Ann Smallidge McPhail passed away on November 23, at her Center City home in Philadelphia, Pa. Born on July 17, 1928, in Essex, Mass., she was the daughter of Orman and Neva Perkins Smallidge. She was a graduate of Gloucester High School and the School of Practical Art in Boston and studied Art History and Horticulture at the Barnes Foundation in suburban Philadelphia. She was predeceased by her parents and three brothers, David, Robert and Richard. She is survived by her husband of 65 years, Donald McPhail.
In Philadelphia, she was active in many organizations. She joined the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and when the society moved their offices near Independence Hall, she designed their 18th century garden. For 25 years, she was responsible for its planning and for leading a team of volunteers in its maintenance. In 1986, the PHS honored Ann with a special award for her efforts. In 1991, she became active in the Friends of the Japanese House and Garden and oversaw the renovation of the garden at Shofuso, the Japanese house in the city’s Fairmount Park, after decades of neglect. At her home in Center City, she created a large city garden that garnered much attention. A chapter in the book, “American Women’s Gardens” was devoted to it as an example of a city garden.
In 1963, Ann became a guide at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She was asked to focus on Asian art. Since she had no specific knowledge of Asian art, she set out to educate herself. She did this by researching the subject, building a library of Asian references and traveling to Asia, visiting India alone 20 times. Her efforts were so successful that she was appointed to the museum’s South Asian Art Advisory Committee. She gave visitors tours for 53 years in many departments of the museum but focusing on India, China, Korea and Japan. She knew nearly every square foot of the vast building and devoted so much of her life to teaching others of its wonderful collections.
Recently her health declined, but she continued with great determination to carry on. The new South Asian galleries presented a new challenge which she eagerly embraced. Her last tour was given exactly two weeks before her death. As Director Timothy Rub and President Gail Harrity wrote, “Feisty, funny and fully engaged with the museum, Ann will be deeply missed."
A celebration of her life will occur at on January 29, 2017, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.