Celebrating Louise Rosenfield Noun in Five Stories
on Monday, March 19, 2018
Louise Rosenfield Noun (1908-2002) was one of Des Moines’ most inspirational and transformative civic and cultural leaders. In the course of her extraordinary life, Louise led the way—restructuring city government, protecting civil liberties, advancing feminist causes, guiding the Des Moines Art Center from its very origins to become a world-class art institution, and energizing the philanthropic landscape of our community. Join us on Sunday, June 10 for an afternoon of stories about Louise and the causes she advanced, as told by some of her closest friends and colleagues.
Amy N. Worthen, Curator of Prints and Drawings, Emerita, was a professional colleague and close friend of Louise’s. They first met in 1972. Their shared interests gradually led to the formation of a deep personal connection. Through their mutual love of prints as well as Louise’s leadership in collecting and writing about art by women, they collaborated on exhibition projects (Hannah Höch; Käthe Kollwitz; Jeanne Mammen: Three Berlin Artists of the Weimar Era; and The Louise Noun Collection). They encouraged and critiqued each other’s historical research and publications (Iowa Women in the WPA; The Etchings of J. N. Darling; Apocalypse, Prophecies and Visions). Both worked to build the Art Center’s Permanent Collection’s holdings of art by women. Both wrote about the Art Center’s history. Since Louise’s death, Worthen has written and spoken about her—keeping alive the memories of Noun’s leadership and generosity, and inspiring a new generation.
John Tinker was first-named petitioner and a namesake of the U.S. Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1969). Together with his sister and a friend, they successfully sued the Des Moines public school system for having violated their First Amendment rights. Noun, then president of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, and her brother, Joseph Rosenfield, funded litigation on behalf of the students, that was argued all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court. Tinker continues to speak about the case, how the First Amendment has been interpreted with regard to students, and most importantly, why First Amendment rights are fundamental to the health of our democracy.
Rekha Basu is a Des Moines Register opinion columnist whose commentaries are distributed nationally and internationally by Tribune Content Agency. Basu writes about politics, culture, human rights and social justice, and all issues that concern women. With these many overlapping interests, it’s not surprising that Noun and Basu enjoyed each other’s company and were good friends. In her ninth decade of life, as Noun increasingly thought and talked about dying with dignity, she enlisted Basu in what Noun called her “final project.” In interviews before taking her own life in 2002 at the age of 94, Noun shared with Basu why she intended to do so, and the challenges she encountered in trying to carry it out. The condition was that the piece not be published until after her death. Basu continues to help bring attention to perhaps the ultimate civil liberty—an individual’s right to die.
Kären M. Mason has been Curator of the Louise Noun—Mary Louise Smith Iowa Women’s Archives at the University of Iowa Libraries since its founding in 1992. Conceived by Louise Noun and championed by Smith, the Archives was made possible by Noun’s sale of her Frida Kahlo painting Self Portrait with Loose Hair to create an endowment. Mason worked closely with Noun and Smith to fulfill the Archives’ mission: to gather primary sources on Iowa women from all walks of life and to ensure that those whose voices have been missing from Iowa histories, such as African Americans, Latinas, and rural women, be preserved.
James T. Demetrion, Director of the Des Moines Art Center from 1969-1984, enjoyed a close friendship with Noun for more than 30 years. Demetrion and Noun worked together on many Art Center endeavors including guest curating an exhibition on the sculptor Abastenia St. Leger Eberle, the acquisition of our beloved painting of the Pailleron children by John Singer Sargent in 1976, and the refinement of Noun’s personal art collection to focus on art by women, which serves as the foundation for the exhibition In the Spirit of Louise Noun.
Terry Hernandez is Executive Director of the Chrysalis Foundation, which Noun established in 1989 to provide financial assistance and services to women and girls in the Greater Des Moines area. As a significant donor and advocate for many human and civil rights causes, Louise was a persistent and successful fundraiser, focusing specifically on women and girls later in her life. With her philanthropy, Louise insisted that funds reached the women and girls most in need, not administrative or other expenses, and led the small foundation board for 8 years before agreeing to hire Hernandez and establish a permanent office. Chrysalis, in addition to Noun’s many other philanthropic acts, created a legacy for encouraging women to support other women and take leadership roles in charitable giving.