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Mary Dennison 1932 - 2003
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Mary Denison: Shared, encouraged a love of art

August 22, 2003



Mary Moore Denison, who poured art into the lives of people all across Michigan, died of pancreatic cancer Sunday at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit.

She was 71 and lived in Birmingham.

"She had a passion for the arts," her daughter, Cristina, said Thursday. "That was her job in life. For years, she supported young artists, up-and-coming artists. She saw talent as it was developing and supported it by buying their art and encouraging them."

For more than 30 years, Mrs. Denison had been a trustee of the Founders Society of the Detroit Institute of Arts and a governor of the Cranbrook Academy of Art.

"For more than half a century, Mary Denison was a vital member of the Cranbrook community: first as a student, then as a parent of two Cranbrook Schools graduates and, most recently, as a governor of Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum," Rick Nahm, president of the Cranbrook Educational Community, wrote in a tribute. "Mary had a passion for art and architecture that knew no bounds."

Mrs. Denison was born in Detroit, grew up in Royal Oak, graduated from Kingswood School-Cranbrookand earned a bachelor's degree in sociology at the University of Michigan.

She served in a string of art groups as:

  • Artistic director of the Detroit Artist Market.

  • Director of the Detroit Focus Gallery.

  • Cofounder of the Meadowbrook Art Gallery

  • Grant reviewer for the Michigan Council for the Arts and Culture.

  • Board member of the Michigan Art Train, the Detroit Zoo Art Advisory and the Michigan Legacy Arts Park.

  • Chairwoman of the Birmingham Public Arts Board.

She belonged to the International Committee for P.S. 1, part of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and was made an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects for championing contemporary architecture.

She was also commissioned to build art collections for Kmart, the Maccabees Royal Life Insurance Co., ANR, Nissan, IBM and the Smith Group.

She loved to visit her family cottage at Crystal Lake near Traverse City.

"She got to know all the artists that live in that area," her son, Dirk, said. "She had exhibits in her home where she'd provide for young artists the opportunity to have their work seen."

Besides her daughter and her son, survivors include a brother; a granddaughter, and her longtime partner, Gary Kulak.

The funeral will be at 11:30 a.m. today at the First United Methodist Church of Birmingham, 1589 W. Maple Road. A memorial service will be held next month at a time to be decided later.

The family suggests memorial donations to the Mary Denison Purchase Fund for Contemporary Art, Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit 48202; the Mary Denison Scholarship Fund, Cranbrook Academy of Art, 39221 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills 48303; the Karmanos Cancer Institute, 18881 Twelve Mile Road, Lathrup Village 48076, or the First United Methodist Church of Birmingham, 1589 W. Maple Road, Birmingham 48009.

Contact JEANNE MAY at 586-469-4682or

Click here for the Free Press obit link

Update ( Aug.19th, 2003)

Funeral arrangements for Mary Denison:

William Sullivan & Son Funeral Home
705 West Eleven Mile Road
Royal Oak (4 blocks east of Woodward, south side of street)

Visitation: Wednesday August 20 - 7:00 - 9:00 P.M.
Thursday, August 21 - 2:00 - 4:00 PM and 7:00 - 9:00 PM

Mary's funeral will be held on Friday, August 22.
First United Methodist Church of Birmingham
1589 West Maple Road
10:30 AM In State / Funeral Service 11:30 AM
Luncheon following the service at the church.

Private Internment.

Mary's family has designated the following institutions for memorial gifts:
Mary Denison Purchase Fund for Contemporary Art, Detroit Institute of Arts
Mary Denison Scholarship Fund, Cranbrook Academy of Art
First United Methodist Church of Birmingham
Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Foundation


With great sadness that I announce the death of Mary Denison. A longtime champion of the arts, Mary was a member of the Friends of Modern Art Board and was a founding member of the Modern Decorative Arts Group, in addition to being a DIA Board of Directors Emeritus Director.  Mary also served numerous other boards and arts organizations throughout the city and state. Her warmth, energy, wisdom and advocacy
will be missed. She succumbed to her battle with cancer yesterday.

Funeral arrangements are pending (William Sullivan and Son Funeral Home of Royal Oak). Condolences may be sent to Gary Kulak, Mary's partner, or to her children Dirk Denison and Tina Denison at 651 Oak, Birmingham, MI 48009.  

Rebecca R. Hart
Assistant Curator
Modern and Contemporary Art
The Detroit Institute of Arts
5200 Woodward Avenue
Detroit MI 48202
313-833-4788 / fax 313-831-2825


It is so funny but for some reason Mary came to mind yesterday and what is really bizarre is the reason I was thinking about her is that I was pondering the uniqueness of character and positive influence she brought to the art community and lamenting the lack of such an individual at present. She brought people together in ways no one could then or now. What a huge loss this is for all of us.


To survivors of Mary Denison,

I offer my sincere heartfelt condolences. When I lived in Detroit I heard often of the good work Ms. Denison did within the arts community and always had my respect seeing and hearing of the work of another advocate in the arts.

Sincerely, Bob McKeown (former, Metro Times Photographer)