‘Jack’ Shea; Art Collector, Philanthropist


John Martin “Jack” Shea, one of Southern California’s top collectors of modern American art, has died. He was 74.

Shea, a major philanthropist for art and animal causes, died Wednesday in Palm Springs, his wife, Marion, said.

“Jack Shea’s vision and personal support helped transform the Newport Harbor Art Museum’s regional perspective into an internationally recognized program,” said Paul Schimmel, formerly chief curator at the Newport facility and now chief curator of Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art.

“The same independent streak that characterized his support of a variety of philanthropic and political causes informed Shea as a collector,” Schimmel said. “Twenty or 30 years ago he acquired Bryce Marden, Frank Stella and Cy Twombley, artists who today are considered American masters.”


For two decades Shea was a trustee at the Newport Harbor Art Museum, now a part of the Orange County Museum of Art. He served as board president from 1978 to 1981 and from 1986 to 1987. He had also served as a trustee of the new museum after the Newport Harbor and the Laguna museums merged last year.

Shea underwrote many of the exhibits at the Laguna facility, including an Edvard Munch display, “Six in Bronze,” “The Second Annual Newport Biennial” and “American Art from the Addison Collection.” He and his wife also made possible the museum’s admission-free Tuesdays.

The avid art collector exhibited posters and lithographs in the 11 carwashes and several commercial and industrial buildings operated by his Newport Beach company, Beacon Bay Enterprises.

But the bulk of Shea’s post-World War II American art collection was displayed in his stone and glass home in Palm Springs, where he often hosted fund-raisers for his beloved museum.


He never placed a monetary value on his collection.

“I enjoy it--that’s the sum and substance of it,” he once told The Times. “I enjoy living with it, looking at it.”

Among his prized cache along with Marden, Stella and Twombley were works by Richard Diebenkorn, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Isamu Noguchi, Helen Frankenthaler, Alexander Caulder and George Segal.

Shea and his wife were also major donors to the San Diego Zoo, the Living Desert and the Valley Missionary Program in Coachella, which named its new cultural center for the couple.

Born in Santa Barbara, Shea attended the University of Washington and began his business career working for companies in Manila, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

He returned to Southern California in 1952 as president of the Shea Oil Co. in Pasadena. After several years as an executive with different companies in the oil business, Shea launched Beacon Bay Enterprises. He served as its chairman of the board and chief executive officer.

Shea is survived by his wife, Marion; two sons, Michael and Patrick; three daughters, Katherine Shea Utt, Selene Witte and Suzanne Gilbert; a brother, Dr. George Shea; and nine grandchildren.

Services are private. The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the San Diego Zoo CRES project, the Animal Samaritans in Thousand Palms or the Valley Missionary Program in Coachella.