George Gardner passed away peacefully in his sleep on Feb. 7 in Whitefish. Gardner was born on April 24, 1928 in Brooklyn, New York to Scottish immigrants, George A. Gardner and Matilda Stevenson Gardner.
George attended Brooklyn Poly Tech science high school and graduated at age 16. He then studied Chemical Engineering before graduating with design degrees from both Cooper Union and Pratt Institute, Gardner entered the exciting field of Industrial Design specializing in architectural interiors and exhibition design. Gardner joined the U.S. Army in 1952, training at The Presidio in San Francisco and completing his Military Police certification at Fort Baker, California, in 1953. After duty in the U.S. Army he interned in the Office of Charles Eames in Venice California.
The firm of Walter Dorwin Teague Associates, In New York City, was the next destination where he worked as Project Coordination on a variety of projects. Gardner coordinated major design assignments in Zagreb, Yugoslavia; Vienna, Austria; and Geneva, Switzerland (Atoms for Peace in 1958). He was also Project Chief for the Virginia Civil War Centennial in Richmond, Virginia, which included the design of a permanent building. In 1960 he went into partnership in New York with Peter Quay Yang, forming Yang/Gardner Associates where he was responsible for: conceptual design of the Fort Lee Bicentennial Restoration; a five year plan for the Wildcliff Natural Science Center; multiple design contracts with the Foreign Agricultural Service of the U.S.D.A for design and supervision of overseas design contracts with the U.S. Department of Commerce for trade fair exhibitions in Kenya, Somalia and Zimbabwe. Other clients included: AT&T; World Trade Center; RCA; Chase Manhattan Bank; New Jersey Bell; U.S. Exposition Service (Alaska Centennial).
Gardner joined the American Museum of Natural History in 1973 as Chairman of the Department of Exhibition and Graphics where he was responsible for long range planning of an exhibition program with an annual budget in excess of $2 million. This included design and construction of permanent exhibition halls plus 20 or more temporary exhibition each year. He administered a department comprising 45 skilled designers, worked with all scientific departments in the museum and with the President and members of the Board of Trustees on future planning for all exhibition activities.
Consultation with other institution during his stay at the American Museum of Natural History included: Museo de LaPlata, Argentina; Carnegie Museum of Natural History; American Numismatic Society; and the Hall of Fame of the Trotter, Goshen, New York. He held the post of Chairman at the American Museum for 18 years, retiring in 1991.
Gardner was a co-founder and first president of NAME (National Association for Museum Exhibition) in 1981. It now numbers over 1,800 members from all areas of expertise involved in the creation of museum exhibitions. He has lectured at the University of Colorado, Rutgers University, City University of New York and the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. In May of 1991 Cooper Union awarded Gardner the Augustus St. Gaudens Award for achievement in art and design, and in 2001 he was inducted into the Golden Legion.
At the turn of the millennium, in January 2000, he moved to Big Sky country and built a house in Whitefish, Montana, establishing a Museum Planning Consultancy. Serving several new or expanding regional museums, Gardner continued to enjoy the creative process of conceptual and interpretive design for museums in the Intermountain West. Gardner served on Whitefish Architectural Review Committee, Stumptown Historic Plaque Committee (he designed the graphic layouts for the plaques around Whitefish), the Whitefish Growth Policy Committee, Highway 93 Citizens Working Group and the Whitefish Transportation Plan Committee.
He is survived by his daughter, Heather Gardner Vrentas, son-in-law, Michael Vrentas, grandchildren Miles Vrentas and Thea Vrentas and nephews Scott Mitchell and Glen Mitchell. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Whitefish Education Foundation. Austin Funeral & Cremation Services are caring for George and his family.