Nina R. Gray (1956–2013)
May 23, 2013 | We at ANTIQUES are saddened by the death of Nina R. Gray, an independent curator of American decorative arts, on May 20, at home, after a brave battle with cancer. Nina's contributions to our field were legion, ranging from her early meticulous cataloguing talents, which allowed other scholars access to long-overlooked material-and provided Nina with what Margi Hofer, Curator of Decorative Arts at the New-York Historical Society, described as a prodigious "databank of mental images that she drew on throughout her career"-to the larger scope of the numerous important exhibitions she curated. Many of these shows related to Nina's work at the New-York Historical Society, where she was assistant curator of architectural drawings, photographs, and prints (1985-1987), and then associate curator of decorative arts (1987-1990), including The Rise and Fall of New York: Building and Unbuilding Manhattan, which opened twenty-five years ago this month and capitalized on Nina's deep knowledge of and passion for New York architecture.
Aside from a stint as the curator of the Park Avenue Armory, after leaving the Historical Society Nina worked independently as a curator and architectural historian, contributing to innumerable historic houses and museums and writing countless books and articles, including several for ANTIQUES. Among her areas of expertise was the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany, and, most recently, in 2007, she was a lead curator of A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls, a groundbreaking exhibition organized by the New-York Historical Society. As Tiffany expert Arlie Sulka, owner of the Lillian Nassau gallery, commented, Nina was a "great Tiffany scholar, a researcher extraordinaire, my go-to person for that seemingly unsolvable Tiffany question. She relished the challenge and almost always had the answer." To honor Nina's contributions to the study of Tiffany, the American Decorative Art 1900 Foundation recently donated a fragment of the 1905 Tiffany Studios' mosaic from the façade of the firm's building on Madison Avenue to the New-York Historical Society; it will be installed near the entrance to a new Tiffany gallery the society is constructing, for which Nina was a consultant. In another fitting tribute, just before her death, a prototype of a teller window designed by Samuel Yellin for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York was given to the historical society in Nina's honor by Yellin's granddaughter, Clare Yellin.
Art and decoration spilled over into Nina's private life as well-she created delicately thrown and decorated ceramic vessels and ornaments as well as, with her cohorts at the West Side YMCA, intricate beaded jewelry. She was an avid collector in many areas, including aesthetic movement brass doorknobs and japoniste buttons, but she also prized her signed Manolo Blahnik shoes and Betty Cooke jewelry.
Nina was the wife of John W. "Jack" Gray and mother of Alexander and Julia.
Donations in her name may be made to the New-York Historical Society. A memorial service will take place at the Ethical Culture Society in several weeks.