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Aug. 15, 2000: Co-founder of Salvador Dalí Museum, A. Reynolds Morse, dies

Editor's note: This St. Petersburg Times obituary of Salvador Dalí Museum co-founder A. Reynolds Morse was originally published Aug. 16, 2000.

In the late 1970s, A. Reynolds Morse, author of several books on Salvador Dalí and one of the foremost experts on the artist's early masterpieces, was searching for a home to donate his considerable collection of Dalí's work.

Mr. Morse and his wife, Eleanor, insisted on keeping the collection together and developing an educational program around it. They also wanted to house the art in a building that would not compete with it.

On both concerns, the Morses found what they were looking for in a nondescript marine warehouse on a site adjoining the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus.

The Salvador Dalí Museum, founded by the Morses in 1982, now houses the world's largest collection of prints, paintings and drawings by Dalí, the master of psychoanalytic surrealism.

Mr. Morse died Tuesday (Aug. 15, 2000) at Freedom Square nursing facility in Seminole, where he had been ill for about 18 months, said museum executive director Marshall Rousseau. An exact cause of his death was not announced. He was 85.

Rousseau remembers the Morses saying that they were struck by "the excitement on the part of the St. Petersburg people in trying to make the arrangements."

"One of the things they're most gratified about after 18 years, because we're in a tourist market, (is that) so many more people are getting a chance to see this great collection. They wanted as many people in the world to see this art as possible," Rousseau said.

The museum at 1000 Third St. S, along Bayboro Harbor, with its collection now valued at about $150-million, is considered one of the outstanding tourist attractions on Florida's West Coast.

A wealthy plastics-machinery entrepreneur who lived in Cleveland, Mr. Morse spent a lifetime gathering what is considered the world's largest collection of the works of one of the most popular artists of the 20th century.

After Mr. Morse chose St. Petersburg, the state paid $2-million to refurbish the building as a museum and another $1-million to help cover operating expenses.

The collection consists of 94 oil paintings, 150 drawings and watercolors and 3,000 objects, graphics and other materials by the surrealist Spanish artist. The museum also houses a 5,000-volume archival and research library.

"Inasmuch as this collection and the donation of this collection to this community represented one of the largest charitable donations in the history of the art world, it's a very significant act," Rousseau said Tuesday.

The original museum grew in 1988 when a community room, second-floor storage space and offices were added. In 1995, the large, first-floor gallery was reconfigured, creating nine small galleries that added 130 linear feet.

Born in Denver to a family in the mining-machinery business, Mr. Morse, a Harvard Business School graduate, stayed in heavy machinery when he set up his own business, Injection Molding Supply Co., later called IMS Co. But he showed that he had moved into the modern era when he opted for the design and warehousing of machinery to make plastics.

Though the head of one of the largest companies of its kind in the nation, Mr. Morse once was likened to a modern-day Puritan.

"We're not wealthy people," he told a reporter. "We're not poor people. Our parents were not affluent. They were well-off, but they weren't rich. And we got nothing from our parents."

He and his wife, the former Eleanor Reese, the daughter of a Cleveland drug manufacturer, lived for 35 years in a "little Shaker farmhouse" fronting an organic garden, driving an old Checker and salting away Dalí art.

Mr. Morse saw his first Dalí painting in 1942 and within a year had made his first purchase, Daddy Longlegs of the Evening . . . Hope, for $1,250. It came with a frame that cost $1,850.

The next year, he and his wife met the famed artist in New York. The meeting began a lifelong friendship between the Morses and Dalí and his wife, Gala.

"The Dalís were very surprised when they met us to find that we were young," Mr. Morse once recalled. "Most of the people who were buying their paintings were older. They were flattered to think young people were interested in his works and would buy them, so they liked us. And, of course, we were fascinated by them."

As the friendship grew, so, too, did Mr. Morse's fascination and desire to possess Dalí's works. He bought almost every Dalí he could find. Soon his investment reached $2-million.

"We did not go into Dalí or anything we ever did for money," Mr. Morse said. "We did it for love or scholarship. We only sold one Dalí in all those years, and that was to opera singer Richard Tucker. We only sold to him because he was insisting on having a Dalí and there was none on the market. Dalí called us up and said we had to do it because Mr. Tucker was very important and wanted a Dalí."

During those years, Mr. and Mrs. Morse traveled with Dalí and his wife to Paris and Rome and to Dalí's home in Spain.

"Dalí was a tremendous influence in our lives," Mr. Morse once said. "We got a huge education in art from him."

Mr. Morse's obsession with Dalí finally came to threaten the basis of his wealth, his machinery company, and therefore his family's welfare, he realized in 1970. He saw that, because of the value of the collection, estate taxes on the art would force the sale of nearly everything to pay the government upon his death.

So first he moved the collection from his home to a warehouse addition and opened a makeshift museum. Finally, however, he looked for a museum or school that would take the collection as a donation.

In St. Petersburg, the art found a home.

On Jan. 21, 1989, two days before Dalí's death in Figueras, Spain, at the age of 84, Mr. Morse and his wife attended the dedication of a $1.14-million addition to the museum that includes a 225-seat community center, a catering kitchen and a vault to protect the collection during hurricanes.

Survivors include his wife of 57 years, a son, Brad, and two grandchildren, Gregory and Tracy. A graveside service is planned in Denver on Saturday.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Monday at First Presbyterian Church, 701 Beach Drive NE. The museum will close at 3:30 p.m. Monday. A second memorial service is planned in Cleveland sometime next week.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Salvador Dalí Museum Building Fund, 1000 Third St. S, St. Petersburg, 33701.

E. James Reese Funeral Home & Crematory, Seminole, is in charge of arrangements.

Information from Times files was used in this obituary.

Aug. 15, 2000: Co-founder of Salvador Dalí Museum, A. Reynolds Morse, dies 01/06/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 7, 2011 10:57am]
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