April 24, 2019

Museum Docent Gifts $8 Million to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA—The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) in Philadelphia has revealed that the late Estelle Barenbaum Rubens, a longtime docent at the museum, donated nearly $8 million to the institution, making it one of the largest gifts ever given to the academy. “We knew the bequest was coming,” David R. Brigham, PAFA president and chief executive, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “But we had no idea of the magnitude. It far exceeded our expectations.”

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Rubens volunteered at PAFA for more than fifteen years. Her late husband, the attorney Raymond Rubens, was also an active member of the museum. In addition to the funds, Estelle, who passed away on January 25, 2018 at the age of eighty-eight, left the academy works by Alexander Calder, Red Grooms, Al Hirschfeld, Earl Horter, Alice Neel, and Larry Rivers.

Monica Zimmerman, who manages the docent program as PAFA’s director of museum education, said: “Estelle Rubens was the kind of volunteer docent every museum dreams of having as part of their family. She loved both the collection and the audience equally and always brought a fun—and funky—style to the experiences she created in the gallery for our visitors. She believed that everyone could have a personal relationship with art. And she was hands-down the best-dressed museum guide I’ve ever worked with!”

The gift will establish a two-part merit-based scholarship. Following their third year of study, the scholarship recipients will be awarded $5,000 for travel expenses so that they may visit Europe during the summer. They will also receive full tuition for their final year at the academy. Around eight students will be granted scholarships from the Raymond D. and Estelle Rubens Travel Scholarship Fund during PAFA’s 214th commencement ceremony on May 10.

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