Alice Merckens Chappell, a pioneering businesswoman in the art world and loving mother and wife, passed away in the early hours of Sunday, July 7, 2013 in the comfort of her home in Woods Hole, MA surrounded by her family following a two-year battle with cancer.
Alice was born on October 9, 1942 to E. August Merckens and Alice Hoffman Merckens in Buffalo, NY. She attended the Buffalo Seminary, graduating in 1960, and went on to Vassar College, graduating in 1964 with a BA in Art History. Alice obtained an MA in Art History from the University of Pennsylvania and appeared to be on a career track that would lead towards a position as a museum curator, holding an internship at the National Gallery of Art in Washington leading to a position in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y.
Alice’s career path changed when she married and decided that rather than play a more traditional role as housewife, she would support herself and her husband as he attended graduate school in biophysics. At this point, she shifted her goals towards a career in business. As the daughter of a successful businessman, E. August Merckens, who had been the president and CEO of Merckens Chocolate, of Buffalo, NY, she was well suited to make this move. She transitioned first into the commercial side of the art world with a position as Director and Manager of nationwide sales at the Ferdinand Roten Original Print Gallery in Baltimore, MD. When her husband Richard obtained a position at Hunter College of the City University of New York, Alice accepted a position at Poster Originals, Ltd., helping them open their SoHo gallery in Manhattan. With this accomplished, she applied to Columbia Business School and was accepted into their MBA program. After being at the top of her class in her first term at Columbia Business School, Alice was awarded the prestigious Bronfman Scholarship covering tuition for her remaining terms.
Following the completion of her MBA, Alice worked in several marketing and sales planning positions at Avon Products before returning to the art world once more, joining Steuben Glass in 1977. She left Steuben as a Vice President, Sales and Marketing, in 1982 and acted as an consultant for two years, forming a consulting business, Fine Lines International, Ltd. As part of her role in Fine Lines, Alice developed and patented, with her husband, a lighted display base, Baselight ®, designed to better display decorative glass and crystal artworks.
As a part of her consulting activities, Alice developed a marketing plan for the Japanese crystal company, Hoya Crystal, advising them that the American market was ready for their arrival and that she could be the one to accomplish this objective. Convincing a Japanese company to enter the US crystal market and for it to be led by a woman was a major achievement at that time, both for her and for a Japanese corporation! Eventually, her perseverance won out, and she brought Hoya Crystal into the US market in 1985. She opened Hoya Crystal’s flagship store, a gallery on Park Avenue in New York, and established the line in upscale department stores around the country. Alice served as President of Hoya Crystal USA, a branch of Japan’s Hoya Corporation, from 1985-1995. She may well be the first woman to hold the position of President for a division of a Japanese company.
Upon departing from Hoya Crystal, Alice once again served as an Art Business consultant for a period of about two years. As she was working on a consulting project she learned of the Glass Today exhibition, which was to be presented at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1997. Alice was surprised to learn from the curator that there was no dedicated contemporary art glass gallery in Boston. Seeing the opportunity that this afforded, Alice opened Chappell Gallery on Newbury Street in Boston coincident with the arrival of the Glass Today exhibition at Boston’s MFA.
Chappell Gallery (www.chappell-gallery.com) started with a show highlighting additional work from artists represented in the Glass Today show, as well as other leading American contemporary glass artists. Early shows also highlighted contemporary glass artists from Japan and the Czech Republic, countries with wonderful artistic traditions. Her first student show in 1998, which highlighted student works from MassArt Boston, convinced Alice that there was an important group of emerging artists in the contemporary art glass movement. Subsequent shows highlighting student works from the Canberra School of Art in Australia, the Sheridan College of Art in Ontario Canada, and Alfred University in New York State were equally inspiring. It was these student shows and her continued support of talented new artists that helped define her role as a prominent supporter of emerging talent in the contemporary art glass world.
In 2000, Alice opened a second Chappell Gallery in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. Chappell Gallery was one of the first galleries to move into the old warehouse district, which is now a regular stop on New York art tours. For four years, Alice kept both the New York and Boston galleries open and then in 2004, she closed the Boston gallery to focus on activities at the New York gallery. Chappell Gallery New York’s viewing space closed in 2011, when Alice retired from New York to her home in Woods Hole, where the family had spent summers and many holidays since 1977. She will be remembered professionally as a pioneer of women in business with an eye for talented emerging glass artists.
In addition to her professional pursuits, Alice was a loving wife and mother. For most of her career, in the summers she would work in New York and travel on weekends to visit her family in Woods Hole where her husband was a summer investigator at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL). While in Woods Hole, Alice enjoyed playing golf at the Woods Hole Golf Club. She also recently served on the Board of Directors of the MBL Associates. She is survived by her husband of 45 years, Dr. Richard L. Chappell of Woods Hole, MA; her brother, Rev. Lawrence E. Merckens of Manchester, ME; and her two daughters, Ms. Carol L. Chappell of Port Orange, FL and Dr. P. Dreux Chappell of Wakefield, RI.
There will be a memorial service in Alice’s memory on Thursday, July 18, at 11:00 AM at the Church of the Messiah, 22 Church St., Woods Hole, MA, followed by a reception across the street at Fisher House. Her ashes will be buried at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, NY at 11:00 AM on Saturday, July 20. In lieu of flowers, contributions in Alice’s name can be made to Dr. Joyce Liu’s Research Fund, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, 450 Brookline Avenue, Yawkey 1421, Boston, MA 02215 or to the MBL Associates Endowed Student Scholarship, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA 02543.