Leaving Beauty

“First Day of School” by Norman Rockwell.

n May of 1972, Dr. Malouf Abraham, Jr. had a visit with destiny. A bright-eyed Abraham was in New York for a medical meeting and stumbled across the Bernard Danenberg Gallery. Armed with a voracious and bordering ludicrously positive disposition, Abraham found himself in kindred company. Danenberg had a Norman Rockwell for sale and, as Abraham had never seen the artist’s work in person before, he brought out the dust-covered canvas of Rockwell’s “First Day of School.” Danenberg handed Abraham a wet Kleenex and told him to wipe down the painting. Upon revealing the glistening oil of the bashful schoolboy’s face, Abraham knew it was the most beautiful piece he’d ever seen. He had to have it. The painting cost $13,000; Abraham had just built his practice back home in Canadian, Texas, where his wife Therese was washing cloth diapers for three boys. “I didn’t even have a $1,000 in the bank, and I had to borrow money and pay it off in installments,” says Abraham with a chuckle. “That might be the closest we ever came to getting a divorce. It was so crazy, but it was like an addiction then. I always say it’s a good thing I didn’t try any kind of narcotics.”


This page: “Couple Descending Staircase” by J. C. Leyendecker. Opposite page: “Girl with Seashell” by Maurice Bernson. The Rockwell painting christened a life-long journey toward beautification for the Abrahams. In an effort to “make things happen that go beyond your earthly life,” the couple concentrated efforts into three categories they felt were lasting: historic preservation, art collection and tree planting. In 1977, they rescued The First Baptist Church in Canadian, built in 1910, from being demolished, marking the birth of The Mansion at The Citadelle. Today, The Citadelle is the headquarters for their collection, now containing hundreds of pieces. The Dallas Morning News has praised its “rooms furnished with art and antiques that would rival the White House.” In 1993, their efforts to save a 72-year-old elementary school in the town were rewarded by then-Governor George W. Bush, who appointed Malouf as an arts commissioner for the State of Texas. In 2007, the couple commenced the creation of the Abraham Art Center located at Wayland Baptist University. Each year in March, the Abrahams donate 200 trees to their home city, where Therese was mayor for more than a decade, and have tallied more than 3,000 trees to date. In 2001, The Abrahams began wintering in Sarasota. In a desire to remain inconspicuous, they keep local efforts unfocused, but their palpable love for the city shines through in their avid voice to keep the city walkable, as they both feel all historically charming cities are, and to “focus, preserve and cherish what’s unique about Sarasota.” “When we first started coming in 2001, there was nothing, really,” says Therese. “It’s changed for the better. There’s so much entertainment, good stores to shop at and restaurants. We’ve been to bigger places, but no place is better. Sarasota has it all in entertainment and the arts.”

Why Art?
“I think I was born a different little kid—a thinker,” says Malouf. “I loved beauty, and to be surrounded by beauty in all its forms. I’ve always liked things with a sense of celebration.” The celebration that is the Abraham’s art collection has been the culmination of years of adventurous searching and dedication. J.C. Leyendecker, creator of numerous covers for The Saturday Evening Post, was a preeminent American illustrator at the turn of the 20th century, and the Abrahams “stole” what many consider his quintessential piece, “Couple Descending Staircase,” for a price at which they were offered substantially more four days later. “We said no,” says Malouf. “That’s not what we’re trying to do here.” Leyendecker’s painting was the only piece chosen by Texas officials to be displayed for China’s exhibit on American art during the Beijing Olympics. The Abrahams also tracked down a 7-foot-10-inch John Broadwood piano made of rosewood. Broadwood is considered the father of English piano development. Neither of the Abrahams is sure if there’s another one like theirs

