The visionary couple who changed the world in Dallas.

Raymond and Patsy Nasher with Andy Warhol Nov. 28, 1979, in front of Warhol’s portrait of Patsy. Dallas Morning News staff photo by Joe Laird. Photo of Nashers on blog home page also by Dallas Morning News.

Raymond and Patsy Nasher began in the 1950s collecting pre-Columbian art on vacations to Mexico from their home in Dallas. But then in 1967, Mrs. Nasher gave her husband a modern sculpture for his birthday and everything changed.

The gift ignited a passion in the Nashers that would have a profound and far-reaching effect on the cultural life of Dallas – and even the world beyond.

That sculpture, Torso with Buds by Jean Arp (1961), became the cornerstone of a collection that first graced the Nasher’s home; later, NorthPark Center, a landmark shopping mall built by the Nashers; and later still, the Nasher Sculpture Center in the Dallas Arts District.

NorthPark Center, opened Aug. 19, 1965, was itself an artistic vision – though not built with the idea of becoming the backdrop for an art collection. Credit goes to architect W.G. Hamilton who, working in concert with Raymond Nasher, embraced a modern, minimal design that eliminated the clutter of individual corporate styles.

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Outside J.C. Penney on opening day in August 1965. Glazed white brick was a motif of the center’s design and was even used in a recent expansion.

Imposing a rigid architectural regimen, Hamilton designed every store in NorthPark, except for Neiman Marcus, which was done by Kevin Roche succeeding associate Eero Saarinen, who was the appointed architect but died, in 1961, before he had a chance to dig in.

“Up until then and since then,” Hamilton told Art+Seek, the blog of KERA public radio, in 2014, “each department store had its own architect, used his own materials, his own style – and the center had its own – so visually it was chaotic. But this was a goal of mine, to make this into architecture instead of a stage set. And nobody had ever done this before.”

Hamilton founded Onmiplan, which has become one of the most prominent architectural firms in Dallas and has maintained a strong relationship with the center. The American Institute of Architects named NorthPark the design of the decade for the 1960s.

The Nasher’s first modern sculpture acquisition, Torso with Buds (1961) by Jean Arp. Photo by David Heald.

NorthPark, meanwhile, remains one of the top shopping destinations in the U.S., boasting more than 200 retails stores and annual sales topping $1 billion. (DWR opened a Studio in NorthPark March 25, between Neiman Marcus and Dillard’s.)

As the Nashers interest in collecting grew in the 1970s and ’80s, so too did their awareness that NorthPark, which had been built on a former 97-acre cotton field, could serve as a wonderful gallery for sculpture, especially large-scale pieces, and artworks of all kinds.

“Every company has a special responsibility to enrich the lives of its customers and the community,” Raymond Nasher once said. “It should serve as a catalyst to link art and business for the benefit of all.”

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Ad Astra (2005) by Mark di Suvero at NorthPark Center shows off the ideal setting for the display of sculpture and the timeless quality of the center’s architecture, still fresh after 50 years.

Among the artists whose works have been shown at NorthPark are Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Joel Shapiro, Jim Dine, Jonathan Borofsky, James Rosenquist, Antony Gormley and Barry Flanagan.

“NorthPark is better in many ways than a lot of museums,” says sculptor Mark di Suvero.

The Nasher’s daughter Nancy Nasher is now the owner of NorthPark and the caretaker, along with her husband, of her parents’ vision of sharing their art.

“To look at a cotton field in Far North Dallas and say, ‘I want to create a shopping center and put it there’ when there was nothing, it was a turning point,” Nancy Nasher said in 2013. “They focused on great architecture and natural light and landscaping. And they felt that they had an opportunity to expose millions of people to art at NorthPark.”

Their collecting accelerated in the decades after NorthPark opened and eventually they built a collection that was the envy of museums across the U.S. But Raymond Nasher, just as he had done with NorthPark, decided to do it his way and established the Nasher Sculpture Center with the couple’s collected works and $77 million of his own money.

The center, designed by Renzo Piano and opened in 2003, is one of the most significant museums for modern sculpture in the world, home to more than 300 works. Another Nasher museum was established at Duke University in 2005. And pieces from the Nasher collection have been shown throughout the world, including at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.

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Eve (1881) by Auguste Rodin at the Nasher Sculpture Center. In the background, Squares with Two Circles (Monolith) (1963) by Barbara Hepworth.

Patsy Nasher died July 1, 1988, at 59, after fights with breast and brain cancer. Raymond Nasher continued collecting for nearly 30 years in his wife’s sted. He died March 16, 2007, at 89.

Today, Nancy Nasher, who grew up surrounded on the family property by many of the sculptures that now inhabit the Nasher Center, continues to be inspired by her late parents.

“I come here, and I feel them,” she said in an Art+Seek interview at the center. “I know about each piece and the story behind each piece. And I’m just in awe of what the two of them did.”

For further reading:

Papercity: The Real History of a Groundbreaking Dallas Shopping Center

Texas Monthly: The building of the Nasher Sculpture Center

Art+Seek: Architect E.G. Hamilton Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Art+Seek: The Nasher at 10: Nancy Nasher Reflects

New York Times: Patsy Nasher Obituary

New York Times: Raymond Nasher Obituary