James Harithas

December 1, 1932 ~ March 23, 2023 (age 90) 90 Years Old


James Harithas was a larger-than-life presence in the lives of the people who met him. Harithas was opinionated, provocative, prescient, intelligent, and eternally curious, engaged in a perpetual search for knowledge, experience, and interesting company. To the people who knew Jim Harithas, he was a father, a husband, a friend, a mentor, a rebel, and a champion.

To him, art was a series of acts of enduring devotion to what is good in humanity, a moral impetus and obligation. This conviction led him to become an advocate and activist for the dispossessed. He was as proud of the art programs he created for inmates of Auburn State Prison as the more celebrated exhibitions and institutions to which his name is attached, like the Corcoran Gallery and Everson Museum.
He never bragged about himself or his accomplishments, never a word about his international stature in the art world, yet he never ceased bragging about his family, his daughters, his grandchildren, and his wife.
Family were his guardians. To gain or maintain entry to Jim’s inner world, you first had to earn the approval of at least one of them.

It was customary for people to make pilgrimages to see Jim. He relished any sign of wit or human creativity, however obscure. Harithas was disciplined, and his work as a museum director was pioneering and unflagging. Over the course of his long career, he was always first to embrace groundbreaking art and artists. Throughout his career, he brought outliers into the institutions. He was a close friend with innumerable artists, particularly Salvatore Scarpitta, Norman Bluhm, and Andy Mann.
The exhibitions he organized after moving to Houston to become the director of the Contemporary Arts Museum drew the world’s focus to an almost undiscovered land. He promoted Texas artists like George Smith, Luis Jimenez, Michael Tracy, Forrest Prince, Mike Hollis, and Jesse Lott. To others, art was a marker of socioeconomic status, a byproduct of the world’s financial centers. To Jim, art was the proof of life, and he found life everywhere around him.
Later, at the Art Car Museum and Station Museum, the two museums he founded with his wife, Ann, he poured his energy into exhibitions showcasing underappreciated artists as well as those from communities receiving the brunt of economic and military imperialism.
Throughout his life, he never tired of traveling the world over. He was tough, determined. He relished the chance to spend long days visiting studios, meeting artists, whether in Houston, New York, Palestine, Mexico, or beyond. Jim had Spartan ideas about the athletic requirements of serious thought. A heavy punching bag hung from the home office where he planned exhibitions. It was there for whenever he needed to work out an idea. He took trouble to stir up trouble everywhere he went. He never shied away from contradictions, never sought easy answers. He made the world bigger, louder, more serious, more fun.

In the Houston neighborhood where he later lived with his wife, on a quiet boulevard, lined as much by wealth as giant oak trees, he was proud to point to the color of his roof. “Red,” he’d say, “The same color as the communist flag.”
But his joy in provocation had a real purpose: it made space for people who would be otherwise excluded. Yoko Ono once told a newspaper, “Harithas is an activist who believes in revolution.” And that remained so throughout his life; he was loyal to people and to ideas. Jim treated everyone as an equal, everywhere he went, no matter their background, despite his own educational attainments and professional accomplishments.
He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Maine and his MFA from the University of Pennsylvania. But, first and foremost, he was the son of Greek immigrants, his father, a distinguished army officer, lawyer, and judge, his mother with artistic abilities. He often referred to his time in the army as a primary education. It is there he learned that his loyalties lay with the underdog, the vulnerable, the dispossessed, for whom he never stopped fighting. He studied painting and retained an artist’s eye for color, composition, and economy of gesture. In art he found new ways of thinking, of living, of connecting ideas and people. His life paid homage to his parents’ values, risk-taking, truth-seeking, world-spanning, fearless, loving.
Born December 1, 1932, in Lewiston, Maine, James Harithas died March 23, 2023 in Houston, Texas. He was preceded in death by his parents, his wife Ann Harithas, his granddaughter Bridget Blyth, his sister Marcia Harithas Georgas, and his brother-in-law Nick Yankopolous.
He is survived by his sisters Paula Yankopolous, daughters Iphegenia “Jeannie” Harithas, Thalia Harithas, and Amalia Harithas Blyth, and grandsons James Scanlan and Jesse Scanlan.

Family and friends are cordially invited to a celebration of life on Sunday, April 2, 2023 at the Bradshaw-Carter Home, 1734 W. Alabama St., Houston, Texas 77098. A visitation is planned from three until six o’clock in the evening with a service beginning at four o’clock.

Guests are encouraged to honor his memory by wearing white. 

To view his service via livestream, please click here: 

Many thanks to Tex Kerschen for composing this lovely tribute.




April 2, 2023

3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
Bradshaw-Carter Memorial & Funeral Services
1734 W. Alabama St
Houston, Texas 77098

Celebration of Life
April 2, 2023

4:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Bradshaw-Carter Memorial & Funeral Services
1734 W. Alabama St
Houston, Texas 77098


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