Mark Michel and Jane Blaffer Owen
Award Type: Crowninshield Award
Both Mark Michel and Jane Blaffer Owen have expertly combined vision, action and leadership to launch highly ambitious initiatives that protect some of the nation's most precious—and fragile—historic treasures.
Preservation, whether locally or nationally, happens when a leader with vision steps forward and takes action. Both Mark Michel and Jane Blaffer Owen have provided such leadership, dedicating themselves to preserving and promoting with unyielding determination America's cultural heritage.
In 1980, Mark Michel became the first president of a new organization he had helped create: The Archaeological Conservancy. In the 28 years since, Michel's energetic leadership has built the Conservancy into a national organization with a strong and supportive constituency of more than 23,000 members. Today, an expansive range of tours and educational events allows members to learn more about ancient cultures, and a popular quarterly magazine informs the public about the wide range of threats that put sites at risk. Equally important, the Conservancy has earned the respect of funders—and their support enables the organization to move quickly to save archaeological sites that are in danger of being lost to vandalism, development or the ravages of time. To date, the Conservancy has acquired and preserved some 365 endangered sites from California to New England.
The same determination drove Jane Blaffer Owen to launch an ambitious—and successful—effort to preserve and revitalize the historic Indiana town of New Harmony, founded as utopian society by Robert Owen in 1825. From the moment saw it in 1941 soon after her marriage to the third-great grandson of Robert Owen, she fell in love with the place. She immediately went to work founding the Robert Lee Blaffer Foundation and transforming the tiny, long-neglected town into a major cultural center and visitor attraction. In addition to preserving and rehabilitating numerous historic buildings, Owen created an extraordinary array of artwork and gardens and even a restaurant and an Inn. Furthermore, she commissioned widely-acclaimed contemporary buildings from modern-day masters such as Philip Johnson who designed a roofless church and Richard Meier who designed the town's Visitors' Center. On the national stage, Owen helped instigate the American Planning Association's discussions of a "cultural town" program that would identify places involved in community building in creative ways which resist the homogenization of America.
After five decades of innovative and exemplary preservation effort, this 95-year old powerhouse died on June 21, 2010.