Katherine S. Howe to retire, after 41 years at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Founding director of Rienzi, Ms. Howe began her decorative-arts career at the MFAH in 1975 as associate curator of the Bayou Bend Collection

Houston, Texas, January 27, 2016—Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Director Gary Tinterow today announced that Katherine S. Howe, founding director of Rienzi, will retire at the end of June. A Houston native and noted specialist in European and American decorative arts, Ms. Howe has been director of Rienzi, the Museum’s center for European decorative arts, since 1993, and first joined the staff of the MFAH in 1975.

During her tenure at the Museum, Ms. Howe developed the Museum’s decorative-arts collections, both at the MFAH and at Rienzi, and curated or co-curated exhibitions on a range of material, much of it newly examined, in such presentations as The Masterson Collection of Worcester Porcelain (1985); Marks of Achievement: Four Centuries of American Presentation Silver (1987); Imperial Austria: Treasures or Art, Arms, and Armor from the State of Styria (1992); Herter Brothers: Furniture and Interiors for a Gilded Age (1994); and Fit for a King: English Silver from the Collection of George S. Heyer, Jr. (2007).

Under Ms. Howe’s directorship, Rienzi—originally the home of philanthropists Carroll Sterling Masterson and Harris Masterson III, and since 1997 a division of the MFAH—was transformed from a private house to a public museum that opened in 1999. Its collections have continued to evolve, with the most recent notable acquisition being the Dundas sofa, an 18th-century masterpiece from a suite of furniture that is the only known collaboration between Robert Adam and Thomas Chippendale, the leading figures in architecture and design of the period. Annual attendance has reached nearly 20,000, in part due to a dynamic schedule of public programs that reach thousands of members of the public each year, from family-oriented summer workshops and story times to historically themed dining experiences. In addition, she oversaw some interior restoration and initiated improvements to the gardens that have assured that the 1953 house, designed by legendary Houston architect John F. Staub, and its four acres of landscaped gardens, remain preserved as among the finest examples of 20th-century architecture and design in Houston.

“Over 41 years at the MFAH, with nearly 20 of them at the helm of Rienzi, Kath Howe’s dedication and discernment have had a lasting impact on the Museum, its collections and its programs,” commented Tinterow. “All of us at the MFAH are grateful for her stewardship, in particular, of Rienzi, and of the Brown Foundation Fellows Program at the Dora Maar house in Ménerbes, France, each of which are unique facets of the Museum’s commitment to research and scholarship.”

“When I first joined the MFAH, it was an ambitious regional museum with great aspirations and great leaders,” commented Ms. Howe. “With those champions of the time, including Caroline Wiess Law, Isabel Wilson, Alfred Glassell, Carroll and Harris Masterson, and the Museum’s directors Peter Marzio and Gary Tinterow, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston has joined the international stage. It was, and is, exciting. I was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time. I can't wait to see what the Museum's next chapter will be.”

“I have had the privilege of having many chapters of my career in a single, renowned institution,” Ms. Howe commented. “The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has been an incredibly fulfilling place to spend my professional life.”

Ms. Howe initially joined the Museum’s staff in 1975, as associate curator of the Bayou Bend Collection, not long after Miss Ima Hogg gifted her house and collections to the MFAH and Bayou Bend opened as a public museum for American decorative arts and painting. She became associate curator (in 1976) and then curator (in 1986) of decorative arts at the MFAH. In 1993 Ms. Howe was appointed founding director of Rienzi, in anticipation of the transfer of the house to the MFAH from Carroll Sterling and Harris Masterson III. Rienzi opened to the public as a museum in 1999. In 2006 Ms. Howe was appointed director of the Dora Maar House in Ménerbes, France, to oversee the Museum’s fellowship program for artists and writers. She received her B.A. from Connecticut College in 1968 and her M.A. from the Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York, in 1971.

About Rienzi
Rienzi, the MFAH house museum for European decorative arts, is the former home of Houston philanthropists Carroll Sterling Masterson and Harris Masterson III. Opened to the public in 1999, Rienzi houses a substantial collection of European decorative arts, paintings, furnishings and porcelain, and an extensive holding of portrait miniatures. Rienzi welcomes some 20,000 visitors each year for tours, family programs, lectures, concerts and a variety of special events.

About the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is among the ten largest art museums in
the United States. Located in the heart of Houston’s Museum District, the MFAH comprises two gallery buildings, a sculpture garden, theater, two art schools, and two libraries, with two house museums, for American and European decorative arts, nearby. The encyclopedic collection of the MFAH numbers more than 65,000 works and spans the art of antiquity to the present.

Press Contact 
Sarah Baker, associate publicist
713.800.5345 / sbaker@mfah.org