in the world: Julliard has none, The Smithsonian doesn’t have any working and one at Buckingham Palace is only six feet and not made of rosewood. “We love putting together an amazing collection that will go beyond our lifetime,” says Therese. “This Alphonse Mucha we just bought—he’s my favorite—we looked in San Francisco, we looked in Prague, we looked all around and couldn’t find one. There’s a gallery on 72nd Street in New York that we saw had one. We were blown away by it. It was just perfect, but we didn’t pick up the first Mucha we found. We searched it out, and it makes it fun when you decide to get what you like and consider the best.” Malouf adds: “We put things in two categories; in life, whether it’s people, situations, art or whatever, there’s ‘also rans’ and ‘pick of the show.’ We go for ‘pick of the show.’ ” “We both have to like it,” clarifies Therese, “not just one of us, and that has been really important.” The majority of their collection is figurative art— people and animals doings things—and they often possesses a deeper psychological question regarding




humanity or locale. With their pieces in Sarasota, they’ve chosen works created here which encapsulate the essence of the community: a painting of the Ringling Causeway Bridge, Maurice Bernson pieces of “Siesta Beach Sand,” “Girl with the Seashell” and one of foliage, as well as Lynn Davison’s “Duet for Dogs.” “I like to imagine what the people are doing and why,” Therese says, but she admits she isn’t crazy about contemporary art. “A lot of people like modern art. We just don’t, but I do like to see what people are doing. Maybe I don’t like to work too hard at art or something, but I know what I like when I see it.” A respect of established art has certainly led the Abrahams to carve out their slice of the aesthete’s pie. They have four handwritten letters from Norman Rockwell, who once invited them to dinner. As long-time Rockwell owners, they are regularly invited to functions surrounding the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Out of his love for architecture and generally meticulous nature, Malouf seeks to immerse himself within the perspective of ancient peoples and so studied at the Frank Lloyd Wright colony at Taliesin West, as well as in Paris and New York.

A Philosophy
A conversation with the Abrahams is an affably social experience. Making no bones that they are a team, Malouf and Therese are characteristically different but united in vision and philosophy. Therese is straightforward in her hospitably direct responses, and the extroverted Malouf is quite reminiscent of James Stewart in “Harvey.” “For years I was smart,” he explains. “I recommend pleasant.” When asked about philanthropic outlook, Malouf references his grandfather’s frequent quoting of the biblical adage “to whom much is given, much is expected.” Malouf feels the proverb applies to more than money. “He knew we were all smart little kids. We could see. We could hear. We had 10 fingers and toes. There’s a school on every corner, and we are in the land of opportunity. There is no excuse.” The Abrahams mutually cite their blessings and are emphatic that leaving behind joy for the world is an extension of that. “We don’t believe in stacking money,” says Malouf. “We believe that once your reasonable needs are met, you should then use the rest of your resources to make the world a better place, to make good things happen. If there are good things that go beyond your earthly life, that brings you great joy. It thrills us to see things that are wonderful that would not be there if we had not put them there. There is this admonition: bloom where you’re planted.” Malouf says Therese and he have talked about death, regrets, if there are things left undone and what will make that last day fulfilling, and he says they feel they’ve given it their best shot and tried to be encouragers at every turn.

“I desperately feel that for people on their death bed, their regrets are the things they failed to do. Really, people who least fear death are those that have fully lived. I was reading somewhere, ‘Those who have lived full lives have learned how to include death, and death is not a stranger. There’s birth, and there’s death and that in between.’ I believe it as strongly as I believe anything.” The Catholic interpretation of separation between body and soul transformed the way he looked at the world; the only questions man doesn’t know regarding death are when and how, but the passing of the body is just a given. "Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you will return. “It’s important for people to know that their earthly body will return to the earth and sometimes, it’s the youngest before the oldest. It happens every day. Some people have millions and wouldn’t buy a Girl Scout cookie. These people are stacking money for what, till when and why? It’s not going to keep you from getting Alzheimer’s and cancer, and it certainly won’t buy you good kids.” He references the estate tax, which is set to climb to a record high of 55 percent. “Stacking is the dumbest thing you can do, because if you die with it, the government is going to come take it, and you’ll never know what happened to it. You’re going to be financing the moon flight or something. They are missing the joy of making good things happen and making life more wonderful for other people. Visionary people think of the next generation and the people who come after them. If you’re planting trees, you know you won’t ever sit in the shade of that tree or attach your hammock, but those who come after will.” Ẳ



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