Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, December 21, 2000
Ruth K. Franklin, curator of art from Africa, Oceania and the Americas, is dead at 64


Ruth K. Franklin, curator of the arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the Cantor Center for Visual Arts, died Dec. 18 at the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center as a result of complications from acute bacterial pneumonia. She was 64.

"She brought an incredible amount of enthusiasm and commitment to the AOA [Africa, Oceania and Americas] arts, as well as to learning about the people of those cultures who made the art," said Thomas Seligman, the John and Jill Freidenrick Director of the Cantor Arts Center and a longtime friend of Franklin's. "She also brought a collector's passion for searching for beautiful objects and important objects, and trying to bring them to the center."

Franklin and her husband, Stanford law Professor Marc A. Franklin, donated artwork from their collection to the center, as well as to the de Young Museum in San Francisco and the Brooklyn Museum, Seligman said.

Ruth Franklin began volunteering about 12 years ago at the Stanford Museum of Art, which was renamed the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts in 1999. In 1998, her position was endowed thanks to a $3 million grant from Bay Area philanthropist Phyllis Wattis.

At the center, Franklin dedicated herself to what had been a longtime interest of both her and her husband: the art of Africa, the Pacific Islands, Indonesia and the Americas. Franklin also traveled to most of these regions to learn about their cultures and art making.

Richard Roberts, a Stanford history professor, remembers her dedication.

"She was especially willing to reach out to the community, particularly the community of African studies, guiding them through the wonderful collection of African arts at the Cantor Arts Center," Roberts said. "She was always willing to think about how visitors would approach or understand African art. She was willing to provide important context and new perspectives on African art. We're going to miss her."

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1935, Franklin graduated magna cum laude from Radcliffe College in 1956 and earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1958.

She worked as an editorial assistant at The New Republic and as an assistant to the dean of Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism before moving to the Bay Area in 1962, when her husband began teaching at Stanford Law School.

Between 1962 and 1966, Franklin worked with Carl Spaeth, former dean of the Law School, on the university's Committee on International Studies. Spaeth, who died in 1991, served as chairman of the committee for about 10 years. Between 1976 and 1985, Franklin held various editorial positions for Mother Jones, Inquiry and San Francisco magazines. From 1994 until her death, she served as consulting editor of The World of Tribal Arts magazine. She also has edited several books on African art.

As a curator for the museum at Stanford, Franklin organized several important exhibitions, including "Classic Concepts in African Traditional Sculpture" (1991); "Ulama: Game of Life and Death in Early Meso-America" (1994); and "Our Art, Our Voices: Native American Cultural Perspectives" (1995). She also oversaw the installation of four galleries.

Her most recent responsibility at the center was as the host and curator of the exhibition "Hair in African Art and Culture," which closed at the end of December.

Franklin is survived by her husband of 40 years, as well as her children ­ Jonathan Franklin of Seattle and Alison Franklin of Cambridge, Mass. ­ her sister, Diana Korzenik of Newton Highlands, Mass., and two grandchildren.

A celebration of Franklin's life is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 12, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Cantor Arts Center. In accordance her wishes, there as no funeral. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to the attention of Thomas Seligman at the Cantor Arts Center, Stanford, CA 94305-5060. Checks should be made out to Stanford University.

Ruth K. Franklin