Beatrice “Buddy” Cummings Mayer, philanthropist and art collector, dies at 97

When Buddy Mayer visited Mexico City in the 1950s, she and her husband Robert sought to locate artist Diego Rivera – and found him painting while perched on a tree branch.

“He came down a ladder so we could go up,” she recalls in a memoir. They bought two of his watercolors, of a little girl and a boy, to represent their two children.

Ms. Mayer has donated part of her family art collection to approximately 35 museums around the world, as well as millions of dollars to the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Institute, Access Living and the Chicago lighthouse.

During the most tense days of the civil rights era, Ms. Mayer felt that the movement’s monetary and vocal support was not enough.

So she went south with other activists to volunteer in the “Wednesdays in Mississippi” program co-founded by Dorothy L. Height of the National Council of Black Women. Ms Mayer “lived in a cabin and shared a twin bed” while tutoring children, showing slides and photos of the work of African-American artists, according to her daughter Ruth.

Ms Mayer died at her Chicago home on Saturday at the age of 97.

Buddy Mayer and husband Robert B. Mayer and father Nathan Cummings (right) view Mayers’ contribution to an Art Institute Renoir exhibition. | Sun-Times archive photo

She was born in Montreal to Ruth and Nathan Cummings. His father was the founder of Consolidated Foods. The company became Sara Lee and brands such as Ball Park Franks, Jimmy Dean Sausages, Hillshire Farm and Kiwi Shoe Polish.

Nathan Cummings nicknamed his only daughter “Buddy” because he said she was his “rosebud”.

She was empathetic but pragmatic and pragmatic. “Instead of walking around with a doll, she was walking around with a bowler hat and a tool kit,” her granddaughter Jaimie Mayer said.

As an adult, she wasted no time putting on makeup and washed her face with nothing chicer than Dial soap, her daughter said.

Young Buddy received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1943.

Friend Mayer.  |  Sun-Times Archives

Friend Mayer. | Sun-Times Archives

During World War II, she volunteered for the Red Cross, where she said, “I didn’t come here to roll up bandages, I want to work with people in need,” according to a profile of the School of Human Services Administration at the University of Chicago. She said she successfully applied to enter school after learning that slots were reserved for people who “would use their education for a living.”

During a blind date in Ravinia in 1947, she met her future husband, Robert B. Mayer, manager of the Rothschild clothing stores. They were married at the Drake Hotel that year.

They have acquired a diverse collection of works by artists, including Impressionists and Roger Brown, Marc Chagall, Jim Dine, Jean Dubuffet, Robert Indiana, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Paschke, Jackson Pollock and Robert Rauschenberg.

“They daringly collected, learning from dealers but trusting their instincts,” said Marla Hand, the family’s art curator. “Robert said that they hung cans of Warhol soup in the living room and were all amazed to think of it as art. “

The Mayers exhibited works of art in seven galleries which they added to Edgecliff, their mansion in Winnetka.

Ms. Mayer often said to her family, “With privilege comes responsibility. “

They were co-founders of the Museum of Contemporary Art, where they donated $ 7.5 million to create the Mayer Education Center. “They gave of their time, heart and soul to ensure the success of MCA as a world-class museum,” said museum director Madeleine Grynsztejn. “Buddy has supported our collection with many flagship works, including ‘Jackie Frieze’ by Andy Warhol” by Jacqueline Kennedy.

She was a Life Trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago, where “she worked tirelessly to support programs and scholarships for underserved communities at the museum and at school, leaving behind a legacy that will be felt throughout. generations, ”said James Rondeau, Art Institute President.

At the Chicago Lighthouse, “she helped us build a center for the visually impaired elderly,” said Jennifer Miller, director of development.

And she has generously donated to a new building for Access Living, which advocates for people with disabilities. “She deeply believed that everyone should have the right to participate in the world,” said Marca Bristow, CEO of Access Living.

Her husband died in 1974 and her son Robert N. Mayer passed away two years ago. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by five grandchildren whom she called her “chicks”. Services are scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday at the Ritz Carlton, 160 E. Pearson St.

Norma D. Ross