Maida S. Abrams, Art Benefactor, Dies

Maida S. Abrams, a great benefactor to Harvard Art Museums and to many art institutions throughout the country, died last Thursday at Massachusetts General Hospital after a bout with cancer. She was 63.

Abrams and her husband, Boston lawyer George S. Abrams ’54, had a long-standing relationship with Harvard and its museums.

The pair are internationally recognized art collectors, and donated many of their prized 17th century Old Master Dutch drawings to the Fogg Art Museum.

Over the past 40 years, the Abrams had amassed the world’s most comprehensive private collection of the drawings. In 1999 they donated 110 to the Fogg, valued at $20 million dollars.

In their honor, the Fogg renamed one of its curatorial positions as the Maida and George Abrams Curator of Drawings.

George Abrams, who served as the managing editor of The Crimson and serves as the head trustee of The Harvard Crimson Trust II, said that as art collectors he and his wife “spent our life together building up special material,” but that she was eager to share it with others.

“She had a deep appreciation for the scholarly side of the Harvard Art Museums,” her husband said, and was excited “that students could look at [the drawings] first-hand, touch them, and get the same pleasure she had gotten from them.”

Besides collecting, Maida Abrams’ had a passion for helping those with special needs experience and utilize art.

“She was someone who loved people, all kinds of people for what they were, people of all needs,” her husband said.

Since her high school days, Abrams always took an interest in helping the disabled, and received degrees in occupational therapy and arts therapy.

In 1980 she founded VSAarts of Massachusetts, an affiliate of an international organization that brings people with disabilities into contact with the arts.

Executive Director of VSAarts of Massachusetts Charles J. Washburn said Abrams’ vision was one of her great gifts.

“She could see so clearly how people of all abilities could bring unique qualities to their community and their schools,” he said.

Washburn added that Abrams was eager to “create art opportunities” for people with special needs, “based on their abilities, not disabilities.”

Sandy Middleton, the director of education for VSAarts of Massachusetts, said Abrams was not the type to sit behind a desk all day and was very active within the day-to-day operations of the program.

“She was a wonderful woman, extremely giving of her time and resources,” she said. “She was intricately involved in all of the programs, and she was always available to help you wrestle any problem.”

Washburn said Abrams was most recently involved in the compilation and publication of a directory of accessible cultural locations throughout New England.

Abrams also worked on the National Cultural Access Initiative, which assess the accessibility of various cultural venues throughout the country, and offer recommendations for how they can better serve the disabled.

“She was always thinking in terms of how to bring out the best in people, especially those with special needs,” George Abrams said.

—Staff writer Margaretta E. Homsey can be reached at homsey@fas.harvard.edu.