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Celebrating the leadership, vision, tenacity, and love of community shared by the recipients of the Great Living Cincinnatian Award, presented annually by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber since 1967.
“I have a great passion for art.”
Most Cincinnatians know Phyllis Weston as the person they turn to for advice about building their own collections. This was the case first as the director of Closson’s Art Gallery and then as the proprietor of her own gallery in O’Bryonville.
Weston attended classes at the Yale drama school. A talent scout offered to help her land an auditions in New York and Hollywood.
She turned down the opportunity and returned home to her husband and family. Although she believes in her choice, she mused in a recent interview that, “I should have made one movie.”
After returning home, she made friends in the New York arts scene with Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky.
Shortly after arriving in Cincinnati in 1963, Weston was drawn into gallery work for the first time. A year later, Burton Closson, Jr. hired her to work in his gallery.
For her first show, Phyllis drew on her acquaintances and invited Vera Stravinsky, the famed composer’s wife, to exhibit her paintings. When Igor and Vera Stravinsky came to the opening in Cincinnati, 2,000 people flocked to the gallery. The Cincinnati Enquirer titled its review, “The Great Flood.”
Over the next four decades she honed and embraced what she considers her “great talent,” an ability to recognize great art.
In addition to bringing known artists from New York and Paris to Cincinnati for the first time, Phyllis also helped local artists who worked in many different styles and techniques. She takes pride in her role in recognizing the potential not only of wildlife artist John Ruthven, but also Michael Scott and Jimmy Baker, whose styles tend towards abstract expressionism.
Because of her openness to all styles and periods, Weston was the ideal person to assist Procter and Gamble in assembling a corporate collection focused on artists who were connected to Cincinnati.
For more than a decade, Phyllis searched at auctions and through private collections. In the process, she rediscovered paintings of well-established nineteenth-century painters like Robert Duncanson, William Sontag and Elizabeth Nourse, and brought them together with works of twentieth-century artists including E.T. Hurley, James Hopkins and Jens Jensen.
What made this great labor doubly valuable was the decision by P&G in 2003 to donate 78 paintings by 46 different artists to the Cincinnati Wing of the Art Museum. It was the second-largest gift of paintings to the museum in its 121-year history and the backbone of the Cincinnati Wing.
Weston, “the Grande Dame,” as many know her, has served on the boards of the Contemporary Arts Center, the Cincinnati Ballet and the Cincinnati Opera. With Irma Lazarus and Patricia Corbett, she also helped found the Post-Corbett Awards and the Young Friends of the Arts, which has grown into Enjoy the Arts.
Though drawn to the bright lights of Hollywood and Broadway in her early life, over the last 50 years it is impossible to imagine Phyllis Weston apart from Cincinnati.
Recipients are selected from candidates by the Cincinnati Chamber’s senior council based on the following criteria: – Community service – Business and civic attainment on a local, state and national or international level – Leadership – Awareness of the needs of others – Distinctive accomplishments that have brought favorable attention to their community, institution or organization