Philadelphia philanthropist Jack Wolgin dies at 93

The namesake of the Jack Wolgin International Competition in the Fine Arts died Jan. 27.

The namesake of the Jack Wolgin International Competition in the Fine Arts died Jan. 27.

Real estate developer, art patron and Philadelphia philanthropist, Jack Wolgin passed away three weeks ago. Mr. Wolgin donated $150,000 for the Tyler School of Art to host the Jack Wolgin International Competition in the Fine Arts, the largest juried prize given to an artist by a university.

Philadelphia philanthropist and real estate developer Jack Wolgin died Jan. 27 at the age of 93. Mr. Wolgin’s impact on Philadelphia includes Market Street’s Clothespin as well as the Jack Wolgin International Competition in the Fine Arts, based in the Tyler School of Art at Temple.

Mr. Wolgin was born and raised in Philadelphia. He attended Pennsylvania State University and the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. During World War II, he was the chief civilian contracting officer for the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps. He continued his career in Philadelphia, becoming a critical figure in the development of Center City. He worked on several major real estate projects in Philadelphia throughout the 1970s, including the Centre Square Plaza. He was also responsible for the commission of Claus Oldenburg’s iconic 1976 monumental sculpture, Clothespin.

“I don’t really understand the Clothespin, but that kind of sculpture is definitely a big part of what makes Philly Philly,” Alex Levicoff, a freshman music education major, said.

In addition to his commitment to all forms of the arts in Philadelphia, Mr. Wolgin was an influential figure in the Philadelphia business community.

In 2008, Mr. Wolgin donated $3.7 million to the Tyler School of Art, establishing the Jack Wolgin International Competition in the fine arts. The prize of $150,000, the largest juried prize for an artist by a university, is awarded to an “emerging artist whose work transcends traditional boundaries and exemplifies the highest level of artistic excellence.”

Mr. Wolgin intended for the competition to not only focus on Philadelphia’s artistic community, but also to be an economic engine for the city. The competition includes an exhibition and a prize ceremony. Last year, thousands attended the exhibition.

“It was an honor to hear that my art school was involved in such a big artistic event for Philadelphia,” freshman fine arts major Lauryn Volovar said. “It was also encouraging to hear that Wolgin wasn’t an artist himself, but still put an immense amount of time and money into keeping art an outstanding aspect of our city.”

Mr. Wolgin chose Temple for its connection to Philadelphia’s art communities, along with the university’s diverse student population and the new Tyler facility.

Last year, the recipient of the first annual prize was Ryan Trecartin, a Philadelphia-based artist whose work examines ideas of identity through the use of film and other mixed media. Mr. Wolgin was in attendance at the award ceremony to hand Trecartin the prize.

“I think Wolgin represented a more positive side to the modern art world, both in embracing new work like Trecartin’s and in things like the Clothespin,” Lauren Leister, a junior theater major, said. “His death is definitely an unfortunate one.”

Mr. Wolgin will also be remembered for his strong commitment to Israel. He is responsible for both the prestigious Wolgin Prize for Israeli Cinema, which is awarded at the Jerusalem Film Festival and the Wolgin Prize for Scientific Excellence, which is awarded annually by Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science.

Mr. Wolgin died in his Florida home. He is survived by his daughter Barbara Wolgin-Burwick, his six grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and Claire Boasi, his companion.

Abe Rosenthal can be reached at

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