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Pamela Z. Blum: In Memoriam

posted by CAA — Oct 23, 2015

Pamela Z. Blum, a historian of medieval art noted for her innovative iconographical and archeological work distinguishing original from restored sculpture at the Royal Abbey Church of Saint-Denis in Paris, and for her contributions to studies of the provenance of limestone used in medieval sculpture, died on August 6, 2015, in North Branford, Connecticut. She was 92. The cause of death was a sudden, undefined cardiovascular event.

Blum became an art historian relatively late in life. She was a homemaker for twenty-four years before she discovered her calling in the churches of East Anglia while spending a year in Cambridge. Her interest in medieval art grew from making rubbings of the commemorative brass plaques in the surrounding churches into a serious intellectual pursuit inspired by the medieval art-history lectures of Nikolaus Pevsner at Cambridge University. Blum enrolled in Yale University Graduate School in 1968 at the age of 45, obtained an MA and an MPhil, and was awarded a PhD in history of art in 1978.

Blum established her reputation at the Royal Abbey Church of Saint-Denis in France. Using a toothbrush and camera, she worked high up on scaffolding erected along the abbey’s façades to reveal, distinguish, and document the original from the restored elements of the sculpture there. She continued to study and publish her findings on the Royal Abby throughout her career, including codirected studies sponsored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on the provenance of limestone used in medieval sculpture. These studies were noted for their intellectually stimulating collaborations among scientists, archeologists, and art historians.

She edited and contributed to the book The Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis: From Its Beginning to the Death of Suger, 475–1151 and authored Early Gothic Saint-Denis: Restorations and Survivals. She wrote or cowrote articles such as “Fingerprinting the Stone at Saint-Denis: A Pilot Study” (Gesta) and“The Sculptures of the Salisbury Chapter-house” (Salisbury Cathedral Medieval Publications Art and Architecture),among many other articles that appeared in Gesta and CAA’s Art Journal, and in commemorative compendiums honoring her mentor, Sumner McKnight Crosby.

Blum taught at many institutions throughout her career, among them Columbia University, the International Center for Medieval Art at the Cloisters, Wesleyan University, and Yale University. Other positions included Miriam Sacher Visiting Fellow at St. Hilda’s College in Oxford, England.

Throughout her life Blum supported significant numbers of environmental and humanitarian causes. Kent Place School awarded her the Barbara Wright Biddison Distinguished Alumna Award in 2010. She was also an active alumna of Smith College and a vital member of New Haven’s intellectual community.

Blum was born in 1923 in Jersey City, New Jersery, to William A. Zink and the former Marjorie Powell. She attended Kent Place School in Summit, New Jersery, and graduated cum laude from Smith College in 1943, on an accelerated wartime program, with a BA in economics. She married John M. Blum in 1944. They were married for sixty-seven years when he died in 2011. She is survived by three children—Ann of Arlington, Massachusetts; Pamela of Kingston, New York; and Thomas of Dobbs Ferry, New York—and three grandchildren.

Published on October 23, 2015.

Filed under: Obituaries