In 1991 the Renzo Turco Scholarship Award was significantly enhanced by the "Bender Benefaction." For many years, Il Cenacolo retained in its possession a large Buddhist Temple Painting (on silk) from the 17th century, donated to the club by one of its early members, Albert M. Bender. The Board of Directors in 1991 determined to have the work appraised, and if its value was significant, as was likely the case given Bender's reputation as a collector, to offer it for auction and add the proceeds to the Renzo Turco Scholarship Endowment Fund. The Buddhist Temple Painting was sold at Butterfield's in November, 1991, bringing a substantial price. Added to the existing funds, the Bender Benefaction will assure the continuation of the Turco Scholarship Awards for many years to come.
Albert Bender was born in Dublin, Ireland in March, 1863, the son of Albert Philip Bender, Rabbi of St. Mary's Abbey Synagogue in Dublin. He came to San Francisco in 1882 where he began his career as a successful insurance agent and broker. By the mid-1920s, that success allowed him to give generously to the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford, Mills College (of which he was a trustee), Occidental College, University of San Francisco, and the San Francisco Art Institute. His gifts were often in the form of books and works of art. The Asian Museum of San Francisco holds a Bender collection which he had given to the California Legion of Honor. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for its first five years from 1935 was almost wholly dependent on works which he donated.
Albert Bender's devotion to printing made him an important patron of John Nash and of the Grabhorn Brothers and other fine presses. He collected paintings by Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Orozco, as well as sculptures by Benjamin Bufano and photographs by Imogene Cunningham, Edward and Brett Weston, and Ansel Adams. He is reported to have given Ansel Adams his first serious camera.
Albert Bender served on the San Francisco Library Commission from 1927 until his death in 1941. He received honorary degrees from UC Berkeley and Mills College. St. Mary's College presented him with the Moraga Crest "in recognition of distinguished intellectual achievement in consonance with the European tradition of culture." He was honored with awards by the French and Italian governments. In 1955, Monroe Deutch, Vice Chancellor of UC Berkeley, recalled that Bender was "devoted to truth and beauty and justice," and that he "wended his way through life with the gaiety of a troubadour and the generosity of a Maecenas."
With all that, Albert Bender was gregarious, convivial, gave great parties, exulted in being Irish and Jewish, was known to his friends as "Mickey," and came to celebrate St. Patrick's Day as his own. He was an outstanding early member of Il Cenacolo and contributed immensely to its cultural and artistic presentations.
If Renzo Turco Scholarship winners have some reverence for books, for the quality of the paper on which they are printed, for the appropriateness of the type in which they are set, if they see them as a culmination of the best of art and craftsmanship, and if they find joy and pleasure in their learning, then Albert "Mickey" Bender will be well pleased.