The late Marilyn Carbonell was invariably kind and generous and upbeat as a supporter of the arts in Kansas City.
Librarian, scholar, art historian, instigator and fun-loving participant, she brought joy to her often-overlapping worlds. You could find her all over town, making things happen and fully engaged in the intellectual ether.
Carbonell died at her home a few days before Christmas and left many people mourning her loss and celebrating her contributions to their lives.
As so many local artists know, and as “KC Studio” reported nearly five years ago, one of her lasting legacies was the creation of the Artists File Initiative at The Nelson-Atkins Museum’s Spencer Research Library. The project validated the work of scores of painters and sculptors, whom the museum had long ignored, and documented the local art scene for posterity and future research.
After retiring from UMKC’s Miller Nichols Library, Carbonell took on the stewardship of the Nelson’s library from 2006 to her retirement in 2018. Her other contributions to library and art-historical scholarship were many and noted nationwide.
Marilyn and I worked together on at least two boards over the years. Each of us spent a long time on the KCUR community advisory council. “She probably listened to our stations more than anyone else,” Sarah Morris, KCUR’s general manager, told her staff, and “most definitely sent along the most thoughtful compliments of all time. She loved it all . . . she was a public radio fan through and through.”
KCUR and NPR reporter Frank Morris (no relation to Sarah) tells a confirming story. He’s a neighbor and longtime friend of Carbonell and her late husband, David Weinglass, an English professor emeritus at UMKC who died in 2019. One day last summer, he was walking his dog and Marilyn came out of her house and approached him. She handed him a note, a souvenir DeKalb flying-corn sign, and a cake from Andre’s. Turns out she had heard a report Morris had done on the soaring price of corn and what that meant for the general economy. She’d gone to school at Northern Illinois University (in addition to Knox College and the University of Iowa), in the hometown of the DeKalb corn seed company, and she was moved by the power of his reporting — as she told him in her note — and how it touched off memories of students stealing those iconic signs. So, naturally, her elaborate gift was a mere gesture.
“She made an art form out of praise and support,” Morris told me.
“Marilyn loved to laugh,” said John Daily, a longtime friend of Carbonell and her husband. “Marilyn appreciated wit. We shared many laughs.”
A favorite story in my house: Perhaps as many as 25 years ago, on a trip to Parma, Italy, Weinglass delivered a paper in conjunction with an exhibit related to his esteemed scholarship on the Swiss-English artist Henry Fuseli. At the event they were approached by an art critic from Rome, Claudio Zambianchi, who was covering the exhibit. He struck up a conversation. Zambianchi happened to have spent two years in the late ’80s earning an art history master’s degree at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. One of his fellow students there was Carol Zastoupil, my partner. Learning that Marilyn and David were from Kansas City, Claudio asked, “Do you know Carol and Steve?” Yes, just first names, as if Kansas City were a tiny town where everyone knows everyone else. Well, of course they did.
Marilyn couldn’t help but laugh when she told us about it. Small world. Small town. And all made exponentially richer by the life and spirit of Marilyn Carbonell.