Thursday, January 31, 2019

Stewart Udall, Conservationist and Art Supporter

Stewart Udall, President Kennedy’s interior secretary and a prime promoter of the arts in Washington, D.C., was born on this day in 1920.  Udall, who continued his service through the Johnson administration, was an early advocate of conservation and environmental issues, including the publication of a landmark book, “The Quiet Crisis,” in 1963. 

Udall and his wife, Lee, were nearly as active as President and Mrs. Kennedy in encouraging artists, especially poets.  They launched the President’s Cabinet Artist Series of distinguished cultural leaders at time when the nation’s capital was largely devoid of such opportunities.  

Stewart Udall became a great friend of Robert Frost, and it was he who was the interlocutor between the president and poet.  Indeed, Udall was responsible for Frost delivering his poem at the 1961 inauguration as well as going to Russia on a highly-touted cultural exchange tour in 1962. 

He also was responsible for the reopening of historic Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., after an absence of more than a century.  And he was a vigorous promoter of Southwestern art.

Udall is perhaps today overshadowed by the memory of his popular brother, onetime congressman and presidential candidate Mo Udall.  But he was one of the most important members of the Kennedy cabinet and, indeed, was the last surviving member of the original group when he died in 2010.

The photo is of Secretary Udall with President Kennedy looking on.  The occasion was the White House Conference on Conservation, 1962.  Credit:  Abbie Rowe.  White House Photographs.  John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

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