HOUSTON, TEXAS — Michael K. Brown, longtime curator at Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, died September 8 of organ failure, following a heart transplant. He was 60 years old.
“Michael was an exemplary curator, known for his passion and keen connoisseurship, and a remarkable individual whose grace and gentility touched everyone he encountered,” said Gary Tinterow, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Brown was hired from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1980, as associate curator at Bayou Bend, one of the nation’s premier collections of American paintings and decorative arts, working with curator David B. Warren.
He was a leading scholar in the field of American decorative arts, an authority on American silver, and a specialist in the work of Nineteenth Century New York cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe. Brown built discerningly on the legacy of Ima Hogg, Bayou Bend’s founder, to enlarge the collection, as well as to renovate and restore the distinguished room settings that are the museum’s hallmark.
“Michael Brown was my colleague at Bayou Bend for more than two decades; he was a quiet, intense man, who always pursued excellence. As a curator, his work was marked by impeccable scholarship, diligent research and, exercising an extraordinary eye, an intrepid pursuit of acquisitions of the most superb quality, whether large or small,” said David B. Warren, founding director emeritus of Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens.
Through his years at Bayou Bend, Brown became known for his ability to bring objects of outstanding quality into the collection while always being sensitive to donors and patrons. Some of the objects include the earliest known Warren, R.I., needlework sampler; a mid-Seventeenth Century hull and Sanderson Boston dram cup; and an extensive collection of rare Nineteenth Century Texas objects.
Over more than 30 years, Brown published dozens of books and articles on American decorative arts, architecture and history. Most recently, he was the author of America’s Treasures at Bayou Bend: Celebrating Fifty Years, 2007, and contributed to Duncan Phyfe: Master Cabinetmaker in New York, 2012, a catalog and exhibition co-produced with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
He was a popular speaker throughout the country at decorative arts forums and symposia. Moreover, he was committed to community service and was an active board member who served on several civic and historical associations including Houston’s Heritage Society, Preservation Houston, as well as the Victorian Society in America, based in Philadelphia.