About Howard Gilman
A Remarkable Family
Howard Gilman (1924-1998) was born into a family of highly compassionate thinkers and doers. His grandfather, Isaac Gilman, arrived in the United States from Russia at the age of 14. Poor, illiterate, and determined, Isaac began peddling surplus newspapers to be reused as wrapping paper. This venture secured his place in the paper industry; by the time of Isaac’s death, his was the largest privately owned paper company in the country, with mills in Vermont, Maine, and Georgia and administrative offices in New York. So beloved was Isaac as an employer (he famously provided exceptional wages, helped with medical bills, and knew every employee’s first name) that the citizens of Fitzdale, Vermont renamed their town “Gilman.”
Isaac’s son Charles took over the family business after his father’s passing, and in 1945, he added another element to the Gilman legacy: The Gilman Foundation. The Foundation supported charitable endeavors in education, science, medicine, humanities, and the arts. Through the examples set by his grandfather, father, and beloved mother, Sylvia, Howard grew up steeped in a tradition of generosity and kindness.
All three generations of Gilmans have aimed to leave the world a better place for their having been around. —John Russell, late art critic, the New York Times
An Intelligent and Dedicated Man
Born in 1924 in New York City, Howard was fiercely intelligent. He earned his high school diploma at the Hunter College Model School for gifted students and then graduated from Dartmouth College at the age of 19. He was nominated for a Rhodes Scholarship, but with World War II at hand, he instead trained as a Japanese linguist and code-breaker for United States Naval Intelligence.
Howard became Chair and Chief Executive of the Gilman Paper Company in 1983, after the death of his father and younger brother, Charles. He helped the company continue to grow and profit while maintaining his family’s commitment to employee satisfaction and quality of life. He also made healthy forests one of the company’s top concerns, dedicating company efforts to replenishing raw materials and creating recyclable and biodegradable products.
In 1981, Howard created the Howard Gilman Foundation, which built upon the work of his father. He gave liberally to organizations devoted to science, medicine, education, endangered animals, social justice, and the visual and performing arts.
Above all, Howard was a man who protected all endangered beings; he sheltered the weak; he supported the struggling; he embraced the vulnerable.—Jeffrey Borer, MD, the Howard Gilman Institute for Heart Valve Disease at SUNY Downstate
The White Oak Conservation Center
Howard split his time between the Gilman Paper Company’s offices in New York City and its private estate, the White Oak Plantation in Yulee, Florida, situated a few miles downriver from the company’s Georgia mills. Acquired in 1938, the plantation spanned over 7,000 acres and functioned as the company’s southern headquarters.
White Oak was already an epicenter of forest conservation, but Howard expanded it to also encompass his devotion to endangered animals. With the help of biologists and veterinarians, Howard built an extraordinary animal conservation project specializing in the captive breeding of endangered or threatened species in order to maintain their genetic viability. Howard populated the center with more than 500 endangered and exotic birds, mammals, and reptiles, including the Florida panther, the African cheetah, and the southern white rhino.
In 2013, the Trustees of the Howard Gilman Foundation sold White Oak to Mark and Kimbra Walter, who are as dedicated to conservation and wildlife as Howard was. The center remains one of the premier wildlife breeding, research, and training facilities in the world.
The White Oak Dance Project
Howard counted Mikhail Baryshnikov among his closest friends. In 1990, Baryshnikov and Mark Morris expressed an interest in forming a touring company devoted to modern dance. Howard turned an equipment shed on the White Oak grounds into a dance studio, and the White Oak Dance Project was born.
The Dance Project made White Oak their headquarters, and Howard added more studios. Soon, White Oak became the go-to location for the world’s greatest choreographers to create and rehearse.
The Dance Project toured until 2002 and is known for commissioning new pieces from Morris, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, Jerome Robbins, David Gordon, and others.
He loved dance and he loved dancers. He knew that our art form could only flourish in the long run if individual artists could also flourish, both during and after their dance careers.—Cynthia Gregory, Chairman Emerita of Career Transition for Dancers and former Prima Ballerina with the American Ballet Theater
The Gilman Paper Company Photography Collection
With the help of world-renowned curator Pierre Apraxine, Howard spent twenty years acquiring what artist and collector John Waddell described as “the finest comprehensive private collection of photography ever to be assembled or that ever will be assembled.” The collection included 8,500 photographs from the 19th to mid-20th century.
In 1993, the Metropolitan Museum of Art mounted 250 images from the Gilman collection in an exhibition titled “The Waking Dream.” It was heralded by John Russell of the New York Times as an “event of cardinal importance in the museum world” and one which “bears at every point the mark of an original, resourceful and unprejudiced curiosity.”
In 1997, the Met opened the Howard Gilman Gallery, its first permanent space dedicated to photography, and in 2005, it acquired the entire Gilman collection.
Art collecting might seem to be a self-gratifying but meaningless hoarding if the collector were not sustained by the idea that he is only the transitory custodian of treasures it is his duty to preserve. He can be responsible to his personal pleasure only to the degree that he is able to share it with and preserve it for others.
A Profound Commitment to the Arts
Howard Gilman had an extraordinary appreciation for and understanding of the arts. From theatre to folk art, film to opera, Howard was not just a patron, but a hero. He spent a lifetime supporting individual artists and artistic institutions, and he fiercely championed the belief that the arts must be available and accessible for all.
Howard was committed to hundreds of organizations in New York City and around the world, including BAM, the Brooklyn Museum, Carnegie Hall, City Center, Glimmerglass Opera, Mark Morris Dance Group, MOMA, the National Dance Institute, and many, many more. When it came to exploring the arts, Howard’s curiosity was limitless.
Today, we honor Howard by concentrating on one area of his sweeping legacy—the performing arts. By funding New York’s most robust, innovative, and promising dance, music, and theatre companies, we hope to further the legendary influence of this remarkable man.
Those of us in the arts are often skating on very thin ice. Howard would discern our insecurities and would provide an almost fatherly reassurance…And in himself and who he was, he was certainly an artist who gave so much of himself to so many of us.—Harvey Lichtenstein, former president of BAM