Published: March 31, 2016
By Laura Beach
WASHINGTON, D.C. — It is with regret that we announce the passing of our longtime contributor Stephen May, who died March 31. May’s elegant reviews of important exhibitions graced more than 100 covers of Antiques and The Arts Weekly over nearly three decades. His industry testified to an abiding love of art and his keen rapport with those who collect, study and present it. Beyond his talent as a critic, we will miss his friendship and astute guidance.
Born July 30, 1931, May grew up in Rochester, N.Y., the son of Hilda J. and Arthur J. May, a professor of European history. May was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Wesleyan University, earning a degree in American Civilization in 1953. Trained as an attorney, he received his law degree from Georgetown University in 1961.
May’s first career was in government. Between 1955 and 1988, he served successively as executive assistant to US Senator Kenneth B. Keating; as a member of the city council and then mayor (1970–1973) of Rochester, N.Y.; as chairman of the New York State Board of Elections; and, during the Reagan administration, as assistant secretary for Congressional Relations at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
After retiring from government and politics, May embarked on a second career as an independent historian, author and lecturer about art, culture and historic preservation. His passion was American painting and sculpture, especially Modernism. As a lifelong advocate and teacher, he reveled in the opportunity to share overlooked and underappreciated talent with readers. His writings appeared in dozens of publications, from American Artist to the Washington Post. In Antiques and The Arts Weekly he enjoyed the luxury of exploring his subjects in a deep and leisurely way. His last story for us, published January 6, 2016, was on the American illustrator and teacher Harvey Dunn.
May divided his time between Washington, D.C., and a family compound in Union, Maine, taking advantage of both places to catch up on the latest activities at his favorite museums and galleries, among them the Portland Museum of Art, Farnsworth Art Museum and the university galleries affiliated with Colby, Bates and Bowdoin.
May believed in new beginnings. He was a lifelong bachelor until his 2007 marriage to Kathryn B. Wilson, to whom he was devoted. The apartment dwellers began dating after meeting at a party in their building. As May recounted at the time, “It was just more fun to be together all the time than to commute up and down the stairs.”
In addition to Ms Wilson, May is survived by his brother’s children, Andrew, Corinna, Brian and Laurence May, and their spouses and children, and his brother’s wife, Carolyn Stearns. His brother predeceased him in October 2015.
Arrangements are private.
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