Donald Borrman never dreamed he’d have a career in the art world.
But the modest University of Minnesota business graduate became a finance manager for Walker Art Center in 1952 and over the decades he helped it grow into an internationally renowned contemporary art museum.
Borrman, of Edina, was administrative director during most of his 40 years at Walker. He died Oct. 2 at 87.
“He often commented that in his wildest dreams, he never envisioned himself caught up in the challenges and excitement of an art center,” said daughter Barbara Post.
Borrman started with a staff of 25 and a $150,000 budget. Under his supervision, the staff expanded to 110 and the budget to $5.6 million by 1986, when he retired.
For 28 years, Borrman was right-hand man to then-director Martin Friedman.
“Don’s job was to manage the business affairs of the museum, while Martin was the artistic director, and the two of them accomplished a huge amount, ” said Bormann’s successor and protégé, David Galligan.
That included replacing founder T.B. Walker’s museum in 1971 with a brick building designed by architect Edward Larrabee Barnes of New York. Borrman was instrumental, too, in the Guthrie Theater making its original home next to the Walker, on land leased from the museum.
“So much of the building of the national and international reputation of the Walker was his doing, as well as, of course, Martin Friedman’s,” Galligan said. “The two of them were fantastic friends, colleagues and partners, and the museum took many, many leaps forward in terms of its stature and reputation, much to the credit of Don Borrman.”
He was loyal, fair and had a “remarkable grasp of detail,” Friedman said.
“He was there before I was, and he was a confident and a steadying presence. He kept us on track. He kept us honest. He took care of the budget. He was very alert to everything. He had a lot of control there,” Friedman said.
Quiet and gentle, Borrman was highly exacting in his work. He watched over the investment of an endowment, transfer of assets from the T.B. Walker Foundation, the construction of the Barnes building as well as a 1984 expansion.
“He knew where every penny was that belonged to the Walker, and how every penny got spent, and all hiring decisions,” Galligan said. “His influence was everywhere.”
Born in Minneapolis on May 27, 1926, he was the only child of Nels and Emma Borrman. He graduated from Washburn High School in 1944 and enlisted in the Navy during World War II.
By June 1950, he’d attended Macalester College, graduated from the University of Minnesota with a business degree and married Marjorie Nemitz, with whom he would have two sons and a daughter.
In 1952, Walker hired Borrman as administrative director. After Borrman retired in 1986, he worked five years as a consultant, overseeing the Sculpture Garden’s creation.
Despite his busy career, family was his top priority, and he rarely missed supper, albeit often late, Post said. He regaled them with stories, telling of lunch with Alfred Hitchcock and dinner with Twiggy, his daughter said.