Coby Foundation : A brief history

Group of shirts worn by Francis J. Carolan, ca. 1900. T. Hodgkinson, shirtmaker, London. Monogrammed cotton plain weave, cotton novelty weave, and silk novelty weave. Anonymous gift. Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, Providence. To be exhibited in Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion, opening at the RISD Museum in April 2013.

In 1994, Irene Zambelli Silverman created the Coby Foundation, in memory of her mother, to support projects in the needle arts.  After Silverman’s tragic death in 1998, the Board of Directors of the Foundation agreed to continue her work. It is my pleasure and honor, on behalf of the Board, to fulfill Irene Silverman’s wishes by administering a grant program that encourages the creativity and commitment of professionals in the fashion and textiles field.

From the beginning, the Coby Board decided to limit the geographical range of the Foundation’s grantmaking to the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic so as to have a greater impact on the institutions in those regions and to be able to create relationships with the professionals working in them. They also limited grants to projects rather than operating or capital support. And each project, they decided, should have a public benefit. The bulk of the Foundation’s grants have been for exhibitions and associated publications, though the Foundation also funds subventions for scholarly monographs and, to a lesser degree, public programs. But within these restrictions, the Board considers projects from any era or culture.

In keeping with the mission, institutions receiving funding have been located from Maine to Delaware and from Boston to Erie.  Reflecting the Foundation’s broad subject interests, the first Maine grant went to the Maine State Museum for the Native American-themed exhibition, Uncommon Threads: Wabanaki Textiles, Clothing, and Costume and the Pennsylvania grant went to the Erie Art Museum for Kanga & Kitenge: Cloth and Culture in East Africa. The Boston project, at the Museum of Fine Arts, was for the Asian textile collection, while the project in Delaware, at the Winterthur Museum, funded the exhibition and catalogue, Quilts in a Material World: Selections from the Winterthur Collection. The Foundation has supported a number of contemporary art projects, including the recent retrospective at the Asia Society of the Chinese artist, Lin Tianmiao.

Since the grants process was formalized in 2002, the Coby Foundation has supported projects at seventy-four institutions for a total of nearly $4 million. The 2012 grantees are notable for their range and scholarship. Congratulations to all!

Ward Mintz
Executive Director
The Coby Foundation, Ltd.

Download the Supported Projects for 2012.