The William and Noma Copley Foundation was a non-profit co-founded in 1954 by the newly wedded couple. The two shared the dual aim to “encourage the creative arts” through grants, an enterprise which was made possible by William Copley’s significant inheritance. Though residents of Longpont-sur-Orge, France, William and Noma were both American-born expatriates. The foundation was therefore incorporated in Chicago, Illinois, with the help of Copley’s attorney Barnet Hodes. Along with Hodes, the Copleys also instated three other officer / directors: Barnet Hodes’s wife Eleanor Hodes, renowned composer Darius Milhaud, (a former partner and dear friend of Noma’s), and artist Marcel Duchamp. The board also consulted with an official list of advisers – at first comprising eight: Hans Arp, Alfred Barr Jr., Matta Echaurren, Max Ernst, Julian Levy, Man Ray, Roland Penrose and Sir Herbert Read.

The foundation’s mission statement included the following agenda: “In accordance with its desire to aid creative individuals of outstanding talent and unusual promise to realize their aims more fully in their chosen medium, the foundation awards annual grants, commensurate with the needs of the individual, to make possible further study or creative work.” The foundation went on to primarily award grants to composers, musicians and dozens of visual artists. Many of these artists were at the earliest stages of the careers when they were awarded Copley grants, and many others were in fact veteran artists, indeed friends of the Copleys, who benefitted from the foundation’s generous support.

In addition to its grant program, the William and Noma Copley Foundation also published a series of monographs supervised by artist Richard Hamilton. Ten publications appeared between 1960 and 1966. The subjects were René Magritte, Thomas Albert Sills, James Metcalf, Serge Charchoune, Jacques Herold, Hans Bellmer, Richard Lindner, Bernard Pfriem, Eduardo Paolozzi and Diter Rot. The latter two publications strayed from original uniform-design Hamilton had established with the series. The Rot book in particular was more an artist’s book than a so-called monograph, and it became a fantastic example of the deconstructive, innovative art publishing practices common in Rot’s work. (In many ways Rot’s “Copley Book” presaged Copley’s audacious publishing adventures with the Letter Edged in Black Press and SMS).

Here is the full list of William and Noma Copley awardees in the visual arts, listed alphabetically:

Roberto Aizenberg / John Altoon / Mario Amaya
Richard Artschwager / Robert Barnes / Gene Beery
Larry Bell / Hans Bellmer / Edmund Bereal / Joe Brainard
James Byers / Domenick Capobianco / Agustin Cardenas
Nicolas Carone / Pietro Cascella / Enrique Castro-Cid
Vija Celmins / Francoise Chaillet / Serge Charchoune
George Cohen / Bruce Conner / Joseph Cornell
Hubert Crehan / Christo / John Day
Mark Di Suvero / Mel Edwards / S. Ansgar Elde
G. Gudmunsson Ero / Arturo Estrada / Dan Flavin
Ruth Francken / Larry Freifeld / Leon Golub
Robert Gordon / E.F. Granell / Arthur Green
Richard Hamilton / Mike Heizer / Jacques Herold
Marcia Herscovitz / Philippe Hiquily / Richard Humphry
Yukihisa Isobe / Allan Kaprow / Leon Kelly
Edward Kienholz / Herbert Kitchen / Joseph Kosuth
Rockne Krebs / Ronnie Landfield / Caroline Lee
Richard Lindner / Lee Lozano / Mina Loy
Georges Malkine / Etienne Martin / Raymond Mason
Gregory Masurovsky / Paul Mattisse / James Metcalf
Gregoire Michonze / Bruce Nauman / Adrian Nutbeem
Jim Nutt / David Packard / Eduardo Paolozzi
Maria Papa / Irving Petlin / Cesar Peverelli
Bernard Pfriem / Helen Phillips / Jorge Piqueras
Emilio Rodriguez-Larrain / Roberto-Rohm / Diter Rot
Endre Rozsda / Attilio Salemme /Lucas Samaras
Paul Sarkistan / Peter Saul / Xanti Schawinsky
Roy Schnackenberg / Carolee Schneeman / Ushio Shinohara
Thomas Sills / Bob Stanley /Alina Szapocznikow
Shinkichi Tajiri / Isabelle Waldberg / Hannah Weiner
Emmet Williams / LaMonte Young / Robert Zakarian
Marian Zazeela

In 1966, not long before William and Noma Copley’s divorce, the foundation’s name was changed to the Cassandra Foundation. The change coincided with planning for the foundation’s most consequential gesture: the purchase, supervision and donation of Marcel Duchamp’s Etant Donnés to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Copley was one of only several people who had knowledge of the work, having been privately invited to Duchamp’s studio in 1966 to see the unknown masterpiece first-hand.

Duchamp proposed to Copley that he purchase the work with the stipulation the foundation donate it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, home to the largest public collection of works by Duchamp. Copley agreed, and then began the long process of orchestrating its acquisition, preservation, transport and installation at the museum, where it would finally be installed and open to the public in July 1969. Barnet Hodes was also instrumental in finalizing these agreements, which were made in partnership with the Philadelphia museum’s director Evan Turner, museum president Bernice Wintersteen and vice-president Henry Clifford. The burden of the physical logistics of transporting the work fell on museum curator Anne d’Harnoncourt, Marcel’s widow Alexina “Teeny” Duchamp and her son Paul Mattisse. [1]

Despite the legacy of helping bring Etant Donnés into public view, Copley was by this point reluctant to draw attention to himself for the philanthropic pursuits of the foundation. As an added stipulation to the eight-page memorandum detailing Cassandra Foundation’s requirements for the acquisition of Etant Donnés, Hodes asked museum director Evan Turner to “respect the firm wishes of William N. Copley to avoid any personal publicity in the matter.”[2] Turner accommodated.

Elsewhere Copley demurred from the increasing attention of his philanthropy. In a letter to Richard Hamilton, dated February 4, 1966, which addressed the complications surrounding the publication of Rot’s book, Copley lamented, “I am personally involved with trying to dis-associate my name from the foundation. Frankly I am concerned with being known as an artist rather than a man who gives his money away.” Copley continued, “I don’t like to be known as a philanthropist when I am trying to be a painter. I have a feeling this is something you will understand.”[3]

Following the installation of Etant Donnés at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Copley only periodically participated in matters pertaining to the Cassandra Foundation. This was usually limited to issues regarding image permissions and other wishes about the piece Duchamp might have bestowed to Copley personally.[4] Just like the Copley Galleries and the Letter Edged In Black Press, the William and Noma Copley Foundation was a historical part of Copley’s life and an example of his extreme generosity towards fellow artists. But by the time it was re-named Cassandra Foundation in 1966, Copley felt the effort was counterproductive to his goal to be recognized as a painter. During the 1970s, in lieu of Copley’s absence, Barnet Hodes would become in charge of the Cassandra Foundation, while Copley would focus exclusively on painting. ∎

[1] Marcel Duchamp: Etant Donnés, ed. Michael R. Taylor, et. Al. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, and Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2009. (pp 129 – 198)

[2] Barnet Hodes quoted in Ibid. (pg 163)

[3] William Copley, letter to Richard Hamilton, February 4, 1966, William and Noma Copley Foundation and Collection Records, 1954 – 1980, Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Accession No. 880403, (Box 3, Folder 8, Series II)

[4] See Taylor, pp 160 ­­­– 161