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Bernard Hanson: In Memoriam

posted by CAA — Sep 22, 2009

Jay Garfield is Doris Silbert Professor in the Humanities, professor of philosophy, and director of the Logic Program and of the Five College Tibetan Studies in India Program at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. He is also professor in the graduate faculty of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, professor of philosophy at Melbourne University, and adjunct professor of philosophy at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies.

Bernard Allen Hanson, an art historian, critic, professor, and administrator, died on June 21, 2009, after a short illness. He was 86. For years he was recognized around New Haven, Connecticut, by his blue pickup truck with its elegantly lettered moniker, “Bernard Hanson. Art Critic.”

The youngest of five children, Hanson was born to Stephen Bernard (Bert) Hanson and Stella Cook Hanson on October 11, 1922, in Williamsburg, Iowa. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 1944 with a degree in English. While at the university he was a two-time Big Ten gymnastics champion, performing on the side horse, and was a member of the Scottish Highlanders. He earned his MA in art history at the same school and pursued doctoral research at New York University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Hanson enjoyed a distinguished career in art history. His research, teaching, and public lectures addressed the history of Indian art, the nature of public art, the history of architecture, and film theory. Hanson was not only a noted scholar, but also an eminent academic leader and a public intellectual. His teaching career spanned four decades, and included appointments at Northwestern University, the Philadelphia College of Art, and the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford. Hanson served as director of the Humanities Division at the Philadelphia College of Art and as dean at the Hartford School of Art from 1970 to 1979 before returning to the teaching faculty until his retirement in 1987.

Hanson said once in an interview, “Before people are anything, they are human beings, and education in an art school should be basically humanistic,” and his approach to teaching, to academic leadership, and to public comment on the arts reflected this sentiment. His tenure as dean at Hartford was notable for the steady stream of distinguished artists he invited to visit the school, for the installations and happenings he initiated, for the vibrancy of the community under his leadership, and for his curricular innovations, encouraging broader academic study by art students. The Hartford Art School recently recognized his contributions by endowing the Bernard Hanson Scholarship for promising artists with financial need.

Hanson was a noted New England art critic, contributing for over two decades to the West Hartford News, the Hartford Courant (where he received an honorable mention in a national art criticism competition sponsored by Art/World Magazine), and the Middletown Press. His columns were noteworthy for their ability to bring serious erudition to bear in commentary accessible to ordinary readers.

After retiring from the University of Hartford, Hanson volunteered in Literacy Volunteers of America and as a teacher’s aide in Miss DeNuzzo’s second-grade class at the East Rock School in New Haven. He derived as much joy from contributing in these contexts as he did from his academic career.

Hanson was preceded in death by his wife and fellow art historian, Anne Coffin Hanson. He is survived by his daughter, Bridget, his stepchildren Robert, James, and Blaine Garson, his nephew Stephen, and their families, as well as his beloved dog, Sheldon.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Bernard Hanson Endowed Scholarship at the University of Hartford or the SPCA of Connecticut.

Filed under: Obituaries