George M. Irwin died in November 2021 at the age of 99 in his hometown of Quincy, Illinois. An arts leader of towering importance in the state, Irwin founded the first community arts council in the United States in Quincy in 1947 and then went on to launch the Illinois Arts Council in 1963 and cofound the national advocacy organization Americans for the Arts. A tireless advocate for music, historic preservation, and art museums, he was also an avid collector of contemporary art, particularly by artists in Illinois.
Though a graduate of the University of Michigan, Irwin was deeply devoted to Krannert Art Museum (KAM). An exhibition of his collection at KAM in 1980 under the directorship of Muriel Christison led to a long series of gifts to KAM starting in 1982 and running through 2019. These works are primarily prints and drawings, including pieces by internationally recognized artists such as Sol LeWitt, Alex Katz, Joyce Kozloff, and Lee Bontecou.
But it was Irwin's expansive and forward-looking collecting, particularly works by women, indigenous people, and black artists such as Barbara Jones-Hogu, Andy Tsinajinnie, and Richard Hunt that transformed KAM's holdings. His devotion to the art of Chicago was legendary, and KAM's outstanding holdings of the Hairy Who and Chicago Imagists owe a great deal to Irwin's gifts, which include works by Ed Paschke, Ray Yoshida, Karl Wirsum, Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson, Barbara Rossi, and Christina Ramberg.
We celebrate George Irwin's advocacy for the arts and remain grateful for his long commitment to Krannert Art Museum.