John Bachmann

John Bachmann. Provided

COLUMBIA — Though most widely known in business circles for his role at the helm of national financial services firm Edward Jones, John Bachmann also will be remembered as a patron of the arts in South Carolina.

John Bachmann died unexpectedly in Charleston last week following a brain hemorrhage, just a month short of his 81st birthday, according to his wife, Kay Bachmann.

But thanks to the Bachmanns, the capital city’s access to various works of art have been greatly expanded. The couple has funded a gallery in the Columbia Museum of Art, loans pieces in their collection for display and has jointly promised their collection to the museum upon their deaths.

“John and Kay are true philanthropists,” said Will South, chief curator for the Columbia Museum of Art. “It’s not just that they support the museum financially, they support our vision and they support what we do with art.”

“Subtract the Bachmanns and we would be a lesser institution,” South said.

The Bachmanns were wed in 1996, while Kay Bachmann was a law professor at the University of South Carolina. After they married, the couple split time between Columbia and Edward Jones' St. Louis headquarters.

Their involvement in the arts started with him.

Kay Bachmann said her husband often attended business seminars in New York City. Instead of scrambling to the airport after, he would go to The Metropolitan Museum of Art instead.

It was while the couple was serving on the board of the Saint Louis Art Museum that they realized the possibility of owning art like what they saw in museums, Kay Bachmann said. They started attending art auctions and collecting, largely American works dated from the mid-19th through early 20th centuries.

“They live with art themselves, so they know how it can change your life,” South said, and because of that, decided art shouldn’t just be for people who can afford paintings in their home. “It should be for everybody."

South said art elevates Columbia as a community and the Bachmanns understood it to be as much of a measure of a great city as any other component. 

Kay Bachmann said she and her husband chose to be patrons in Columbia because, while their collection may have “gone to the basement” in a bigger museum with more access to art, here it could make a difference. They often collected with the museum in mind.

Through Jan. 12, visitors to the Columbia Museum of Art's Van Gogh exhibit can see a painting by French artist Eugene Boudin displayed on loan from the Bachmanns. Though he normally stuck to American art, Boudin was a foreign artist John Bachmann had long admired.

“Most collectors don’t ever stretch like that,” South said. “John would stretch. If there was something he liked and it was within his means, he would look at it.”

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John Bachmann most appreciated landscape paintings, South said, and the boldness of painters trying to match the beauty of nature.

“John would look at that and say, ‘Job well done,' ” South said.

Professionally, Bachmann was the first head of Edward Jones outside the founding family. Under his leadership, the company went from about 220 offices in 1980 to 9,075 when he stepped down in 2003, based on his vision for serving the individual investor in communities big and small. During his reign, the firm’s advisers were known to go door to door seeking customers.

His charitable contributions were many, including donating his time to teach leadership courses at the University of South Carolina.

"As a donor and our first distinguished executive in residence, he has left a lasting impact on our school and its programs that will not soon be forgotten," said Darla Moore School of Business Dean Peter Brews. 

“He was just amazingly generous with people,” Kay Bachmann said. “He seemed to just be cut out that way.”

Jessica Holdman is a business reporter for The Post & Courier covering Columbia. Prior to moving to South Carolina, she reported on business in North Dakota for The Bismarck Tribune and has previously written for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash.