100 Years and Giving: Judith Wilbur Recognized for Support of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco

Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

As the company celebrates its 100th anniversary, one of the themes is “100 years and giving.”

Mrs. Judith Wilbur

Wilbur-Ellis has a tradition of giving to worthwhile causes. And like Wilbur-Ellis,  the Wilbur family has long supported worthy causes. For decades, the Wilburs have been patrons of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

Recently, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and the Asian Art Commission recognized Mrs. Judith Wilbur with a resolution that named her Commissioner and Trustee Emeritus. The honor came as Mrs. Wilbur stepped down from the Asian Art Commission after more than 40 years of service.

The resolution expressed “deepest gratitude for Mrs. Wilbur’s immeasurable service, pioneering leadership and loyal support” for the museum, the commission and the city.
Support for the museum has long been a passion for Mrs. Wilbur, whose late husband, Brayton Wilbur Jr., served as CEO of Wilbur-Ellis from 1988 to 2000 and was the son of company founder Brayton Wilbur Sr. “I’m very grateful for this recognition,” Mrs. Wilbur said, “but supporting the Asian Art Museum is a labor of love.”

Mrs. Wilbur’s interest in Asian art developed during the years she spent living in Thailand and Indonesia from 1965 to 1970, where her husband managed Connell. “When we returned to the states, becoming involved with the Asian Art Museum was a natural extension of that interest,” Mrs. Wilbur said.

“I believe art helps to create a better understanding between different cultures. The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco helps to build those bridges, which supports understanding between the Asian and American cultures and communities, which are so important to San Francisco, Wilbur-Ellis and Connell.” Since the museum was established 54 years ago, it has assembled one of the most comprehensive Asian art collections in the world, with more than 18,000 works of art, some as much as 6,000 years old. Recently, a Brayton Wilbur Foundation Gallery opened in a new addition of the museum.

The first exhibit in the gallery is by artist Chanel Miller and tells a powerful story of trauma and the role art has played in her recovery. The exhibit is visible from the street (see photo below), making it more accessible to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Building a Community Treasure

The Asian Art Museum opened in 1966, and until 2003 shared space with another museum in Golden Gate Park. But as its collection grew, the Asian Art Museum needed a bigger home – and Mrs. Wilbur played a pivotal role in providing it.

She led a capital campaign that raised $169 million, including $42 million in public funds overwhelmingly approved by San Francisco voters. This enabled the museum to move to the former San Francisco public library building in the Civic Center complex. During the time the museum was closed, in preparation for the move, Mrs. Wilbur promoted efforts to maintain public support. The massive project culminated in a week-long celebration when the museum reopened in its new home in 2003.

In her years of service to the museum, Mrs. Wilbur has served as Chair of the Asian Art Commission and the Foundation, as well as serving on various committees and leading major advancement projects.

Jay Xu, Director and CEO of the museum said: “Judy Wilbur has shown over and over that philanthropy is about service, in support of a vision larger than one person could ever build. It’s about nurturing community, and about believing that our city, our world, is a better place when art is made accessible for all. Judy has been a lifelong supporter of every stage of the Asian Art Museum’s growth, change and transformation into such a place of art and connection.” He added: “What a tribute that the gallery that bears her family’s name – the Brayton Wilbur Foundation Gallery – is also displaying the first artwork publicly accessible in the museum’s transformed spaces. My gratitude for her generosity is also the gratitude of the generations of visitors who have been inspired –and those who will be inspired – by all she has done. Thank you, Judy.”

A Family History of Giving

Although Mrs. Wilbur’s 40-year involvement with the museum reflects a strong commitment to the community, it continues an even longer family tradition.

For Wilbur-Ellis founder Brayton Wilbur Sr., Asia had a special place in his heart. He was a founder in 1954 of The Asia Foundation and served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees. This organization promotes programs in Asia that improve governance and law, economic reform and development, women’s empowerment, and international relations.

After Brayton Wilbur Sr.’s death in 1963, his son, Brayton Wilbur Jr., continued the tradition of support, including serving as Chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1991-1995. Mrs. Wilbur also served on the Board of Trustees, from 2006 to 2015, and was appointed Trustee Emerita in 2015. At the end of the resolution honoring Mrs. Wilbur, the members of the Asian Art Commission acknowledged the example that she and the Wilbur family have set in their community. For a family-owned company celebrating its 100th anniversary, those contributions truly reflect the spirit of giving.

A Brayton Wilbur Foundation Gallery recently opened in a new addition of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. The first exhibit in the gallery is by artist Chanel Miller. The exhibit is visible from the street during the COVID-19 pandemic, making it even more accessible to the public.