A grand dame departs

Arts patron and philanthropist Jane Blaffer Owen dies in Houston

Arts patron and philanthropist Jane Blaffer Owen dies in Houston

Houston arts patron, social activist and preservationist, Jane Blaffer Owen, 95, died in Houston Monday night.

The daughter of Robert Lee Blaffer, a founder of the Humble Oil Co. (now ExxonMobil), and granddaughter of William T. Campbell, a founder of Texaco, Owen was recognized in both Houston and New Harmony, Ind., for her generous philanthropy. She was a long-time supporter of the University of Houston's Blaffer Art Museum, which bears the family name, and in recent years a patron of UH's Moores School of Music and College of Architecture.

She attended the Kinkaid School in Houston and the Ethel Walker School in Connecticut before launching her college career at  Bryn Mawr and the Washington School of Diplomacy. She also studied at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

"Mrs. Owen was a lifelong supporter of the museum carrying her maiden name," e-mailed Blaffer museum director Claudia Schmuckli. "She embraced Blaffer Art Museum's mission and vision and was uniquely invested in the future of the museum. While New Harmony was her first love, her commitment to the University of Houston was exemplary and we mourn her loss deeply."

In 1941, she married Kenneth Dale Owen and they honeymooned in New Harmony, a utopian society founded in 1825 by his ancestor Robert Dale Owen. She was taken with the humble village and established the Robert Lee Blaffer Foundation dedicated to transforming the long-neglected town into a major cultural and spiritual center. For that work, she received numerous honors and honorary degrees. In 2009, Jane Blaffer Owen was presented the Crowninshield Award, the highest honor given by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

While she spent much of her time at a second home in New Harmony, Owen was active in Houston having served as the first president of Allied Arts Council, as an early organizer of the Seaman's Center, as a trustee of the C.G. Jung Educational Center and as a board member of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, named for her mother. She was also very involved in the English Speaking Union, which honored her at a Houston Country Club benefit in 2008.

She leaves a legacy of good works including the creation of gardens, preservation of historic buildings, commissioning public sculpture and new architecture including Philip Johnson's renowned Roofless Church in New Harmony.

Owens' last public appearance was in April at an evening of conversation sponsored by The Menil Collection. Even at her advanced years, she is said to have held guests in the Menil House in rapt attention as she eloquently spoke for an hour on life in Houston.

She is survived by two daughters, Jane Dale Owen and Anne Dale Owen.

Funeral arrangements are being handled by Geo. H. Lewis & Sons.

You can hear Owen talk about life in Houston in the Houston Public Library Digital Archives

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A young Jane Blaffer Owen
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Jane Blaffer Owen in one of her fashionable hats
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The University of Houston Blaffer Gallery was a long-time beneficiary of Jane Blaffer Owen's philanthropy.
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