Velma Fuller Kimbell, benefactor of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, was born in July 1887 in Whitewright, Texas, the daughter of William David and Elsie Rebecca Fuller. She met Kay Kimbell at public school in Whitewright; she attended Grayson College before marrying him in Durant, Oklahoma, on Christmas Eve, 1910. In 1922 the Kimbells moved to Sherman, Texas, where Kimbell established his own milling business. In 1924 they left Sherman when Kimbell moved his plant to Fort Worth.
The couple had no children and are best known for their establishment of the Kimbell Art Museum. Velma Kimbell prompted their art collecting in March 1931, when she took her husband to an exhibition of old master paintings in the Fort Worth Public Library. There she persuaded him to purchase The Beechey Children, a large portrait by the British painter William Beechey. Through this purchase the couple met Bertram Newhouse, a New York dealer who guided them in their art acquisitions. Over the years the Kimbells assembled a multimillion-dollar collection of paintings and other art objects, noted for British eighteenth-century portraits such as Frederic Leighton's Miss May Sartoris and Thomas Gainsborough's Miss Lloyd. Some exceptional late Renaissance paintings were also included in the collection.
In his will Kimbell left his fortune and art collection to the Kimbell Art Foundation with the directive that a first-class museum be established. Upon his death in 1964 Mrs. Kimbell generously supported her husband's plan by contributing her share of the community property to the Kimbell Art Foundation, making the proposed museum one of the most heavily endowed of the nation's privately funded art institutions. She turned the first shovel of earth in the groundbreaking ceremonies for the museum on June 27, 1969, but her role in its establishment was not merely ceremonial. Her selection of Richard F. Brown as the founding director was an influential one, and as cochairman of the Kimbell Art Foundation's board of directors she guided the museum through its construction and development by placing minimum restrictions on the professional staff. She continued to take an active part in the museum's programs and activities after it opened in 1972.
Mrs. Kimbell also supported the Edna Gladney Home for unwed mothers (see GLADNEY CENTER). She was honored by the Cultural Achievement Award of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce in 1972 and the Patron of the Arts Award of the Arts Council of Greater Fort Worth in 1973; she was named Outstanding Citizen of the Year by the Exchange Club of Fort Worth in 1973. Velma Kimbell's health was poor for the last two years before her death, on April 24, 1982.
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