John Francis Coppola - artist, museum professional, world traveler and political junkie - was born July 26, 1947 in New Jersey and died February 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. He was much loved and will be greatly missed by his family, friends, and colleagues. John graduated from Thiel College in Greenville, Pennsylvania and received a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.
John traveled extensively for work and pleasure. As a Foreign Service Officer, he lived in Mexico, El Salvador, and Tunisia. At the US Information Agency, he directed the US pavilions at the Seville World’s Fair and World Expo 88 in Brisbane, Australia. His consulting work took him to Spain, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and Canada. At one point when he was making such frequent consulting trips to the Caribbean and Middle East, he was convinced that he must be on both the drug enforcement and terror watch lists!
He was passionate about sharing his knowledge and expertise with other artists and museum professionals. His consulting and teaching work focused on helping museums refine their collections, management approaches, and collection policies. He particularly encouraged museums to become more representative of and welcoming to the communities they served (or should serve). As an active member of the American Alliance of Museums, he directed that organization’s first Museum Assessment Program of a foreign museum, the Museo del Hombre Dominicano in Santo Domingo. He taught museum management and curatorial studies for the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design/George Washington University and at Stanford University DC campus. Among his favorite artist-students was his great niece Carson Sandefur.
Locally he served as director/curator of the Gallery at Harmony Hall Regional Arts Center, Fort Washington MD, and managed several artist-run galleries in Washington DC. He was active in the International Council of Museums, served on the Board of Friends of the Art Museum of the Americas, and was an advisor to the Stonewall National Museum and Archives. He was appointed by President Obama to serve on the Advisory Board for the Institute of Library and Museum Science.
John was a painter, printmaker, and sculptor. He studied art at the Corcoran Gallery of Art; Smithsonian Institution; Tamarind Institute, University of New Mexico; Miasa Hanga Center, Japan; and Studio Camnitzer-Porter, Italy. He was an art critic for the Miami Herald and Latino magazine. His artwork was most recently exhibited as part of the America Is … exhibit at the Touchstone Gallery in Washington, DC. He delighted in carrying a business card that read: John Coppola, Exhibitionist.
John was a foodie and a great cook. He loved the elaborate feast that comes with an Italian Christmas. His favorite dish-- zeppole with anchovies—was only one of the seven fish dishes traditional to the occasion. He enjoyed finding the newest and most interesting eating places and recipes. His annual dinners honoring Mexico’s celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe were legendary, as were his New Year’s Eve day events that featured a ritual shredding of the previous year’s calendar.
Even before he got his first press pass to cover the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, John was an admitted political junkie. He was never at a loss when called upon to opine on any aspect of national or international politics, always knew the details of the most recent polls, and could at the slightest provocation recite verbatim major portions of the US Constitution.
John is survived by his sister Phyllis (Paul) Natoli of Dripping Springs, TX; three nieces Denise (Casey) Brooks of Zanesville, OH; Diane (Barrett) Sandefur of Austin, TX, and Danielle (Isaac) Orao of Austin, TX; great niece Carson Sandefur and great nephew Gabriel Orao.
John requested that there be no formal memorial service. He preferred that his family and friends celebrate his life with a party. While an in-person party is not possible in these days of Covid, his family and friends are encouraged to share memories on this site until we can meet in person to remember together his contributions to our lives.
In lieu of flowers those who wish to do so may make a donation in his name to Food and Friends DC, Friends of the Art Museum of the Americas in DC or the Stonewall National Museum and Archives, Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
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