The story behind Andy Warhol’s painting of Marion Bloch
At 94 years old, Henry Bloch, one of the best-known names in Kansas City, still tries to go to the office every day.
No, not at H&R Block. He’s retired from the tax preparation company he co-founded with his brother, Richard. Rather, he oversees the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation, endowed in 2011 for the benefit of Kansas City.
Bloch’s multimillion-dollar gifts to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, to St. Luke’s Hospital, and to the University of Missouri-Kansas City — where, in each case, prominent buildings bear the family name — and other philanthropies are well chronicled.
In a quiet visit in his long-time family home, Bloch recently responded to questions that dipped into his behind-the-scenes life.
Q: You’ve been seen on several occasions at Costco. What’s in your shopping basket?
A: I put in whatever they give me a list for. I don’t buy anything for myself. I enjoy it. The quantities at Costco are so great. The fruit is good. The prices are wonderful. And they give you periodically some money back. I don’t go very often, I’d say every two or three weeks. So many people there, I didn’t think they knew me, but they say thanks for all you do for Kansas City. That makes me happy. I have a debt to the people of Kansas City. Everything I have, I’d have nothing without the people of Kansas City. That’s my biggest thing I like to do — help the people of Kansas City. I like to be active in the community.
Q: You’ve donated your Impressionist paintings to the Nelson to hang in gallery space that is under renovation. But it appears they’re all still here on your walls.
A: See these pictures here? Know what they’re worth? They’re worth maybe a dollar each. These are copies. The Nelson did this for me. These are photographs, but more than photographs. I don’t know how they did this. They have no value. I used to close draperies because the sun is so bad for paintings. But the man at the Nelson said let it go. You can touch them if you want. We’ll get you a new one. These have no value. It was time to give the paintings. They have them there now.
(Note: The Nelson’s new Impressionist galleries, including the Bloch collection, will open to the public in March 2017.)
Q: Among all the masterpieces you’ve purchased and given to the Nelson, will you admit to a favorite?
A: It’s a Sisley, Alfred Sisley. (The copy) is on my second floor. There’s a story behind it. After I bought it, I said I just don’t like that picture. We used to have it down here but we moved it upstairs. We kept the best pictures downstairs. We had the head of Sotheby’s here from London. I asked him, I bought this picture but I just don’t like it. What’s wrong with it? He said it’s a wonderful picture. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s the frame. It needs a new frame. Frames are very important. After I got a new frame now it’s my favorite picture. It’s not the most valuable. But it’s a beautiful picture.
Q: What’s the first thing you want a visitor to Kansas City to see?
A: I made a list because it’s hard to pick one. First, I’d say the Nelson. Then I wrote down the World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial. Well, those two. That’s it. They are wonderful.
Q: Do you have a favorite restaurant in Kansas City?
A: My favorite restaurant is First Watch. I like what they serve, but probably number one is that it’s quiet in there. So many restaurants are so loud. It’s quiet and the food is very good at First Watch. It’s very reasonable. Pancakes, waffles, eggs, everything. They have a lot to choose from. I go there just at noon; you know they’re closed at night.
Q: Besides working on foundation business what keeps you busy?
A: I’m writing a book on my time in World War II. Well, I’m not writing it. The head of the history department at UMKC is writing it. We’re working on the last chapter now. I flew B-17s, the Flying Fortress. I flew 32 missions, mainly over Germany. We bombed Berlin three times. We flew three missions on D-Day and we were shot up on every mission, but not on D-Day. We weren’t shot up on D-Day; that was a very easy day. My first mission, not my crew’s first mission, was bombing Berlin. Berlin was very well guarded. We lost lots of planes. It’s all in my book. We were shot up very badly. We lost three engines over the target. We couldn’t keep up with the group. We had to come back by ourselves to England, near Ipswich and Norwich. I was a navigator.
Q: Please share one of your favorite personal memories.
A: My pride and joy memory is one about my wife, Marion. The president’s wife (Barbara Bush) and Marion were together on three occasions with the same, identical outfit on. We have pictures of it. We had a home in Arizona and one day the president’s wife came walking by and I waved to her and I said let me get Marion out here. They were wearing the same outfit. They did that three times.
Q: My editors want me to ask this: Who does your taxes?
A: I don’t want to say. It’s not someone in the company. Today, I couldn’t fill out the simplest tax form. It’s gotten so complex, and I’m so old.
Go online at kansascity.com to view a video of Henry Bloch telling the story of how Andy Warhol was commissioned to paint a portrait of Marion Bloch. Bloch recalls that it cost $15,000.