The Grand Rapids Art Museum family mourns the passing of our friend and benefactor, Peter Wege, who has had an enduring impact on us as individuals, as an organization, and as a community.
“Peter M. Wege, a friend and supporter of the Grand Rapids Art Museum, was a catalyst for broadening the impact of art. His dedication and countless contributions to GRAM have left a lasting impression on the art museum and our community. Mr. Wege’s generosity and vision have established a solid foundation for the future of this institution. His exceptional leadership and outstanding contribution to the common good, exemplify his vitality and the mission of The Grand Rapids Art Museum.” — Mitch Watt, Grand Rapids Art Museum Board of Trustees President
Peter’s life was marked by his passions, convictions, and generosity. He invested deeply in things he considered vital: education, the environment, arts and culture.
Inspired by his parents, Peter’s personal mantra was, “Do all the good you can, for as many people as you can, for all the right reasons.” This profound yet simple directive steered an extraordinary stream of donations for more than 40 years, personal gifts from Peter as well as gifts through the Wege Foundation which he established in 1967.
From his first donation to GRAM in 1969 to his lead gift of $20 million in 2007 for the Museum’s new “green” home — the first LEED Gold certified art museum in the world — Peter saw his patronage of GRAM as a way to have meaningful impact on the community he loved.
He loved the arts, the earth, and education, and committed his life to improving the awareness and innovation in these areas locally, regionally, and nationally.
In the late 1990s, when the Art Museum board was considering options of renovating and expanding the spaces it inhabited at the Federal Building, Mr. Wege proposed a more ambitious vision. He challenged the board of trustees that Gram should commission the design of a modern building by a renowned architect in the center of the city, be a GREEN LEED certified building, and that education should be a central and essential part of GRAM’s mission. With these three challenges, Mr. Wege forever changed the trajectory of this institution and the arts in West Michigan.
At the groundbreaking ceremony for the new building in 2004, Peter had this to say about his vision for art and for GRAM:
“My wish is that true art in all its forms should lift the mind and the spirit into the realization that art can be and should be an educational experience of huge proportions.
I believe this building helps revitalize Grand Rapids’ citizens in all walks of life into the realization that we are one family under God, and that true art provides the catalyst for our children to be true disciples of nature and bring people together for the good of the family and community.
Vitalize mind, body, and spirit and we have the love, compassion, and understanding which guides us all in nurturing this new structure for all the people of this community. The new Art Museum is a gem of culture for Grand Rapids and all the citizens of Michigan.”
Mr. Wege and the Wege Foundation have supported a wide range of exhibitions and programs at the Museum, including Pietro Perugino: Master of the Italian Renaissance, Mathias Alten, James Whistler, Paris 1890, German Expressionism, Frank Lloyd Wright, Vision Latina, and most recently, Masterpieces of American Landscape Painting from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Over the years, Mr. Wege and the Wege Foundation have donated or helped the Museum acquire a wide range of artworks over the years, including western scenes by Frederick Remington, the Stalking Panther bronze sculpture by Alexander Phimester Proctor, American Landscapes by Rockwell Kent, Thomas Hart Bentonand N.C. Wyeth, French lithographs by Pierre Bonnard and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and modernist works by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Ellsworth Kelly, and Jennifer Bartlett and many others.
Thank you Peter for your commitment to GRAM and to this community.
Thank you for your generous and thoughtful support.
Thank you for your enduring spirit.
You will be missed.
Peter Melvin Wege was born on Feb. 19, 1920 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the only child of Peter Martin and Sophia Louise Dubridge Wege. His father was one of the founders of Metal Office Furniture Company, which became Steelcase Inc. in 1954.
After college and World War II service in the U.S. Army Air Corps, Wege made his career at Steelcase, joining the company in 1947 and retiring in 1985. He served on the board of directors at Steelcase until 1999.
He created his own foundation in 1967 to honor his parents and became one of West Michigan’s premier philanthropists.
Strongly associated with the arts in Grand Rapids, he led the committee that brought Alexander Calder’s stabile “La Grande Vitesse” to downtown Grand Rapids in 1969.
In 2001, he gave the lead gift of $20 million to construct the current Grand Rapids Art Museum facility; the first LEED Gold certified art museum in the world. The permanent collection of the GRAM includes more than 100 works contributed by Peter Wege and the Wege Foundation.
Within Grand Rapids and beyond, Wege was widely known for environmental activism. He was a major supporter of environmental protection and nature conservancy efforts, including protection of the Great Lakes. In 2003 the Wege Foundation announced that it would only make capital gifts to recipients that applied for LEED certification.
He was the author of a 1998 book, “Economicology: The Eleventh Commandment,” about the relationship between ecology and the economy. “Economicology II” was released in 2010 to broaden the conversation about sustainability. “Odes From the Heart,” published in 2006, is a collection of Wege’s poetry accompanied by his photography and dedicated to his “family and friends.”