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John Howett: In Memoriam

posted by CAA — May 13, 2009

Clark V. Poling is professor emeritus of art history at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

John Howett

John Howett

John Howett, professor of art history at Emory University for thirty years, died on April 8, 2009, at the age of 82. A founding member of the Art History Department and active with numerous arts organizations in Atlanta, he nurtured the careers of many artists and undergraduate and graduate students both in art history and in the interdisciplinary Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts.

After serving with the US infantry in the Philippines and Japan during World War II, Howett began his career in art as a student at the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, Indiana, earning a BFA. He received an MA and PhD from the University of Chicago in Illinois, specializing in early Italian Renaissance art; during this time he was curator of the University of Notre Dame Art Gallery as well as associate professor at that university.

Arriving at Emory in 1966, Howett helped develop the Art History Department and its graduate program, summer-abroad program in Europe, and collection of works of art on paper, which subsequently became part of Emory’s Michael C. Carlos Museum. He was revered as a teacher and mentor, having received the Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award, the Award for Outstanding Teaching and Service to Undergraduate Students, and the Arts and Sciences Award of Distinction. Recently, a former student established the John Howett Travel Fund for Advanced Undergraduate Seminars in Art History in his honor.

Howett was instrumental in the decision to select Michael Graves as the architect of the Carlos Museum. In recognition of his contributions there, including serving as curator for a number of exhibitions of works on paper, a gallery in the museum is named in his honor, as is the newly established John Howett Works on Paper Fund. Howett has also been awarded the Woolford B. Baker Award for service to the museum and the arts at Emory.

When Howett arrived in Atlanta in the sixties, the civil rights movement was at its height, and he became active in antiwar and social-justice efforts. He was an ardent supporter of the arts community in the city, serving on the boards of the Atlanta College of Art, Art Papers, the Arts Festival of Atlanta, Nexus Contemporary Art Center, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Georgia. A board member of the High Museum of Art for two decades, he helped in the choice of Richard Meier as architect of its new building completed in 1983. The many exhibitions for which he served as curator—at the High, the Carlos, and galleries in Atlanta—included contemporary art as well as Renaissance and Baroque illuminations, prints, and drawings. His championing of Atlanta artists in exhibitions and publications aided many careers and contributed to the burgeoning arts community.

Howett was a model of the publicly engaged academic: kind, humorous, wise, and spirited in navigating the shoals of university politics and bureaucracy and bridging the gap between academia and the broader community.

Filed under: Obituaries