The Herdles at MAG

memorial art gallery centennial

The Herdles at MAG

George Leonard Herdle (1868-1922)

George Herdle ca. 1913George Herdle was born in Rochester and studied in Holland and Paris. Before 1913 he worked as a freelance artist and taught at the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute (now Rochester Institute of Technology). He exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia; the National Academy of Design, New York; and the New York Watercolor Society. He was President of the Rochester Art Club from 1902 until 1920.

George Herdle was named Acting Director of the Memorial Art Gallery in September 1913, and confirmed as Art Director by April 1914. Avidly interested in contemporary art, Herdle was friends with many prominent artists of his day and arranged a remarkable series of exhibitions during his tenure, beginning with the Gallery’s Inaugural exhibition, which “followed by a few months the legendary Armory Show in New York City, which introduced European modernism to the United States. MAG’s very first display featured art by contemporary American painters, including George Bellows, Winslow Homer, and George Inness.” Other exhibitions from Herdle’s tenure included one-man shows of works by James McNeill Whistler and George Bellows; group exhibitions of American modernist artists; the world premiere exhibition of Kodachrome color photography in 1914; an exhibition of Impressionist work from the Musée du Luxembourg in 1919, the 1920 Homelands Exhibition, and an early American exhibition of work by the Canadian Group of Seven.

Herdle died in 1922 after several years of serious illness. The Gallery’s Archives holds a collection of tender letters written to his family during his treatment at the Mayo Clinic during this period. After his death, a memorial exhibition of Herdle’s paintings was installed at the Gallery. His works are in the collections of the Memorial Art Gallery, the Strong Museum in Rochester, and the Jersey City Museum in New Jersey.

Gertrude Herdle Moore (1896-1993)

Gertrude Herdle, ca. 1923Born October 16, 1896, Mrs. Moore was the elder daughter of George L. Herdle, who became the first director of the Gallery when it was founded in 1913. She began working at the Gallery while attending the University of Rochester, from which she graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1918.

Upon her father’s untimely death in 1922, Mrs. Moore began her 40-year tenure as the museum’s second director. At 25 years old, she was the youngest museum director in the country, one of only three women in such positions. She was one of the first women to hold membership in the Association of Art Museum Directors and the first woman to receive an honorary master of arts degree from the University of Rochester.

Like her father before her, Mrs. Moore initially served not only as director but also as head of education and museum publicist. More importantly, she had sole responsibility during those early years for raising funds to help the Gallery thrive.

In facing the financial challenges, she became adept at encouraging gifts. She had inherited her father’s friendship with Mrs. Samuel Gould, whose daughter, Marion, had died at twelve. Out of that friendship, the Marion Stratton Gould Fund was created in 1938 and remains to this day the Gallery’s chief source of acquisition funds.

“Without purchasing funds,” Mrs. Moore once said, “there could be no consistent development of the collection. In making out a list of wished-for accessions, we just laughed when we added an Assyrian sculpture. Because of its rarity, we knew that this would be an impossible dream. But now we have one.”

With her sister, Isabel, as her chief curator, Mrs. Moore was responsible for transforming the infant Gallery into an important museum. On a shoestring budget with few major supporters, the sisters developed a collection spanning 5,000 years and representing diverse cultures.

Mrs. Moore determined early on that the Gallery should be for everyone. Under her leadership, the Gallery became a model for community participation with one of the highest memberships per capita in the country. She also introduced innovative programs for children and adults. An early champion of activities for schoolchildren, Mrs. Moore began holding story hours and handing out paper and crayons to engage young Gallery visitors. From these beginnings evolved such successful educational programs as the Creative Workshop.

Gertrude Herdle Moore retired as Gallery director in 1962. In 1986, she and her sister Isabel Herdle were honored by the Rochester Chamber of Commerce with the Culture and Arts Civic Award. In 1990 they received a special citation for their contributions from Arts for Greater Rochester.

Isabel C. Herdle (1905-2004)

Isabel Herdle ca. 1986Born in Rochester on June 5, 1905, Isabel was the younger daughter of George L. Herdle, the Gallery’s first director, and Elizabeth Bachman Herdle. When the new museum was dedicated in 1913, older sister Gertrude was on hand. But Isabel, suffering from a bad case of poison ivy, was not. According to MAG historian Betsy Brayer, her parents worried that she would not sit still. It was one of the only times Isabel would not be present for a Gallery milestone.

In 1932, Isabel joined her sister as assistant director in charge of exhibitions, programs and collections. She also would serve 40 years, retiring in 1972 as associate director and curator. There could be no accusations of nepotism. Isabel’s academic credentials were impeccable. A 1927 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Rochester, she went on to receive a masters degree in arts from Harvard University. She won a Carnegie Fellowship for study at the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, and the Courtauld Institute in London, England. She also studied at the Technical School of Design at Stockholm, Sweden, and worked at the Rhode Island School of Design and in San Francisco at the DeYoung Museum and the Palace of the Legion of Honor.

Together, the Herdle sisters were responsible for transforming the infant Gallery into an important museum. On a shoestring budget with few major supporters, they developed a collection spanning 50 centuries and representing diverse cultures. Fully half of MAG’s 11,000 works were acquired on their watch. They initiated cherished programs, often running them single-handedly. And they presided over the founding in 1940 of the Women’s Council (now the Gallery Council), an all-volunteer organization that has raised more than $2 million for MAG.

For their efforts, Gertrude and Isabel were honored by the Rochester Chamber of Commerce with the 1986 Culture and Arts Civic Award. In 1990 they received a special citation from the Rochester Arts & Cultural Council. and they were honored, along with their late father, in December 1983, when a plaque recognizing the family’s contributions was unveiled in the Gallery’s Fountain Court.