Oliver Franklin, curator of the Elisabet Ney Museum, passed away April 4 after a four year battle with cancer. He was 60.
During his ten years at the Ney Museum, Franklin kickstarted a new level of activity for the historic home and studio of sculptor Elisabet Ney, the iconoclastic German-born artist who settled in Austin in 1892. Through programming, he raised the visibility of the Hyde Park museum, making it an active part of Austin contemporary arts landscape.
Franklin developed an active exhibition program, showcasing more than 90 female artists — the majority sculptors — both within the museum and on the grounds in innovative public installations. A tireless and enthusiastic supporter of artists, Franklin is remembered for his work that helped artists realize their projects.
During the pandemic, when many institutions were closed, he made it possible for Austin artist Jade Walker to realize a long-developed body of outside sculpture. “Oliver took my project with kindness and love and gave me freedom to make work all over the lovely grounds of the Elisabet Ney Museum,” said Walker. “I did not know how much I needed the project and his trust in me was heartfelt.”
A seventh-generation Texan with roots in Comal, Gillespie, Burnet, and Llano counties, Oliver Percival Franklin was raised in Austin and spent his career working for arts and cultural institutions.
Franklin received both a B.A. and M.A. in geography from the University of Texas, writing a master’s thesis titled “Listen to the Walls Speak: Murals and Symbology in Austin, Texas, 1990-1995.” He would later organize mural tours of downtown Austin.
He started his museum career as the education coordinator for the Museum of South Texas History in Edinburg in the Rio Grande Valley. Later he held positions including Executive Director of the Texas Historical Foundation, Director of the American Genre Film Archive, and Executive Curator for Public Programs at UT’s Harry Ransom Center.
He is survived by daughter Anne Olivia, and son Anderson. Franklin was buried in a private cemetery on his family’s Blanco County ranch.
The Friends of the Elisabet Ney, a support group Franklin helped re-boot, issued a statement that read: “Oliver brought us together to help continue what he so earnestly worked to do each day: to transform the Ney from a humble repository for a sculptor’s busts of dignitaries into a vibrant, inclusive, and dynamic platform for the exchange of ideas, exhibition of contemporary work by female artists, a place where individualists can carve their own path, and always a place for accessible programming.
“Even as Oliver quietly battled cancer for the past four years, his spirit and resolve were unflappable — eternally proclaiming Elisabet’s battle cry “Sursum”, Latin for upwards.
Immediately following the planned Ney Day event on April 16, the Friends of the Ney will honor Franklin in a casual ceremony and invite people to share their remembrances.
Ney Day is a free, all ages event with artist-led projects, demonstrations, booths, and music, from 12 noon to 4 p.m. See facebook.com/events/205770495059791
A memorial service will take place at The Church of the Good Shepherd, April 20 at 2:30 p.m.