Couple's Gift Of $300,000 Saves Colt Exhibit In City
March 30, 2006
By JESSE LEAVENWORTH, Courant Staff Writer
Melinda and Paul Sullivan were 5,000
miles from home when they learned that the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum
of Art, blaming a lack of funding, had canceled an exhibit focused
on Hartford native son and Connecticut Yankee genius Samuel Colt.
Given Colt's central role in American
industry, art and advertising, the Sullivans said they could not
believe no one in Hartford had stepped forward to keep the exhibit
alive. So after reading newspaper stories about the cancellation
e-mailed to them in Hawaii, the West Hartford philanthropists pledged
to pay the full cost of the display - $300,000.
"We simply felt that it was unacceptable
that Samuel Colt's own city would reject the show and that it would
not open in Hartford," Melinda Sullivan said.
Museum officials announced the gift
Wednesday and said the reloaded exhibit will open Sept. 20.
"I'm extraordinarily happy and
grateful," Atheneum Director Willard Holmes said.
Three weeks ago, Holmes announced that
"Samuel Colt: Arms, Art, and Invention" would not be shown
in Hartford. A grant request for $100,000 to the Connecticut Humanities
Council was denied for the show, which was to open May 5 and run
through February. A 2007 national tour of museums in more gun-friendly
states in the West was still on, but the city where Colt was born
and where he built his gun-making empire would not see the show.
The Sullivans said they reject the
rationale of potential sponsors in Connecticut who shunned the exhibit
because of its focus on guns.
"This is truly about a lot more
than guns," Paul Sullivan said. "It's really about what
made America great."
Paul Sullivan, 65, was born in Hartford
and grew up in Granby. He is a physician and a University of Connecticut
faculty member. Melinda M. Sullivan, 62, is originally from Chicago.
She moved to the Hartford area in 1977 and she and Paul were married
The Sullivans live in a 12,853-square-foot
home with seven bathrooms and eight fireplaces. They are food and
wine lovers and collectors of fine art, including early Viennese
porcelain called DuPaquier. Over the years, the couple has given
millions of dollars to various causes and organizations, including
the Atheneum. The Sullivans have a strong attachment to Greater
Hartford, and their gifts have included $1 million to the private
Renbrook School in West Hartford and $1.5 million to the Mark Twain
After that donation, Melinda Sullivan
said, people told her they didn't know she was such a big fan of
"My reply was, `I'm not,' but
what I believe is that Mark Twain, his story, his home, are good
for Hartford," she said. "We're not truly interested in
guns, but we are interested in the fact that Samuel Colt was a native
son and that this is good for the image of the city."
The Sullivans said much of the money
they donate comes from a family oil business based in Chicago. Besides
money, Melinda Sullivan said, she also got a love of art from her
mother, Eloise W. Martin, who at 91 is still an active supporter
of the arts in Chicago. The Sullivans said they have a deep appreciation
of decorative arts, and the guns in the Colt exhibit fit that description.
The main attraction is the Colt firearm
collections, bequeathed to the Atheneum by Samuel Colt's widow,
Elizabeth Hart Jarvis Colt, in 1905. The collections include Colt
prototypes and models that were part of the 1996 Atheneum show "Sam
and Elizabeth: Legend and Legacy of Colt's Empire."
The new exhibit includes rarely seen
paintings by George Catlin, an American artist known for his Native
American portraits, who was commissioned by Samuel Colt in the mid-1850s
to promote his products.
Holmes said the exhibit will not include
displays on gun violence, but the issue will be addressed in educational
programs accompanying the show.
"Those discussions absolutely
should happen," Holmes said, "but I think they should
happen as part of the programs around the exhibition."
The exhibit is to be shown at the Atheneum
through the end of next February. It then goes on a national tour
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at