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Eleanor Morse, 97; founded museum to display Dali’s work

By William Grimes
New York Times / July 16, 2010

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NEW YORK — Eleanor R. Morse, whose enthusiasm for Salvador Dali led her, with her husband, to amass an important collection of the artist’s work and found the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., died July 1 at her home in St. Petersburg. She was 97.

Her death was confirmed by Dr. Hank Hine, director of the museum.

Mrs. Morse first encountered Dali’s work in 1941, when an exhibition organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York came to the Cleveland Museum of Art. She attended with her future husband, A. Reynolds Morse, owner of the Injection Molders Supply Co. in nearby Beachwood, Ohio.

Within a year, as a wedding present to themselves, the couple paid $1,250 for their first Dali, the 1940 painting “Daddy Longlegs of the Evening — Hope!’’ The painting depicts an elongated, seemingly molten human figure draped over a dead tree and trying to play a cello, while off to the left a horse is shot from a cannon.

The Morses became good friends with Dali and his wife, Gala, as they accumulated hundreds of his works from all periods, including the paintings “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus,’’ “The Ecumenical Council,’’ and “The Hallucinogenic Toreador.’’

When the collection outgrew their house, the Morses created the Salvador Dali Museum in a wing of A. Reynolds Morse’s business in 1971. In 1982. they moved it to a former marine storage warehouse on Bayboro Harbor in St. Petersburg, which houses more than 2,000 works by Dali, including nearly 100 paintings and more than 1,000 drawings, watercolors, prints, and objects, as well as films and designs for clothing, furniture and ballet sets.

Eleanor Reese was born in Cleveland, where her father was a pharmaceuticals manufacturer. After graduating from the Hathaway Brown School, she earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., in 1937.

She pursued further music study at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena. In 1970, she earned a master’s degree in romance languages from Case Western Reserve University.

She met Morse at a concert in Cleveland. “He asked me to come up and see his etchings, and I did,’’ she told The St. Petersburg Times in a 2002 interview. “And he really did have etchings.’’

A. Reynolds Morse died in 2000. Eleanor Morse leaves her son Brad of St. Petersburg and Laguna Niguel, Calif., and two grandchildren.