Taking An Artful Approach to Creating a TCU Legacy
Robert '54 and Mary Jane Howell Sunkel '55 believed personal experience was the most valuable form of education and accordingly traveled around the world to experience art, architecture and culture firsthand. Although deceased, the couple's vision and legacy continues through the Sunkel Art History Endowment. Since its establishment in 2001, grants from the endowment have supported dozens of TCU art history graduate students by underwriting travel expenses connected with research for their required theses.
Many students say Bob and Mary Jane's generosity had a profound effect on their education and their futures. These include Auriel Garza, who was interested in exploring the relationship between social activism and contemporary art. She was able to connect with like-minded scholars, curators and artists thanks to a Sunkel grant that allowed her to attend a meeting of the International Association of Visual Culture in San Francisco. "The grant enabled me to tap into a large network of people whose work is closely related to my own interests," she explains. "The experience helped me formulate my thesis topic, and I expect that it will continue to affect the course of my research and professional development for years to come."
A Sunkel grant also enabled her classmate, Dawn Hewitt, to examine prints by the 17th-century Italian engraver Diana Mantuana in several prestigious print collections in London. "I'm a huge believer that travel is an important part of learning and expanding one's worldview," Dawn notes. "The Sunkel grant provides a wonderful opportunity for art history graduate students to experience other cultures and art outside the pages of a book."
That doubtless would have pleased Bob, described as "an impeccable learner" by Cathy Sunkel '74, wife of the Sunkels' nephew, David. "Bob's knowledge ranged from art and architecture to fire trucks, lighthouses and a magnitude of other subjects," she says. "He never stopped learning."
Bob and Mary Jane met as TCU students and married in 1960. Mr. Sunkel earned a BFA in 1954, which was followed two years later by an MFA with emphasis in painting and art history. Mary Jane was awarded a bachelor's degree in general business in 1955 and an MBA in 1958.
Both Bob and Mary Jane retired from Northwest Missouri State University, where she was in the business school, he on the art faculty. For many years they contributed to TCU's Annual Fund, increasing their gifts as they could. They later added substantially to their TCU legacy by including the University in their wills.
Another beneficiary of Bob and Mary Jane's generosity is Taylor Day, who received a Sunkel grant to conduct preliminary research on French sculptor Charles Cordier in Paris. "I was able to see two of the sculptures that I discuss in my thesis at the Musée d'Orsay, as well as visit other major museums. This was my first trip abroad, and the research I was able to conduct was extremely beneficial."
Her classmate, Alejo Benedetti, used a Sunkel grant to get a close-up look at a specific series of works by the late Mike Kelley, as well as to attend a daylong symposium on the contemporary American artist. Alejo's trip to New York City was crucial to his exploration of fine art/comic book crossovers, "It was the first time I saw the series, which later became a focal point of my thesis," he says. "The work inspired a whole new direction in my research."
Cathy and David Sunkel are delighted that their relatives' generosity has enhanced an already excellent art history program. "Through Bob and Mary Jane's generosity, many graduate students have had the opportunity to enrich their education," says Cathy. "We're proud to be part of this legacy, and as a TCU graduate I am proud that the TCU community has honored their memory with such love, respect and gratitude."
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