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Ursula McCracken

The Baltimore Sun

Ursula N. McCracken, former director of the Textile Museum in Washington who earlier had been director of development at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, died Monday of brain cancer at her West University Parkway home. She was 66.

Ursula Naylor Eland was born in New York City, and raised in England and Stamford, Conn. She earned a bachelor's degree in the history of art from Wellesley College in 1963 and received two master's degrees from Johns Hopkins University.

Mrs. McCracken received a master's degree in the history of ideas in 1984 and, two years later, a master's in administrative sciences, or nonprofit management.

She was working at the Albright Knox Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y., when she met her future husband, Edward P. McCracken. After their 1965 wedding, they moved to Baltimore and joined the staff of what was then the Walters Art Gallery.

In 1977, Mrs. McCracken was named director of development for the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, a position she held until 1986, when she was named director of the Textile Museum in Northwest Washington.

"'Steadfast' and 'determined' are two words I'd use to describe her. She was a powerful force," said Carol M. Bier, president of the Textile Society of America who is also a lecturer in humanities at San Francisco State University.

"She came to the museum not with a lot of experience in textile history but had a wide range of experience in nonprofit management. That's why the board appointed her," Ms. Bier, a former Textile Museum staff member, said yesterday.

"Edwin Zimmerman, past president of the museum's board, said when the trustees were searching for a new director, he was told, 'Ursula McCracken could run an army,'" Ms. Bier said.

"She was equitable in sharing authority and responsibilities. Decisions were not made unilaterally and were reached only after deliberate discussion," she said.

"Ursula certainly worked with consistency and determination to professionalize the museum in all its operations, and to provide for the professional development of her staff," Ms. Bier said.

Other accomplishments during Mrs. McCracken's tenure included increasing the museum's endowment from $2 million to $17 million, retiring its debt and doubling its operating budget from $1.2 million to $2.7 million.

She oversaw several critically acclaimed exhibitions, including Woven from the Soul, Spun from the Heart: Textile Arts of Safavid and Qajar Iran in 1986; and Costume and Identity in Highland Ecuador in 1999.

Her professional memberships included the Association of Art Museum Directors.

After stepping down as museum director in 2004, Mrs. McCracken was director of major gifts for the American Pain Foundation in Baltimore.

She was an avid reader and world traveler.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete yesterday.

In addition to her husband, Mrs. McCracken is survived by a brother, Timothy B.B. Eland of New York City; and two sisters, Jane B. Donahue of Wellesley, Mass., and Faith Shepard of New Canaan, Conn.

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