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"Girl Sweeping," by artist
William McGregor Paxton.
Devoted Volunteer Bequeaths Highly-Valuable
Paintings to IMA
Susan Mallinson had a volunteer’s heart. And even
though she has died, that heart continues to beat at
the Indianapolis Museum of Art, through paintings
Susan bequeathed to the IMA in her will.
Susan, a former teacher at Speedway High School west
of Indianapolis, left the classroom to begin her
family. With her husband Harry, a former president
of Eli Lilly International Corporation, she had
three children. Susan’s interest in art and
volunteerism brought her to the IMA, where she
became a docent.
Ellen Lee, Wood-Pulliam senior curator at the
museum, knew Susan as dedicated, detail-oriented,
and ready to tackle any job, no matter the size.
“When I say ‘volunteer,’ I mean she was the
‘ultimate’ volunteer. She was completely devoted to
the museum,” said Lee.
“Susan would be up at two in the morning working on
projects for us. She had a genuine love of art and
the mission of the IMA.” Susan’s volunteerism at the
museum extended into three decades, and she was also
a trustee of the IMA.
In the 1970s, Susan began to seek art to decorate
her own home. Her son Richard Mallinson said she
approached her art purchases with a great deal of
care and advice.
“She had some ideas in mind for an American
painting, so some of the museum staff helped guide
her in finding one she wanted. It turned out that it
was a reasonably valuable piece.”
Mallinson is speaking of a 1912 painting by
American artist William McGregor Paxton. The
painting is called “Girl Sweeping,” and is
characteristic of Paxton, who was famous for
painting women in elegant settings.
Harriet Warkel, associate curator of American
painting and sculpture at the IMA, said Paxton’s
paintings are sought after for a number of reasons.
“Paxton is considered a superb draftsman and
colorist. This piece also shows the various ways he
painted textures, and it is an important example of
his style and technique.”
Susan also left to the IMA a painting by another
famous American artist, Edward August Bell. “The
Statuette,” a work from 1912, shows Susan’s own
taste for beautiful surroundings.
“It shows an elegant woman holding a sculpture.
These are things Susan liked living with in her
home,” said Lee. “Through these two paintings, Susan
has enabled the museum to enrich its American
Susan also helped expand the European collection.
After Susan moved to Vero Beach, Florida, she gave
the IMA a sum of money and asked the curator to
acquire a painting. The museum purchased a piece
called “Monsieur Pool” by French Neo-Impressionist
artist Albert Dubois-Pillet. The work features as
its subject a handsome uniformed soldier.
Lee said, “The museum has the nation’s best
collection of Neo-Impressionist paintings, but this
was one of the few painters we were missing.”
Susan’s gifts have, in a sense, filled some
previously-empty canvas at the Indianapolis Museum
of Art. With that in mind, Lee said it’s beneficial
when someone considering a bequest to a museum
contacts the curators in advance.
“We all love surprises, but in the case of a donor
considering bequeathing a piece of art, it’s
wonderful to let the museum know in advance so we
can make sure it’s an appropriate fit with the
Lee added, “Prior contact with the museum puts us in
a better position to act upon the donor’s wishes.”
Susan did not live to see the museum’s $74 million
expansion project complete. She died of
complications from a stroke at age 84 in August
2004. But when the museum’s doors reopened to the
public in May 2005, Susan’s spirit was felt
everywhere—on the lush grounds, in the busy halls,
but most potently—on the walls, where her three
gifts hang today.
Lee, who gave the eulogy at Susan’s funeral, said,
“It is enormously satisfying to me to see the
galleries with the art she loved hanging on the
wall, symbolizing her generosity.”
“The positive way to look at it is that I know she
wanted a piece of her heart at the museum, and it’s
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Indianapolis Museum of Art for sharing this