Chapel Hill: Obituaries

In Memory of Charles Warren Millard, III

Charles Millard, respected museum director and leading expert in 19th century French sculpture, has died at the age of eighty-four. Millard’s 1976 book, “The Sculpture of Edgar Degas”, remains the definitive work on the subject. As a graceful and wide-ranging essayist, as a curator with expertise in photography, ceramics and sculpture, Millard leaves a legacy of elegant, restless intellectual exploration. His clarion prose is underwritten by impeccable citizenship and personal generosity. Millard’s modesty masked a deep wit, a true gift for friendship. If his home collection embraced everything from Color Field painting to Chinese antiquities to North Carolina folk pottery, his circle of acquaintances showed just such strength in variety. Over the years he revisited the studios of many artists usually wary of art historians. Those trusting friends included artistic pioneers like Helen Frankenthaler, Carl Chiarenza, Anthony Caro, George Nick, Jules Olitski, Kenneth Noland and Mark Hewitt. Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey on December 20th, 1932, Millard graduated “magna cum laude” from Princeton in 1954. From 1956-59 he served in the US Navy as a staff member at headquarters of the Atlantic Fleet and the Sixth Fleet. Harvard awarded him a Ph.D. in Fine Arts in 1971. He worked as Curator of Nineteenth Century Art at the Los Angeles County Museum (1971-74) before becoming Chief Curator of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (1973-86). From 1986-93 he made a memorable Director of the Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. (In 2015, the University would award him an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts.) Millard securely tied the Ackland’s mission to university teaching. He invited students to museum events and began a steady public outreach that included local children. Millard described the seven years heading the Ackland as his happiest. If his quiet service intended to go unnoticed, his benefactions could not be hidden. While living in Los Angeles, Millard had bought for himself a misattributed sculpture, the life-sized bust of a wildly grimacing man. The piece costs just two hundred dollars and, for decades, it served as a front hall hat rack. Of course Millard had recognized it as the carving of a German eccentric, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1739-1783). When a similar bust by the artist sold for millions in 2010, Charles Millard concocted The Tyche Foundation. He named it, not for himself, but in honor of the Roman goddess of good fortune and lucky finds. With the sale’s windfall, Charles Millard at once set about strengthening the Ackland’s considerable art holdings. Whatever thinness he had found in the collection, Millard could now buttress from within. A year later, the one carved gargoyle had become fifty one works---in all forms and from most centuries. The exhibit of donated works was titled “Fortune Smiles”. It filled the entire Ackland Museum. The Tyche collection, being self-generated and hand-shaped, is a gift both loving and personal. And, only incidentally, almost by accident, it leaves the most perfect portrait of its donor.Charles Millard died at his Chapel Hill home on December eleventh, attended by friends. In lieu of flowers, tributes may be sent to his favorite cause: The Ackland Art Museum Building Fund, 101 South Columbia Street, Chapel Hill, NC, 27599.Photograph Copyright © 2015 The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill