Melva Bucksbaum, a former Des Moines philanthropist who died Aug. 16 in Colorado, was eulogized in The New York Times as one of America's leading art collectors, curators and patrons.

Bucksbaum, 82, died of bladder cancer. She and her husband, Martin, who was chairman of General Growth Properties, lived in Des Moines for decades and were generous donors to Drake University, creating the Bucksbaum Lecture Series. She also was president of the board of directors for the Art Center and a moving force in the development and implementation of the Des Moines Vision Plan some 20 years ago, according to her local obituary.

Bucksbaum grew up in Washington, D.C. The Times wrote that as a 9-year-old she regularly took the downtown-bound bus from her immigrant parents' grocery store to escape "into another world" at the National Gallery of Art. She aspired to be an artist, but when her "hand would never do what the head wanted it to do," she recalled, she started collecting instead.
After Martin Bucksbaum died in 1995, Melva moved to Aspen, Colo., and to New York City.  

In New York, she became vice chairwoman of the board of directors for the Whitney Museum of American Art. She also served on the governing boards of the Jewish Museum and the Drawing Center, both in New York, and served on the board of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.

During her two decades of involvement with the Whitney Museum, she founded the country's largest cash award for an individual visual artist, the $100,000 Bucksbaum Award, given to an artist selected from the Whitney Museum's signature Biennial Exhibition, wrote the Times.

In 2001 she married her fellow Whitney trustee Raymond J. Learsy. Together, Melva and Ray created an important collection of contemporary art. The international art magazine ARTnews named the couple to its list of 200 Top Collectors.

Always passionate about the role of women artists, she fought for their full recognition and standing in the art world. In her last years she curated a focused exhibition of some 100 contemporary female artists from their collection titled "The Distaff Side," for which a significant catalog was produced and much admired.
Memorial services will be held at later dates in New York, Des Moines and Aspen.