Cambridge artist wins restored Morgan Prize

By Geoff Edgers
Globe Staff / July 12, 2011

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The Museum of Fine Arts has reinstated its award for local women artists and increased the cash amount that goes with it as preparations continue for the opening of the museum’s new wing for contemporary art.

This year’s Maud Morgan Prize goes to Cambridge artist Wendy Jacob, whose work will be shown in the Linde Family Wing when it opens in September. Jacob, 53, an artist who creates sculptures and site-based installations, will also receive $10,000.

“I grew up in this area, and when I was young, from first grade on, I took Saturday art classes at the Museum of Fine Arts,’’ said Jacob, a native of Rochester, N.Y., who moved to Brookline when she was 1 year old. “So getting this award is particularly special to me.’’

The award will likely silence critics who had spoken out after the MFA failed to award the Maud Morgan Prize since 2006. Named after Morgan, a local artist who died in 1999, the prize was first given out in 1993. After being criticized last winter by many in the local arts community, including past winners, the MFA said it planned to relaunch the prize but needed to solidify funding for it. In awarding Jacob, the MFA announced that the prize total had increased, from $5,000.

“That’s fantastic,’’ said Laura Chasman, a painter from Roslindale and 2001 Maud Morgan Prize winter who last year wrote MFA director Malcolm Rogers to complain about the suspension.

Chasman also credited Greg Cook, the artist, blogger, and freelance arts writer, who organized the campaign to restore the Morgan prize.

“They really responded quickly to our request to not forget Maud Morgan,’’ Chasman said.

The MFA, for its part, said it never planned to stop awarding the Morgan. This year, a committee made up of MFA curators considered 46 artists who had been nominated for the biennial prize. Past winners have included Ambreen Butt, Shelley Reed, Jill Weber, and Suara Welitoff.

“We’ve formalized the process, we’ve invited outside nominations, and we’ve increased the size of the prize itself,’’ said Edward Saywell, the museum’s chair of contemporary art. “We feel that we’ve done everything we can to really raise the prize’s profile as we move forward. From the very inception, we felt the artist deserved to receive a greater award. We hope that will increase as time moves on.’’

Jacob’s work has been shown around the world, including at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. A graduate of Williams College, she is currently a research affiliate at MIT’s school of architecture.

In making the award, the MFA highlighted Jacob’s “Squeeze Chairs,’’ which she created through a collaboration with Temple Grandin, the Boston-born, Colorado State University professor well known for her work as an autism advocate.

Jacob spent Monday morning at the MFA, with a hard hat, examining the still-under-construction Linde Wing. She hasn’t yet decided how to celebrate the fact that her work will be shown in her hometown.

“I haven’t gotten that far,’’ she said. “Right now, I’m focused on the work.’’

Geoff Edgers can be reached at