Million dollar legacy gift to Sonoma Valley Museum of Art

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Every museum struggles with fundraising – but for a little time, at least, the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art has a little less struggling to do.

Museum officials on March 4 announced SVMA is the recipient of a generous gift that could amount to more than $1 million from the estate of the late Calvin Vander Woude who, for many years, was a SVMA board member with a particular commitment to education.

“Cal has been an enlightened philanthropist and always a visionary leader for the museum,” said SVMA board President Douglas Fenn Wilson. “His support helped us create a place where art is accessible and where our galleries hum with life every day. This generous gift makes that goal a reality.”

An initial $850,000 had already come to the museum from the trust in December, but additional funds are expected from the disposal of Vander Woude’s estate of original art, which includes a public auction at Butterfield’s in San Francisco, scheduled for April.

Kate Eilertsen, former executive director of the museum and a longtime friend of Vander Woude, helped arrange the Butterfield0 auction and other means of distributing his estate, which she said included a number of original modernist prints from artists such as Salvador Dali.

“He was just a sweet gentle man who loved art,” she said. “He was like my second father. We spent Christmases together… It was a huge loss personally.”

Vander Woude died in September 2015 at 77; his legacy gift will be shared between the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art and the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center in Palm Springs.

Spending the money presents an enviable challenge to the new director of the Sonoma Valley Art Museum, Linda Cano.

“We know that Cal was interested in education and public programming, so we’ll look at projects that he might have approved of,” said Cano. “There are many things we will be able to accomplish, thanks to Cal’s gift.”

That Vander Woude was interested in education was no surprise to those who knew and worked with him in Sonoma throughout the past 20 years. Eilertsen recalled that he was a former fifth-grade teacher who always liked to incorporate creativity and art in his teaching, interests that led to his first $100,000 gift to the museum in 2010.

Vander Woude, a native of Iowa, moved to Palm Springs in the 1980s where he met his life partner Hal Broderick, an internationally known designer. They established Gallery Vander Woude and catered to the wealthy clientele of the Southern California community – and were active in the arts themselves.

They retired in 1995, moving to Sonoma, but soon the lure of the artistic community drew them into involvement with the SVMA, which was founded in 1998.

Following Broderick’s death in 2006, Vander Woude turned his energy increasingly toward the museum. He served on the museum’s Board of Directors from 2008 to 2012, showing a particular interest in education programs. Two key programs at SVMA today demonstrate his direct impact – the Calvin R. Vander Woude Education Center, developed from the $100,000 gift he made in 2010; and the Calvin R. Vander Woude Lively Arts Series, part of the Arts Rewards the Students (A.R.T.S.) program.

He was also a founding member of the Legacy Circle, which encourages art supporters to leave a gift to the museum in their will. At that time, he made a commitment to leave his own legacy gift to the museum upon his passing, which he has now honored.

“Cal’s gift, when his estate is concluded, comes with no restrictions and may well exceed $1 million – the largest gift in SVMA’s history,” said Wilson.

The museum’s annual operating budget is reported as $900,000, to cover operations of the 3,000-square-foot main gallery space, a second smaller gallery opening directly onto Broadway, an arts library of 2,500 volumes, and the museum’s many education programs.

Cano, who only last month began serving as the museum’s executive director, never had the opportunity to meet Vander Woude, but his legacy – not only as an active member of the SVMA community, but through his generous gift – is sure to have an impact on her job.

“His memory will live on here at SVMA for many years to come,” she said.

Email Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.

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