Gift of Mrs. Lucile Harris and Leon Harris, Jr., 1974.
This Italianate etagere with gilded hand-carved wood, marble top, and beveled glass was given by Lucile Harris and her son, Leon Harris, Jr. (1926–2000), executive officer of A. Harris & Co., and grandson to its founder Adolph Harris. The Harrises presented the gilded etagere and other ornate furniture to director Decherd Turner for placement in an area of the library then reserved for viewing rare books prior to the establishment of The Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Galleries and the Decherd Turner Reading Room in 1989/1990.
Noted author and patron of the arts in Dallas, Leon Harris was born in New York City in 1926. He was a classmate to George H. W. Bush at Phillips Academy, and proceeded to complete his formal education at Harvard College in 1947. Although attracted to journalism, Harris joined the family business in Dallas working for his father at A. Harris & Co., which eventually became Sanger-Harris, worthy rival to Neiman-Marcus. His interests in art, books, and writing developed from an early age. At 24, he was a founding member of the Friends of the Dallas Public Library, and he began his second career as a writer in 1951, when he published the popular parody, The Night Before Christmas—in Texas, That Is. The author of several biographies, children’s books, and countless magazine articles, he is best known for his account of the Jewish families behind the great department stores, Merchant Princes (1979), and his scholarly masterpiece, The Fine Art of Political Wit (1964).
In 1952 Harris invited noted German expatriate artist George Grosz (1893–1959) to Dallas to paint scenes of the city in celebration of the sixty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the store. Grosz’s biting caricatures of Berlin street life in the 1920s and 1930s had softened since his arrival in New York to teach at the Art Students League. The Dallas paintings were exhibited at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in Fair Park. The paintings remain in the collection of the Dallas Museum of Art.
A generous benefactor to cultural institutions, Mr. Harris made many significant contributions to Bridwell Library, as well. In the words of his friend, Decherd Turner, the library’s Director from 1950 to 1980, “Leon was born to privilege, and was gifted with great talent. He spent both endowments with civilized skill. He transformed the ordinary into the eloquent, and enhanced the lives of many. He was Bridwell Library’s friend.”