director of the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia, said that when Mrs. McPhail took over, the garden showed years of neglect, but Mrs. McPhail "had a vision of what it could be."

Mrs. McPhail's own garden behind her home in Logan Square drew attention from the book American Women's Gardens and other publications.

A world traveler starting in 1960, she used her peregrination to learn about the culture, history, and art of 42 countries.

She brought back suitcases filled with jewelry, textiles, rugs, and artifacts. Many of the items were donated to museums in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maine.

Besides her husband of 65 years, she is survived by nieces and nephews.

The celebration of life will be held at 3 p.m. at the Cosmopolitan Club, 1616 Latimer St. Burial is private.

Contributions may be made to the Philadelphia Museum of Art at www.philamuseum.org/giving/donate.html.

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