VMFA receives $8.4 million gift from Cochrane family to endow painting conservatorship

VMFA receives $8.4 million gift from Cochrane family to endow painting conservatorship

The substantial, planned gift brings the couple’s contributions to the museum to a total of $40 million.

Photo: David Stover

A final, long-planned gift from Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane has brought the couple’s support of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts full circle. As the result of a charitable annuity and trust benefiting the museum, $8.4 million was added to the VMFA endowment this year.

During the past five decades, the Cochranes generously supported VMFA with more than $40 million, through an endowment funded with outright gifts, 220 parcels of real estate in Manchester, and their long-time family home and farm in Hanover County. Proceeds from the sales of the real estate were added to the Cochrane endowment principal. J. Harwood Cochrane founded Overnite Transportation, and Louise Cochrane, a painter, served as a docent and member of The Council of VMFA. Each served on the museum’s Board of Trustees at different times.

A portion of this trust distribution has funded the Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane Associate Conservator of Paintings position, complementing their long-time support for the American Art collection and the Cochrane Curator of American Art.

“With this last generous donation, the Cochranes ensured that the museum is positioned to be a strong steward of paintings in our permanent collection,” VMFA Director Alex Nyerges said. “In creating the curator and collection endowments, they recognized the value in building our strategic holdings, and this newly endowed conservator position will ensure that those works remain protected under our care for a long time. This gift reflects their ultimate commitment as art patrons.”

Bruce Suffield, who first joined the VMFA as a painting conservation fellow in 1994, has been named the inaugural Cochrane Associate Conservator of Paintings. Suffield advanced to assistant conservator in 1994 and associate conservator in 2004. A member of the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works and other conservation organizations, Suffield has written and lectured on such topics as materials and restoration approaches in 15th- and 17th-century paintings, and modern painting materials. He earned his undergraduate degree in studio art and museum studies at the University of Texas at Austin and his master’s and certificate of advanced study in conservation at the State University of New York’s Buffalo State College.

“We continue to raise the profile of our conservation team and their work, and the Cochrane Associate Conservator of Painting will further highlight our commitment to becoming a vibrant center for conservation,” said Stephen Bonadies, VMFA’s Senior Deputy Director for Conservation and Collections and Chief Conservator. “Bruce is a skilled conservator, and we are delighted that this endowed position reflects his important contributions.”

“Every time I walk through the VMFA’s American galleries, I remember the Cochranes and their outstanding support of building the American collection,” Suffield said. “It is an honor for conservation to receive this generous endowment, which will allow for continued advances in our endeavors in preservation, treatment, and research.”

The Cochrane gift reinforces VMFA’s strategic investment in the Susan and David Goode Center for Advanced Study in Art Conservation—the largest of its kind in the Southeast—to increase new knowledge about its collection, ensure best practices for treating and preserving cultural properties under its care, and support professional development. The center generates cutting-edge scholarship relevant to multiple fields.

In recognition of their outstanding philanthropy, the museum named the Cochrane Court—adjacent to the Ancient Art and East Asian galleries—and the Cochrane Atrium for the couple.

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