Farewell to our dear friend Mark Sponenburgh

It is with sadness that I announce that Mark Sponenburgh, a long-time collector and donor to Willamette University, passed away on Thursday, December 6, 2012 at his home at Seal Rock on the Oregon Coast. Mark was 96 years old and lived a full, rich, and extremely colorful life.

Although Mark had no professional affiliation with Willamette University, he and his late wife Janeth Hogue Russell Sponenburgh endowed a lectureship in 1990 that enables the Departments of Art and Art History to bring a noted scholar, artist, critic, curator, or leader in the visual arts to campus each year to deliver a lecture and to meet informally with students and faculty. Previous Sponenburgh lecturers include art critic and writer Lucy Lippard, Getty Trust President Jim Cuno, African American art historian David Driskell, Egyptologist Kent Weeks, and artist Fred Wilson, among others.

In addition to Mark and Janeth's generous endowment gift, they donated their remarkable study collection of European, Asian, and American art to Willamette in 1990 which in turn, served as the catalyst for the creation of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in 1998. Their collection, which consists of over 250 works of art, was acquired during 40 years of travels to Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Many of these pieces can now be seen in the Mark and Janeth Sponenburgh Gallery at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. 

Mark Sponenburgh was born in Cadillac, Michigan in 1916. He was educated at the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Wayne State University, where he studied sculpture and art history. During WWII he served with the Corps of Engineers as part of the 9th Engineer Battalion before he joined the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Division as a Monuments officer. Assigned to the Alt Ausee salt mine in Austria in late 1945 where Allied forces had discovered stolen art treasures hidden away by the Nazis, he led the first armed convoy of looted art treasures across the Alps to the Munich Collecting Point where they were eventually repatriated.

After WWII Mark and his first wife, the French-born artist Huguette Ozanon, moved to Eugene, Oregon where Mark taught sculpture for nearly ten years. From 1951-53 they lived in Egypt where he was a Fulbright Research Scholar at the American Research Center in Egypt, visiting archaeological sites and writing scholarly essays on Egyptian sculpture. In 1956-57 he was appointed a research lecturer in Egyptian art history at the Royal College of Art in London, and from 1958-61, he served as director of the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan, where he organized several exhibitions on the art of Central Asia.

After Huguette died of cancer in 1961, Mark returned to the United States and through his friendship with the late Gordon Gilkey (who, like Mark, had been involved with uncovering stolen art treasures during WWII), he was invited to join the art faculty at Oregon State University in Corvallis, where he taught art history until his retirement in 1983. Mark and his second wife Janeth, who he married in 1962 and who passed away in 1990, spent their retirement years in a home they purchased overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Seal Rock on the Oregon Coast.

Although Mark is no longer in our midst, he leaves a remarkable legacy to Willamette University through the lectureship fund that he and Janeth endowed, through the collection they donated that set the stage for the creation of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, and through the gallery on the second floor of our building that will forever bear their names. 

John Olbrantz
The Maribeth Collins Director
Hallie Ford Museum of Art
Willamette University



12-11-2012

Mark Sponenburgh in the Art Building at Willamette University in the 90s, photo courtesy of Willamette University.Mark Sponenburgh in the Art Building at Willamette University in the 90s, photo courtesy of Willamette University.

"Head of a Female Saint," 1601-1700, ivory, 3.5 in., gift of Mark and Janeth Hogue Sponenburgh"Head of a Female Saint," 1601-1700, ivory, 3.5 in., gift of Mark and Janeth Hogue Sponenburgh

John Wesley Jarvis (1780-1840), "Colonel William Williams (1788-1850)," 1815, oil on canvas, 30 x 25.125 in., gift of Mark and Janeth Hogue SponenburghJohn Wesley Jarvis (1780-1840), "Colonel William Williams (1788-1850)," 1815, oil on canvas, 30 x 25.125 in., gift of Mark and Janeth Hogue Sponenburgh

Edward Steichen (1879-1973), "Across the Valley of the Morin- Clouded Night," 1910, oil on canvas, 24.25 x 25.125 in., gift of Mark and Janeth Hogue SponenburghEdward Steichen (1879-1973), "Across the Valley of the Morin- Clouded Night," 1910, oil on canvas, 24.25 x 25.125 in., gift of Mark and Janeth Hogue Sponenburgh