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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Passion Pursued

Evansville Museum’s Mary Bower closes a flourishing career

It was an emotional moment. During the 61st-Annual High School Art Show at the Evansville Museum of Art, History & Science, regional art teachers stepped forward, led by Jennifer Bretz of North High School.

Her voice breaking, Bretz read their proclamation for Mary Bower, the museum’s executive director.

“We wanted her to feel the love,” Bretz says. “She gave our students this platform for so many years, and it was our last chance to tell her how much that meant to us.”

Their words and hugs brought to tears the normally reserved Bower, who retires in June after serving the museum her entire 45-year career. She is viewed as humble and hardworking, guided by a lifelong love of art inspired by an Art Institute of Chicago visit with her father.

“I fell in love with that museum, and I’ve loved them ever since,” Bower says. She carried that passion to Illinois State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in art history in 1978. At the university’s art gallery, she advised fine art seniors how to present their solo exhibitions.

“That experience was exciting,” Bower says. “It got me thinking, ‘This would be a wonderful job.’”

John Streetman agreed. Then the Evansville Museum’s executive director, he interviewed and hired Bower as curator of collections and became her mentor.

“We worked well together for over 30 years, and made a great team,” Bower says. She advanced to chief curator and Virginia G. Schroeder curator of art in 2014 and the John W. Streetman executive director in 2018.

Schroeder, a friend and arts patron, valued her, too. At Bower’s 25th anniversary in 2003, “I was proud to endow the Virginia G. Schroeder Curator of Collections Chair,” she said in 2018. It secured Bower’s role. Schroeder passed away in 2023.

A personal favorite of the more than 400 exhibitions Bower staged, 2015’s “Master Teacher” series celebrated community ties.

“Mary and the museum did a beautiful job on that series,” Katie Waters, University of Southern Indiana professor emerita of art, says. “Presenting works by the five founding USI art professors and our students was special for all of us, and honored USI’s 50th anniversary.”

“Managing the museum’s $14-million expansion was another great opportunity,” Bower says.

Wrapped in 2014, it yielded the state-of-the-art Koch Immersive Theater & Planetarium and upgraded exhibition and entrance space.

“Mary developed strong operational, financial, and fundraising acumen that complemented her knowledge of art,” former museum board president Sharon Walker says. “By achieving that balance, she kept the museum flourishing.”

Bower’s husband David, who serves as USI’s vice president for development and alumni engagement as well as president of the USI Foundation, also retires this year.

“We want to travel and spend time together with our daughters and their families,” Bower says. “We plan to get more involved in the Evansville community, too. This is our home.”

Picasso’s Progress

Among the details, Mary Bower wants to wrap up before retiring is exhibiting “Seated Woman with Red Hat.” This glittering mosaic by Pablo Picasso was discovered in the museum’s storage area in 2012 and has been of keen public interest ever since. In March, the museum secured a $52,658 grant from the Indiana Destination Development Corp., along with funding from private donors. This funding helps make displaying the rare work possible after exhibition space is readied, on a date to be announced

Image provided by the Evansville Museum of Art, History & Science
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