Gerard Leon Cafesjian was born to Armenian immigrants in Brooklyn, New York in 1925. As a young man he served in the Marines in the Second World War and married Cleo Thomas, a nurse in 1947, whom he had met during the war. They had three children.
As a successful business man he made a fortune. He studied law and worked as an attorney in New York before he became a staffer at the Edward Thompson Lawbook Publishing Company. In 1960 he moved with his family to St. Paul, Minnesota and started an extremely profitable career with West Publishing. When the renowned publishing company, of which he was co-proprietor, was sold in 1996, he was able to fulfill his heart’s desire.
As the philanthropist and art collector that he had been all his life, he now founded the Cafesjian Family Foundation (CFF), the Cafesjian Museum Foundation (CMF), and the Cafesjian Center for the Arts. With more than 120 million dollars, the Cafesjian Foundation has meanwhile supported diverse projects in Armenia, from renewable energy to media, to the bank and insurance industry, to a demining program. Today’s Republic of Armenia has more than three million inhabitants and lies in the mountainous region between Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey. It was founded after the First World War, became part of the Soviet Union in 1921, and declared its independence after the collapse of the Eastern bloc in 1991. More than one-third of the population lives in the capitol city of Yerevan.
There the art collector Cafesjian, who once studied art in New York as a young man, realized a very special dream. It is the Cafesjian Center for the Arts, where he also set up the bronze sculpture he himself created. Located in the Cascade, a gigantic architecture of stairs from the Soviet period, which the foundation renovated and converted, the art center has attracted more than one million visitors annually since its opening in 2009. In addition to a sculpture garden with works by Fernando Botero, Lynn Chadwick, Barry Flanagan, and others, glass holds a special place in the collection of nearly 8000 works of drawings, paintings, and sculptures by influential artists such as Pablo Picasso, Arhile Gorky, Jennifer Bartlett, Lynn Chadwick, Barry Flanagan, Jaume Plensa, and François-Xavier Lalanne.
On the occasion of an award ceremony for an advertising campaign, which he had organized for West Publishing, and which took place at the company’s headquarters in Corning, New York, Gerard L. Cafesjian also discovered the Corning Glass Museum. This visit was a revelation for him. From now on he visited the SOFA in the USA nearly every year and with his contacts to art galleries and artists built up a collection of almost 2000 works, including pieces by Dale Chihuly, Bohumil Elias, Pavel Hlava, Jaromír Rybák, Ivana Šrámková, Bertil Vallien, Lino Tagliapietra, Mark Peiser, Hiroshi Yamano, and not least by the Czech artists Stanislav Libenský und Jaroslava Brychtová.
After sixty-six years together, Gerard L. Cafesjian’s wife Cleo died on 7 March 2013; just half a year later, on 15 September, he followed her.
Uta M. Klotz, editor-in-chief, Cologne, Germany
Translated from German by Claudia Lupri
Andrew Carson: Three Glassinators, h 295 cm, Cafesjian Center for the Arts in Armenia