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Artfully Giving: Longtime Curator Leaves a Legacy

Elaine Altman Evans

Elaine Altman Evans

Known around campus simply as "the lady in the Karmann Ghia," the late Elaine Altman Evans was just as eccentric and rare as the 1971 Volkswagen black sports coupe she drove.

Described as "an original," Elaine didn't just work for the last 41 years as a curator at the McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture; it was her life's calling. Bouts of sickness overshadowed the end of her tenure, but she still found the most desired healing back in her office at the museum.

"She was always the last to leave the office," says Jeff Chapman, director of McClung.

Heartfelt Giving
Her home away from home, Elaine saw to it that a great part of her estate was earmarked for McClung and the UT library, and also for scholarships. To his surprise, Jeff also received a generous gift from Elaine as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. He selflessly invested the funds into a UT endowment named in memory of Elaine.

"This was the best way to honor her and her service to the museum," Jeff says. "I couldn't imagine doing anything else but giving the money back to the programs to which she had dedicated her life."

Her Contributions Live On
Surrounded by Post-it notes—her official organizational system—inscribed with names, references and observations, Elaine's meticulous research gave birth to a McClung exhibit focused on the burial practices of ancient Egypt followed by a permanent prominent gallery, now named in her honor, devoted to ancient Egypt. She also curated 20 temporary exhibits and more than 100 smaller case exhibits along with designing and describing more than 150 objects from around the world in the museum's decorative arts showcase.

"Elaine was a storehouse of vast knowledge," Jeff says. "She was never happy with an identification of a piece in an eclectic collection until she exhausted the available literature and sought the input of published experts. It wasn't just what she did; it was part of who she was."

A sought-after expert, Elaine examined and pontificated about hopeful treasures brought to her by community collectors. And when some couldn't find his or her way to her, she journeyed to their homes to unearth their findings and offer guidance.

An author and artist, Elaine's passion for the ancient culture of Egypt was piqued prior to her arrival at UT from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Department of Egyptian Art. She had already discovered a great appreciation for art after a three-year stint in South Africa, where she earned her master's degree and taught in mission schools and at the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. She received her bachelor's degree in art history from Columbia University.

When she wasn't at the museum, Elaine was likely on a jaunt to Egypt or Italy honing her expertise on ancient Egyptian art and culture. If not in a faraway land, she scouted nearby areas for other displays focused on Egypt, often rounding up a busload of friends and strangers alike.

While her ashes are sprinkled in the Nile, her legacy is sown at McClung, a destination of discovery for tens of thousands of children, college students and visitors.

Consider Your Legacy
To leave a lasting legacy to benefit the future of the university, please contact the Office of Planned Giving at (865) 974-4826 or <a href="mailto:plannedgiving@tennessee.edu">plannedgiving@tennessee.edu</a> or click here for gift ideas.

 

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