Karen Johnson Boyd, a member of the SC Johnson family and one of the nation’s leading collectors of American crafts, died of natural causes on Friday morning, according to the Racine Art Museum. She was 91 years old.
Boyd has been described as a dedicated and stealthy philanthropist. She initiated the contemporary craft collection at the Racine Art Museum, which today has one of the largest collections of such works in the country.
Since the 1970s, she has donated large collections of ceramics, textiles, glass and metals – 1,750 works in total – to RAM. To recognize this essential gift, the galleries of the museum are named in his honor.
Boyd was ranked ninth richest person in Wisconsin and 246th nationally in the Forbes annual ranking in 2015.
Originally from Racine, the Boyd family founded SC Johnson. She was a young girl when her father HF Johnson Jr. commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design the corporate headquarters and family home, called Wingspread. A few years later, as she started her own family, she commissioned her own Wright House, where she continued to live her entire life.
Boyd got his start in art thanks to Olaf Brauner, Boyd’s grandfather and a post-Impressionist painter, according to several news reports. He was the head of the art department at Cornell University.
“He taught me to look at art,” she told the Racine Journal Times in 2002.
Boyd began collecting objects while a student at Bennington College in Vermont and did not distinguish between “fine” and “craft” art forms, according to a profile of RAM executive director Bruce Pepich and curator Lisa Englander for SOFA Expo, a Chicago art fair. . She collects painting and photography alongside baskets and ceramics.
His collection became more active after seeing two exhibitions at the Johnson Company, “Art USA Now” in 1962 and “Objects: USA” in 1969, according to RAM officials. The first exhibition featured paintings by Richard Diebenkorn, Joan Mitchell and Robert Rauschenberg, while the last was devoted to contemporary crafts, including Wendell Castle, Lenore Tawney and Harvey Littleton.
She co-curated an exhibition for the Johnson Company in the 1970s, traveling for two years in 49 countries to locate works that would represent the cultures in which SC Johnson did business. The exhibition included works by Mimmo Paladino, Gerhard Richter and Jesus Rafael Soto.
She opened the Perimeter Gallery in Chicago in 1982, showcasing both contemporary arts and crafts, emerging and more established artists including Anthony Caro, Warrington Colescott, Dorothy Dehner, Robert Kushner, David Shapiro, Lia Cook, Sheila Hicks, John Mason, Toshiko Takaezu and Peter Voulkos.
Boyd also donated works to the Art Institute of Chicago; the Cooper Hewitt and Smithsonian Design Museum in New York; the Milwaukee Art Museum; the New York Museum of Arts and Design; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and others.
For decades Boyd was an active member of the boards of directors and acquisitions committees of many major museums. She received the Wisconsin Governor’s Award in Support of the Arts in 1986; a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Craft Museum in New York in 1996; and the Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.
“Karen has been a wonderful friend to this institution and one of the most amazing people I have met during my long tenure at RAM,” Pepich said in a statement. “Any museum would be blessed to have a loyal partner like her. It has been a stimulating and enriching friendship and the artists and the audience have greatly benefited from our collaboration.
Boyd is survived by her husband of nearly 34 years, William B. Boyd and three children, Katherine Nikolina Keland, Karen Henrietta Keland, Harold William Keland; his granddaughter Onnolee Keland; two daughters-in-law Susan Greenwell and Marci Boyd; her sister-in-law Imogene Johnson and her cousins, nieces, nephews and other extended family members and friends.