Madeleine Rast became a supporter of the National Museum of Women in the Arts before it opened its doors in 1987, and she remained a loyal and generous donor throughout her life.
But the California business professional, who died on Jan. 29 at 92, saved her biggest gift for last: a $9 million bequest from her estate that is the largest single gift in the museum’s 30-year history.
“You can’t help but cry tears of joy,” said Susan Fisher Sterling, the museum’s director. “She felt we were doing the job she wanted us to do. She was eager to support an institution that was thriving.”
The donation to the museum’s endowment fund eclipses a $5 million gift from Helen Walton that was made in 1999 to kick off the endowment campaign. Rast’s bequest brings the endowment fund to $59 million, Fisher said.
Rast was born in Zurich in 1924. She moved to California as a young woman, and she held clerical jobs as she earned an accounting degree. She worked in the private and public sectors, fashioning a successful career in accounting and becoming a savvy investor.
Rast was a founding member of the museum, an annual donor and a member of its advisory board.
Rast established the bequest in 1986, after the museum’s founding but before it opened its space on New York Avenue NW, just blocks from the White House. At the time, the gift was valued at $2 million, according to museum officials. They did not know until this year that it had grown to more than four times the original amount.
“It was a jaw-dropping moment,” Sterling said about learning its final value.
Rast explained the reasons behind the bequest in 1993, when the future bequest was made public.
“The achievements of women artists of the past have generally been overlooked and ignored, yet many women persisted, developing their talents and producing magnificent works of art. Today’s artist still faces the same set of problems,” she said in an interview from her home.
Rast was one of many founding donors who shared the passion of museum founding director Wilhelmina Cole Holladay to create an institution to support and develop female artists. Holladay described Rast as a steadfast advocate and dear friend, and said in a statement that “her generous gift to the museum will enable future generations to enjoy the highest standards of exhibitions and programs and help make us more visible throughout the world.”
Sterling knew Rast well, having joined the museum staff as a junior curator in 1988. “I met Madeleine Rast early on,” she said. “She was eminently practical, and she felt personal pride in the museum’s success.”
Rast did not visit much of late, Sterling said, but her support was nonetheless significant. She underwrote a video celebrating the museum’s 30th anniversary, a piece that Sterling let her preview.
“She was so happy about it,” Sterling said. “She loved the arts. She had an energy and sparkle when she spoke about the arts.”