Anita Ventura Mozley, founding curator of photography at the Stanford University Museum of Art and a leading expert on Eadweard Muybridge, died Jan. 23 of natural causes at her home in Menlo Park. She was 81.

Anita Mozley portrait

Anita Mozley (Image credit: Courtesy Mozley Family)

Soon after joining the museum as registrar, she recognized the significance of its comprehensive collection of Muybridge’s stop-motion photographs of the horse in motion, commissioned a century earlier by Gov. Leland Stanford. She was named curator of photography in 1971, and the following year organized her most significant exhibition, “Eadweard Muybridge: The Stanford Years, 1872-1882,” which traveled nationally and internationally. Mozley later wrote the introductory text to Muybridge’s Complete Human and Animal Locomotion (Dover, 1979).

Active in the New York art scene of the 1950s as a writer, critic and painter, Anita Ventura designed posters for the Leo Castelli Gallery and came to know Jasper Johns. Years later, she donated two ULAE (Universal Limited Art Editions) lithographs Johns had inscribed to her to what is now known as Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center.

Ventura served as managing editor and West Coast correspondent for Arts Magazine from 1955 to 1964. With sculptor Sidney Geist, she produced an alternative arts newsletter, Scrap, from 1960 to 1962. Scrap grew out of their dissatisfaction with conventional art criticism and expressed, as Geist later wrote, “both a combativeness and an irreverence toward criticism itself.”

After moving to San Francisco in 1962, she worked at the Maritime Museum and married physicist Robert Mozley before joining the Stanford Museum in 1970. Virtually overnight, she initiated the expansion of the museum’s photography collection. In addition to Muybridge, her research included Julia Margaret Cameron, Thomas Annan, Imogen Cunningham, Ansel Adams, Peter Stackpole and Lorie Novak.

Mozley’s other memorable exhibitions included “Ansel Adams: The Portfolios,” 1972; “The Grand Tour: Mid-19th Century Photographs from the Leonard–Peil Collection,” 1979; “Paintings by Joseph Raphael,” 1980; “Ansel Adams: Ski Experience,” 1983; and “Images of Hope and Despair: Robert Frank’s Photographs,” 1985. For her 1974 exhibition “Mrs. Cameron’s Photographs from the Life,” Mozley staged Virginia Woolf’s play Freshwater: A Comedy at the museum and cast herself as the main character, Julia Margaret Cameron, who was Woolf’s great-aunt.

Jed Perl, art critic of The New Republic, said Mozley would be remembered for her “pioneering scholarly work” on Muybridge, which “like all of Anita’s undertakings, were fueled by an artist’s sensibility.” Noting that Mozley got her start in “mid-century bohemian New York” and was an editor of the “legendary artists’ magazine” Scrap, he said that she “never lost her gloriously old-fashioned faith in the imperatives of the imagination.”

After retiring in 1986, Mozley again took up drawing and painting, and exhibited in California and at shows near her summer home at Southport, Maine.

Mozley was born Aug. 29, 1928, in Washington, D.C., to Mario and Juanita Ventura, and grew up in Rochester, N.Y. In 1950, she earned a BA in art, with honors, from Northwestern University; she also was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In 1950-52, she studied with Morris Kantor at the Art Students League in New York City.

Robert Mozley, her husband of 32 years, was a physicist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. He died in 1999. She is survived by her stepson, Peter Mozley of Socorro, N.M., and three nieces, Virginia Benware of Portland, Ore., and Diana Truax and Patricia Ventura of Henderson, Nev.

The family prefers contributions to the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), 222 High St., Palo Alto, CA 94301, or The Smile Train, 41 Madison Ave., 28th Floor, New York, NY 10010.

Karen Bartholomew is a member of the Stanford Historical Society.