Skip to main content
The Morrison-Shearer Foundation fulfills the shared vision of two remarkable women, each an artist in her own field.Memorial tribute to Sybil Shearer, February 5, 2006, The Art Institute of Chicago

The Foundation

The idea for the Morrison-Shearer Foundation originated in the early 1980s, when noted photographer HELEN BALFOUR MORRISON and internationally recognized modern dancer-choreographer SYBIL SHEARER conceived a plan to perpetuate the legacy of their forty-year artistic collaboration as an inspiration to others. In 1991, seven years after Morrison’s death, Sybil Shearer formally established the Foundation as the realization of their shared vision and, in 1995, finalized the document “Purpose and Aims of the Museum” to guide its direction.

Sybil Shearer and Helen Balfour Morrison

Written by SYBIL SHEARER, the “Aims” states a belief in the importance of human biographies – in having the opportunity to look into the lives of other persons – and a belief that human beings are not only the product of heredity and environment, but of individual will, feelings, and thoughts, comprising the individual spirit. The Foundation was envisioned as a way to preserve, document, and share the Morrison and Shearer histories and resources as a an inspiration for other creators in the arts.When Sybil died in 2005, the assets of both artists, including the Morrison residence and the original Sybil Shearer Studio, were allocated to the Morrison-Shearer Foundation, a not-for-profit 501(c)3 foundation. A rich cache of archival materials also came to the Foundation. These include MORRISON‘s personal and family papers, hundreds of her masterful portraits of “Great Americans” and others, and an unusual group of photographs documenting rural African-American lives in Kentucky in the 1930s. SHEARER‘s archives include personal and family papers as well as programs, clippings, costumes, and artifacts relating to her career. Hundreds of photographs and films taken by Helen document Sybil’s dances and day-to-day life. In 2019 these archival resources were gifted to institutions where they are preserved and available for research – films at the Chicago Film Archives, and all other materials at the Newberry Library.

Today the Foundation continues to “Share the Legacy” through a variety of programs, grants, and affiliations – most especially through the Sybil Shearer Studio at Ragdale, gifted by MSF and built on the campus of the Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, Illinois. Completed in the fall of 2021, the new Studio greatly enhances dance-creation opportunities while serving as an inspiring living legacy of Sybil and Helen.