ARTZ Celebrates the Memory of Julia Moore Converse

Julia attending opening reception for ARTZ Philadelphia exhibition “It Feels Like Freedom…” at The Philadelphia Foundation, October 2018.

Photograph by Mark Stehle.

It is not usual for me to write a celebration story in the first person; these stories are intended to be community celebrations of community members who have enriched all of our lives with their presence, their imaginativeness, their laughter, their very essence.

However, Julia’s impact on me was very personal as we not only shared the experience of being in the moment with each other at our programs and events; we also shared a history and a calling.

In September of 2017, I had a phone call from Richard Bartholomew, who had reached out to see if ARTZ Philadelphia programs might be appropriate for his wife Julia.

In the email correspondence that ensued, Richard and I discovered that Julia and I had several connections in common. Julia’s mother and grandmother had received their undergraduate degrees from Bryn Mawr College, where I completed my PhD (Julia received her undergraduate degree from Smith College). Two of Julia’s and Richard’s sons graduated from Yale, as had her uncle and her father, who had taught there as well. I had started my undergraduate studies at Yale. Julia was an art historian, curator and Director of the Architectural Archives at the University of Pennsylvania. I am an art historian and curator; my husband is an archivist and knew Julia’s sphere of influence well. By the time I met Julia, I felt as though the world had put its arms around the two of us with a warm embrace. “Talking with her about these connections will make her feel comfortable,” Richard told me. But when Julia greeted me with her radiant smile at her and Richard’s first visit to an ARTZ Philadelphia program at Woodmere Art Museum, I found that Julia immediately made me feel comfortable. I didn’t even have the chance to work at putting her at ease. Richard had also told me that Julia enjoyed interacting with other people, particularly those she knew. As I discovered at the same first meeting, she had an extraordinary capacity to make even new acquaintances feel like long beloved friends.

For the first year or so of attending our ARTZ @ The Museum programs every other week, Julia’s habit — after an initial warm exchange of hugs and smiles and exclamations about how wonderful it was to see each other – was to remain fairly quiet, listening attentively to others’ observations and insights, a smile almost always on her lips and her eyes seeming to dance with pleasure. I knew that Julia was self-conscious about her diagnosis and therefore seemed to guard herself against slipped words or a lapsed thought.

A year in, however, the ground seemed to shift a bit, and whether her advancing illness removed some “filters” previously in place or her comfort with participating increased (or both, perhaps), we began to see a more vocal and more playful Julia, gently tweaking Richard if she thought he grew too serious in his comments, and free to laugh while encouraging others to laugh as well. The art historian in Julia was given voice again, whether or not the words were all there as she wanted them to be, and she seemed to take a new pleasure in joining in with others to talk about what she was seeing. Julia and Richard were dedicated attendees at exhibitions and events hosted by ARTZ. Julia’s smile and evident joy at these occasions was always a beacon to others, demonstrating again and again her enduring talent for making others feel comfortable.

Screen shot of Julia participating in our first ARTZ-Connect program, March 2020.

Julia’s passage through illness took her into a new phase of quietude in recent months. She and Richard continued to grace our programs periodically, but their visits were fewer and farther between. The final ARTZ Philadelphia program attended by Julia was our very first ARTZ-Connect online program, our response to COVID-19. Both Richard and Julia were in fine form, and as always, Julia’s smile warmed all of us, even if we could not be in the same space together.

Julia died peacefully at home on May 22. All of us at ARTZ Philadelphia will remember and be grateful for Julia’s kindness and wit, and for the light of her smile.