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Longtime Point Breeze museum boss Bodine ready to retire

| Saturday, April 26, 2014, 8:03 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Departing Frick Art and Historic Center director Bill Bodine poses for a portrait in front of the new visitor orientation and education center currently under construction at the Frick in Point Breeze.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Departing Frick Art and Historic Center director Bill Bodine poses for a portrait behind the glass windows of the new visitor orientation and education center currently under construction at the Frick in Point Breeze on Thursday, April 17, 2014.

After 12 years as director of the Frick Art & Historical Center, William B. Bodine Jr. is stepping down.

“It's about time,” he says.

Bodine, whom everyone calls Bill, began giving serious thought to retiring when he turned 65 last September.

“I've been working in my profession for 42 years, and I think it's time,” he says. “I want to do other things, such as visiting museums instead of running them.”

High on his list are visits to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and the de Young Museum in San Francisco. He looks forward to repeat extended visits to Rome to indulge his passion for 17th-century Italian painters.

Bodine knew his latest three-year contract would expire June 30, and he began questioning if he wanted to make another three-year commitment to running the five-acre Point Breeze complex, which includes an art museum, a car and carriage museum, the Victorian-era Frick family mansion Clayton, a restaurant and a soon-to-be-completed orientation center.

And he had another timely reason for his departure.

“I think there are moments in a museum's life when it is just ready for new leadership,” Bodine says. “I have been talking with the board about the need for the Frick to become more tech savvy. I understand the need. But it is not my main interest. I assume a younger person will just naturally be more attuned to that.”

Bodine is only the second person to occupy the office of director at the Frick. He followed DeCourcy E. McIntosh, the Frick's original director who held the position for its first 17 years.

During Bodine's tenure at the Frick, he developed a strategic plan for the complex and a needs-assessment site plan, expanded the museum's educational programs and its donor base and worked to increase community involvement for and public awareness of the Frick.

“Very good things happened under his tenure,” says Frick trustee Betsy Watkins, who headed the search committee that brought Bodine to the Frick.

Most recently, under his directorship, the Frick began construction on a three-part $15 million expansion and renovation project. Phase one — construction of the orientation center — will be completed in June.

When the national economy soured in 2008, Bodine managed the Frick's economic resources without cutting into its endowment and collaborated with the staff on how best to curb expenses, Watkins says.

“He is very much a collaborative leader,” Watkins says. “He delegates a lot of stuff and asks for opinions from others. He has worked well with the board and the staff. The staff is working as a team, and that's to his credit.”

When Ian Wardropper became director of the Frick Collection in New York City in 2011, Bodine was invaluable in getting him up to speed on background information on the Frick family.

“He knows the Frick family very well. It has a quite complicated family tree, and Bill was very good at sorting it out,” Wardropper says. “It was useful to have an old hand around to help me through.”

Wardropper had come to the Frick Collection from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he had served as Iris and B. Gerald Cantor chairman of the department of European sculpture and decorative arts.

“Bill also helped me with questions of scale at the Frick (Collection). Small places can be as complicated as a big place,” Wardropper says.

Before coming to Pittsburgh, Bodine was the interim executive director and chief curator of the Columbia Museum of Art in Columbia, S.C.

A graduate of the University of Virginia, where he also taught, Bodine had worked at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and at the National Endowment of the Arts.

Bodine credits his mother for setting him on the path to a museum career. He was majoring in English and intended to go on to graduate school for a degree in business or law.

“Mother said, ‘All you ever talk about is your art-history class. Why not major in art history?' ” he says.

He told her he didn't think that major would lead to a job.

“Worry about that later,” she told him.

That's just what he did.

When Bodine became director of the Frick, he made a real effort to meet his colleagues in the Pittsburgh area, says Judith O'Toole, director and CEO of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.

“He is such a gentleman,” O'Toole says. “He came out (to our museum) within the first six weeks.”

Colleagues rely on him for advice, O'Toole says. “He's very discrete. You can have conversations director-to-director and know it's not going to go further. … He's somebody I think a lot of people go to.”

Mitch Swain, CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, concurs.

Bodine is a board member of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. Swain first met him in 2005 when Bodine was on the board of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Alliance during a merger with ProArts that created the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

“It was clear when he spoke up that people listened to him,” Swain says.

He calls Bodine “the art and culture community's wise man.”

“He has tremendous respect and sensitivity to artists, performing arts organizations and museums,” Swain says.

He's a great guy outside of work, too, says Deborah Emont Scott, the director and CEO of the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati.

She got to know him as a fellow member of the Gilded Age Museum Directors, a loosely organized group of directors who head museums founded by or filled with collections of an individual donor.

The group meets twice a year to discuss issues of common interest and visit museums and landmarks.

“Bill is an endlessly creative thinker. He decided we need to have some levity and fun,” Scott says. For a meeting in Pittsburgh in 2011, Bodine augmented the serious discussions with a special tour and dinner at Fallingwater and a Pirates game at PNC Park.

“Bill can tell great stories and is always helpful,” Scott says. “We love hearing about Bill's travels to Italy … and we all look to Bill for expertise when we plan trips to Italy.”

“He has a great sense of humor and is good at diffusing any situation,” Wardropper says. “He's a good person to hang out with.”

The Frick search committee is beginning interviews for a replacement and hopes to have a new director appointed by early summer.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808, or via Twitter: @ATCarter_Trib.

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