In Memoriam: John Edward Buchanan, Jr., 1953–2011

John E. Buchanan, Jr.

John Edward Buchanan, Jr.

Director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco: 2006–2011

San Francisco, CA, December 2011—The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco announces with great sadness the death of John Edward Buchanan, Jr., Director of Museums, on Friday, December 30, 2011  Mr. Buchanan passed away at the age of 58 after a battle with cancer.

Comments Diane B. Wilsey, President of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Board of Trustees, “The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco has lost a dynamic, creative leader whose vibrant energy and humor will be missed by everyone. I, personally, have lost a best friend whose vast knowledge and intellectual curiosity never ceased to amaze me.”

John E. Buchanan, Jr. joined the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) in February 2006. During his six-year tenure, he led the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park to record levels of attendance and membership, increased levels of corporate sponsorship and individual giving, developed a vibrant educational program, including the famed Friday Nights at the de Young Museum and presented an impressive and robust portfolio of critically acclaimed exhibitions.

Through his extensive global network of private lenders, museum colleagues and foreign governments, Buchanan brought the treasures and masterpieces of the worlds of painting, sculpture, haute couture, decorative arts, antiquities and pop culture to San Francisco. Buchanan’s leadership provided the Museums with exceptional opportunities, including hosting the foremost exhibitions of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism from the collection of the Musee d’Orsay in 2011, and contributing to an internationally successful exhibition program, among which included the haute couture craftsmanship of Vivienne Westwood, Yves Saint Laurent and Cristobal Balenciaga.

Under Buchanan’s six-year stewardship the Museums welcomed over 11.9 million visitors, presented over 100 special exhibitions rooted in the depth and diversity of the museums’ permanent collections, oversaw the publication of 31 exhibition catalogues and collection-based publications, and increased the museums’ membership to 122,000 households. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have the third largest membership in the nation, are the fourth most visited art museums in North America and are the fourteenth most visited museums in the world.

Buchanan’s previous positions included serving as executive director of the Portland Art Museum in Portland, Oregon (1994–2005), director of Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee (1986–1994) and executive director of the Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences in Peoria, Illinois (1982–1986).

Mr. Buchanan is survived by his wife Lucy Matthews Buchanan of San Francisco, and his uncle Louis Buchanan and aunt Edith Buchanan McCoy, both of Nashville, Tennessee.

Funeral services in Nashville, Tennessee are private. A San Francisco memorial service will take place at Grace Cathedral on Wednesday, January 18, 2010, at 1 pm.

At the family’s request, donations can be made in memory of John Edward Buchanan, Jr. to:

  • The Director’s Discretionary Fund at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, attention: Sabina Crivello, de Young Museum, 50 Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118, or call (415) 750-3687


  • In support of the research of Dr. Andrew Ko (research fund B2098), UCSF Medical Center, attention: Sarah Krumholz, UCSF, 220 Montgomery Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, CA. 94104, or call (415) 502-1899

John E. Buchanan, Jr.
Director of Museums

John E. Buchanan, Jr. was appointed Director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF), comprised of the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor, in February 2006. Since his appointment as Director of Museums at FAMSF, Buchanan has been integral to shaping and implementing a plan for institutional growth and improvement that has been realized in terms of record-breaking attendance, dramatic increases in membership, robust funding from individuals and corporate sponsorship, and significant acquisitions to the permanent collection.

Prior to joining the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Buchanan served as executive director of the Portland Art Museum in Portland Oregon (1994–2005), director of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee (1986–1994) and executive director of the Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences in Peoria, Illinois (1982–1986).

In addition to his director positions, Buchanan began his career in museums as a coordinator of museum development for the Tennessee State Museum while still a graduate student, and later went on to act as a coordinator at the American Association of Museums (1980–1982), where he founded the museum assessment program that is still in practice today.

A Tennessee native, Buchanan earned a masters of arts degree from Vanderbilt University and a bachelor of arts degree from Sewanee, The University of the South. He has received numerous awards and appointments during his career including the Légion d’honneur and the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, presented by the French Government, and is a Presidential Appointee on the National Museum Services Board of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Buchanan is a member of the Association of American Museum Directors, as well as the American Association of Museums and served as general chairperson for the 2003 annual meeting in Portland. Additionally, his is a board member of the American Friends of the Royal Horticultural Society, a steering committee member of the French Regional American Museum Exchange (FRAME), a member of the International Silver Society and a life member of The Dixon Gallery and Gardens.