For the first time in its 40 years as a center of spiritual inspiration and as a beacon for human rights activists, Rothko Chapel took the uncommon step on Wednesday night of holding a fundraiser and in the process saluted two renowned activists — human rights proponent Bianca Jagger and Tibetan Buddhism authority and Dalai Lama supporter Robert Thurman.
Founded in 1971 by Houston philanthropists Dominique and John de Menil, the intimate Rothko Chapel, lined with mural canvases by painter Mark Rothko, serves as a place of meditation and quiet celebration for all faiths. This legacy of the de Menils was saluted during the black-tie dinner at Houston Country Club.
Lynn Wyatt, long-time friend to both honorees and a hero of worthy causes in her own right, chaired the stunning evening that brought in $250,000 for Rothko. She introduced Jagger and Thurman and presented them with the handblown crystal awards.
As Rothko Chapel executive director Emilee Whitehurst looked out over the impressive gathering of 260 and referred to Jagger, Thurman and Wyatt, she noted "This evening is a great example of what we're all about . . . There is enough spiritual juice in this room to kick us all up a notch."
Both Jagger, recognized for her human rights activities, and Thurman, honored for his personal and professional focus on spirituality, have long-standing connections to the chapel.
Thurman was married, 50 years ago, to Christophe de Menil (daughter of Dominique and John) and was keenly involved with the de Menils as they planned the chapel. He recalled being with them in Mark Rothko's studio in the '60s while they were designing what would become a sacred place of international renown. A professor of religious studies at Columbia University and the first American Buddhist monk, he has visited the Rothko a number of times over the years.
"The woman of whose powerful presence I feel tonight," he said, "is Dominique de Menil." He applauded the Rothko as a place for the mutual understanding of all religions and warned against turning "religion into a battle for market share" and of the dangers of fanatics in all religions.
Jagger, who heads the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation and has participated in Rothko Chapel human rights programs organized by Dominique de Menil, flew in from her base in London to accept the award.
"It is extraordinary for me to be receiving this award from my very, very dear friend Lynn Wyatt," she said. In the VIP reception before the dinner, Wyatt and Jagger recalled their frolics together in the early '70s when the latter was married to Mick Jagger.
In her remarks, Jagger detailed the path that led her to focus on human rights and climate control and her work around the world. The sophisticated gathering was mesmerized by her remarks during which not a single glass clinked nor a fork dropped.
Among the Rothko family of supporters attending were honorary directors Sissy Farenthold and Willy Kuehn; Rothko board chair Gayle DeGeurin and husband Mike DeGeurin; Christopher Rothko, son of the late Mark Rothko; and board member Joyce Salhoot and husband Mohammed Salhoot.
Lynn Wyatt was surrounded by family members on this evening — husband Oscar Wyatt and sons Brad Wyatt and Steve Wyatt.
The ballroom tables were filled with a colorful mix of notables that included evening hosts Laura and William Robertson, Leigh and Reggie Smith, CeCe Fowler, Susie and Sanford Criner, Virginia and Lee Lahourcade, Leslie and Mark Hull, Elsian Cozens, Karl Kilian, Bill Hill, Audrey and the Rev. Bill Lawson, Vance Muse, Carl Palazzolo, Sue Schechter, Katherine and Mark Yzaguirre, Molly Gochman and Catherine and Matt Hennessy.