Two Women, One Remarkable Gift
Irene Leache and Annie Wood
The Chrysler Museum’s tradition of bringing art and people together dates back to 1871 when Irene Leache and Anna “Annie” Cogswell Wood came to Norfolk to establish the Leache-Wood Seminary, an all-girls school dedicated to educating the daughters of the city’s most prominent families. The women soon discovered a void in Norfolk’s arts community and expanded their mission to bring discussion clubs, poetry readings, and other cultural activities to the city.
Just a few months after Leache’s death in 1900, Wood established the Irene Leache Memorial to honor her friend of more than three decades. That organization became the catalyst for what is now the Chrysler Museum of Art. The group hosted lectures and concerts and provided musical instruction to encourage an appreciation of fine arts and literature. Gathering enough works to establish a museum was among the group’s loftiest goals.
Wood enlisted the support of her seminary alumnae before returning to Florence to begin sending artworks back to Norfolk. Until Wood’s death in 1940 and in the years that followed, the Leache-Wood protégés formed an art collection and fostered cultural activities across the city, leading to the creation of the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences and the founding of the Norfolk Symphony Orchestra, the Little Theater, the Norfolk Society of Arts, and the Tidewater Artists Association.
Today, their legacy continues to flourish throughout the Chrysler’s galleries.
The Irene Leache Memorial Foundation gifted its collection of twenty-seven artworks to the Museum in April 2014. The gift contained mainly Medieval and Renaissance art, which further enriched the Chrysler’s heritage of important European paintings and sculpture. The gift also included decorative items and resource materials now archived at the Jean Outland Chrysler Library on Old Dominion University’s campus. The ILM also provided a generous donation that now endows the Irene Leache Curator of European Art.
“Our gift of the art and curatorial endowment fulfilled the founding vision of Annie Wood to create an art collection – and a museum in which to house it – in memory of Irene Leache. We were very pleased that this core collection finally became a permanent part of the museum and it is our hope that future generations will be inspired by the legacy of these remarkable women to foster the arts in our community,” said Vickie Bilisoly, ILM president.