ST. PETERSBURG — In most museums, many rooms bear names of patrons and that tradition is honored throughout the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. But one of its most distinctive areas remained nameless.
That has changed with the announcement that the museum's dramatic glass atrium will become the Mary Alice McClendon Conservatory in recognition of her role as one of the most generous benefactors in its history. In addition to gifts of art works, Mrs. McClendon, 75, and her late husband Doyle, gave the largest one-time gift in the museum's history, $9 million for the capital campaign in 2006.
The announcement surprised her, she said in an interview at the museum on Monday.
She was attending the annual Collectors' Circle dinner on Friday during which its members vote on the purchase of a new work for the collection.
At the cocktail reception before the dinner, director Kent Lydecker introduced Mrs. McClendon's son Bill who delivered the news while a curtain covering her name was lifted.
The $9 million gift was made anonymously in 2006 and until Monday, Mrs. McClendon had not spoken of it publicly.
"I honestly can't tell you why we decided to be anonymous," she said. "I think in part it was because I didn't want to take anything away from this wonderful gift Bill Hough gave to Hazel," referring to the Houghs, another generous couple who were the first to come forward with a lead gift for the new wing.
The conservatory is part of the Hazel Hough Wing, designed by architect Yann Weymouth, which opened in 2008. It connects the original Palladian-style building, completed in 1965, to the new galleries. A 30- by 60-foot glass wall opens up the museum to the waterfront view across Bayshore Drive.
Museum spokesman David Connelly said the decision to name the conservatory happened quickly. The suggestion, he said, came from staff members who presented the idea to the board of trustees who approved it.
A multitasking space, the conservatory is the museum's main reception area, with a gift shop and cafe, and is also used for social events.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.