Julia Moore Converse, curator and university administrator

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Julia Moore Converse, 74, former Director of the Architectural Archives at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design, died at her Chestnut Hill home on May 22 of Alzheimer’s disease.

Throughout her life she was known for her consummate professionalism, intellect, innate sense of style and social graciousness. Penn Professor of Architecture and Urbanism Witold Rybczynski said of Julia that she “was a great spirit, and she touched so many people.”

“Julia was an important voice in the ecosystem of the arts in Philadelphia, and her accomplishments resonated nationally and internationally,” said William Valerio, the Director and CEO of Woodmere Art Museum,  “As founding director of the Architectural Archives at the University of Pennsylvania, she carved a niche for herself in American art, serving as an advocate on a national basis for the study of architecture as cultural history. Julia taught us all to think about architects as the artists who shape our built environment.”

Born in New York City in 1946, she moved as an infant with her family to Lima, Peru, where her father worked for W.R. Grace and Company as an attorney, returning to the United States in 1952. From 1969 to 1975 her father, John D.J. Moore, served as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, a post her uncle Richard Moore also filled from 1989 to 1992. Her maternal grandfather, Harry Ward Foote, a Professor of Chemistry at Yale, was on the 1911 Yale Expedition to Peru, when Machu Picchu was rediscovered, and her maternal grandmother, Martha Babcock Foote, founded the Foote School in New Haven.

A 1967 art history graduate of Smith College, she spent her junior year at the École du Louvre and I’Institute d’Art et d’Architecture in Paris, and also completed advanced studies in Renaissance art in Florence, Italy.

Ms. Converse was had already held curatorial positions at the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, MA when G. Holmes Perkins hired her in 1984 to bring professional curatorial care to Penn’s Architectural Archives. In 1987 she was appointed Director of the Archives and from 1997 until her retirement in early 2008 she also served as Assistant Dean for External Relations at the School. Under her leadership the Archives grew to become one of the most important collections of architectural drawings, models and records in the United States. For her accomplishments she received the Dean’s Medal of Achievement in 2008.

Eugenie Birch, former chair of City and Regional Planning at Penn and a fellow member of the School of Design’s Executive Committee, said of Julia: “She was one of my favorite people at Penn Design – she was so imaginative and energetic in promoting the school. Her humor, graciousness and intelligence were outstanding.”  Dr. Gary Hack, former Dean, said “She was so much a part of the life of all of us at Penn Design.”

As Director of the Architectural Archives she curated over 28 exhibits of the work of architects represented in the collections and helped support research by Ph.D. students and visiting scholars from all over the world. As Curator of the Louis I. Kahn Collection she was a member of the organizing team that created a major exhibit of the architect’s work, sponsored by the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1991. She contributed to the exhibit catalogue “Louis I. Kahn: In the Realm of Architecture,” co-authored by Professors David B. Brownlee and Dr. David G. DeLong and accompanied the exhibit to installations in Gunma in Japan, the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

She was active in the national Society of Architectural Historians, the International Confederation of Architectural Museums, the Cosmopolitan Club of Philadelphia and the Arthur Ross Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania. She served on the Boards of the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, the Abraham Lincoln Foundation of the Union League, the Chestnut Hill Historical Society, the Woodmere Art Museum, the Smith College Club of Philadelphia, and the Wyck Association, where she chaired the Wyck-Strickland Award Committee for many years. She received their Wistar Haines Award for her contributions to Wyck in 2013.

Her many interests included cooking and entertaining, travel, visits to museums, attending lectures and concerts, and taking long walks in Chestnut Hill and the Wissahickon Park. Every year while she was at Penn, she and her husband hosted contingents of graduate work-study students from around the world for dinners in their Chestnut Hill home.

She is survived by her husband of 34 years, Richard W. Bartholomew, and by sons Alexander Converse (Amy) of Seattle, Denis Converse of Tucson, and Andrew Bartholomew (Anna Pitoniak) of New York City, two grandchildren, and three sisters.

A celebration of her life is planned for a future date when conditions allow. Donations in her honor may be made to Woodmere Art Museum, the Penn Memory Center, and the Julia Moore Converse and Richard W. Bartholomew Endowment Fund for the G. Holmes Perkins Architectural Library at the University of Pennsylvania.

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