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A Tribute to Dr. Bob Brown

In Loving Memory

Last week, the Decorative Arts Trust and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art lost one of its dearest friends, Dr. Walter Robert Brown, or "Bob" as he was known to everyone fortunate enough to make his acquaintance.

Bob Brown was one of the most distinguished, beloved, and admired citizens of Memphis: unfailingly gallant and gentlemanly; truly generous and kind; a connoisseur of the decorative arts, especially those of Jacobean and Stuart England; a retired professor of history from the University of Memphis, where he specialized in the decorative arts and material culture of England and Europe from 1500 - 1800, and the United States to 1830. For over two decades, he served as an Adjunct Curator of Decorative Arts at the Brooks, where he curated numerous exhibitions, advised on countless acquisitions for the permanent collection; generated outstanding programming that both sparked and nurtured a love of the decorative arts and material culture in our community; and supported, with his deep intelligence and quiet humor, the museum’s staff and Board and the members of the Decorative Arts Trust.

We have all lost a treasured friend. The Brooks shares heartfelt condolences with Richard Tanner, Bob's life partner, as well as former President of the Board of the Decorative Arts Trust, Tom Lee, with whom Bob worked so closely for so many years to promote the knowledge and appreciation of the decorative arts.

Today, Associate Curator of European and Decorative Arts, Dr. Rosamund Garrett, a close personal friend, even soulmate, of Bob's, pays tribute to him with the following reflection on just one of his many contributions to the Decorative Arts Trust and the Brooks. 

Rest well, Bob. You are missed.

Emily Ballew Neff, ph.d.
Executive Director


The Medieval Treasury, Curated by Bob Brown

Spanish, Processional Cross, ca. 1390, Silver and enamel over an oak core,
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art purchase; funds provided by the
Morrie A. Moss Acquisition Fund, the Decorative Arts Trust and Mrs. Lula C. Coffey 97.9



For Medieval European churches, there was no such thing as “finished.” Extending the nave, adding a side chapel, bringing in the latest column capital designs from Italy – these buildings were never static. Today, if you look closely you can see the visible evidence of centuries of changing functions and fashions. It was perfectly in keeping then (but perhaps a little surprising!) that the Brooks reclaimed a space once used as the women’s toilets for our Medieval Treasury, curated by the museum's beloved Bob Brown. This was one of Bob’s most prized curatorial endeavors, which he worked closely on with former preparator Bert Sharpe and completed in 1998.

Located directly off the Moss Gallery, the Treasury is a small space perfect for individual contemplation filled with the precious objects that once made churches appear like jewel boxes. The average citizen lived in a house made of wood, and in rural areas in particular the church may have been the only stone building around. They were filled with glittering stained glass, the finest fabrics, and extraordinary metalwork, crafts that took a decade to master, and the materials for which came from Europe, Africa and Asia. This visual spectacle was complimented by polyphonic music, the pageantry of the liturgy, and the heady smell of incense.

Bob Brown never lost his sense of wonder and awe with these objects, delighting in their materials, their craftsmanship, and the direct connection they can give you to a maker, a time and a place. In curating this space, Bob hoped to offer our community this sense of connection to the makers and users of these objects, to show how much we have in common, how humans of any time and place are capable of making truly beautiful things, and how in our pursuit to connect and inspire we are never finished.​

Rosamund Garrett, Ph.D.
Associate Curator of European and Decorative Arts