The museum is profoundly saddened to learn of the death Saturday of Thurston Twigg-Smith, who for decades has been a driving art force in Hawai‘i as a collector and a founder of The Contemporary Museum. Known simply as “Twigg,” he became a museum trustee in 1969, and served for 45 years, becoming an emeritus trustee in 2014. Our deepest condolences go to his wife Sharon Twigg-Smith, who is also a museum trustee, and the entire Twigg-Smith family. (Pictured above is Thurston Twigg-Smith in 1997 at what was then The Contemporary Museum, and is Honolulu Museum of Art Spalding House today. Photo: Shuzo Uemoto.)
“Twigg was a passionate visionary and leader in the arts and in our community, and touched the lives of those he met every day,” says museum interim director Allison Wong. “I can only hope that our memories of him do him justice. His graciousness and legacy will be felt forever at the Honolulu Museum of Art.”
Mr. Twigg-Smith was born in Honolulu on Aug. 17, 1921. After attending Lincoln, Kapalama and Roosevelt he entered Punahou in tenth grade, graduating in 1938. He then attended Yale University, where he graduated in 1942, and entered the army as an ROTC officer. In World War II, he was a captain in the field artillery in five European campaigns from Normandy to the Elbe River. During the crossing of the Seine River, things moved so fast that he and another officer entered Paris the day before it was liberated.
After the war he began a 52-year career at The Advertiser and was asked to help reorganize the Hawaii National Guard. He served as commanding officer of the 483rd Field Artillery Battalion until his resignation as a lieutenant colonel in 1954 to join the family business—The Advertiser—which was run by his uncle Lorrin P. Thurston.
He worked in every department of the newspaper, and at one point served as the managing editor. The son of New Zealand painter William Twigg-Smith, Thurston Twigg-Smith always had art in his life. When artist Dave Asherman suggested he turn The Advertiser’s central court into an art gallery, Mr. Twigg-Smith ran with the idea and opened the contemporary art space in 1961. It would grow to become The Contemporary Museum.
Mr. Twigg-Smith moved into the national art scene, serving as a trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles; the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, serving also as chairman of its National Committee; the Skowhegan school in New York; and the Yale Art Gallery in Connecticut. He was included in ArtNews Magazine’s annual “Top 200 Collectors” list in 1992, 1993, and 1994.
He also served as a trustee of Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts as well as a director of a number of corporate and civic boards.
Deeply invested in Hawai‘i’s art community, Thurston and Sharon Twigg-Smith have been incredibly generous supporters of the Honolulu Museum of Art. In 2012, to honor the man and his dedication to contemporary art, the museum presented the exhibition Serious Fun: Thurston Twigg-Smith and Contemporary Art.