Bridging East and West

PATRON: Tanenbaum aided arts and letters.

January/February 1998

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Bridging East and West

Courtesy Charles Tanenbaum

Growing up in San Francisco, Mary Mayer Tanenbaum was fascinated with the sights and sounds of Chinatown. These girlhood experiences sparked a passion for Chinese culture that guided her life and work for more than half a century.

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1936, Mary Mayer went to work writing book reviews for the San Francisco Chronicle. In 1938, she married Charles Tanenbaum and moved to New York. There, she met a number of Chinese art dealers and launched into collecting. At the time of her death at age 83 on October 8, 1997, following a stroke, her treasures included Chinese paintings from the Sung dynasty (960-1280 A.D.) to the modern era, bronzes and stone sculpture dating back to the 6th century, jades, ceramics, furniture and some Japanese art. According to her husband, Tanenbaum relied on her own selective eye, not dealers or advisers. Eight of her Chinese paintings as well as other parts of her collection will pass to the Stanford Museum.

Tanenbaum was also a student of Chinese philosophy. She wrote some 50 essays for the Christian Science Monitor, from 1974 to 1985. In them she sought to explain the themes in Chinese art and culture and their universal relevance, especially to her own observations of nature. Taiwan's China Daily News published translations of her articles; she also wrote on books, travel, fashion and people, including a series for Q magazine.

In 1980, Tanenbaum inherited a home in San Francisco and started spending part of every year on the West Coast, where she made significant contributions to California cultural and scholarly life. She compiled and edited Chinese Book Arts and California, a 12-part graphic series published in 1989 for the Book Club of California, and created an award for nonfiction writers through the San Francisco Foundation.

At Stanford, she endowed the Mary M. Tanenbaum Fund for the acquisition of books and research materials on Chinese art. She and her husband established funding for scholarly and professional work by library staff. In 1993, the couple received the Warren R. Howell Award for exceptional contributions to Stanford University Libraries, where Charles Tanenbaum is currently honorary curator of exhibitions. Mary Tanenbaum also served Stanford magazine as the Class of 1936 correspondent from 1981 to 1996. She is survived by her husband of 59 years, Charles, and her daughter, Ann.


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