Campus News

Bowdoin Museum Director to Retire

Story posted December 15, 1997


BRUNSWICK, Maine -- Katharine J. Watson, director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, has announced that she will retire on June 30, 1998. Watson has served as director of the museum since 1977, overseeing a collection of more than 14,000 art objects. From 1977 to 1985, she also served as director of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum on the Bowdoin campus.

"Katharine Watson's service to the College, scholarship and leadership in the arts community nationwide have been exemplary," said Susan A. Kaplan, acting dean of academic affairs. "Katharine has helped make the Bowdoin museum a nationally recognized center of culture and learning. Her commitment and devotion to the arts and to Bowdoin will be missed."Kaplan will announce plans for a search for Watson's successor at a later date.

A native of Raleigh, N.C., Watson earned her bachelor's degree at Duke University. before earning her master's and doctorate degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the recipient of numerous fellowships and grants, including a Kress Foundation Fellowship and a Chester Dale Fellowship from the National Gallery of Art. She has been a Fellow of the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies and of the American Council of Learned Studies.

From 1969 to 1970, Watson was an instructor of art history and curator of exhibitions at the University of Pittsburgh. From 1973 to 1977, she was a curator of art before 1800 at Oberlin College's Allen Memorial Art Museum, co-editor of the museum's Bulletin, and a lecturer in art history at Oberlin College.

Watson has published numerous scholarly articles on Renaissance and Baroque sculpture. Her dissertation was on Pietro Tacca, a Florentine sculptor in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, who was successor to the Mannerist artist Giambologna as court sculptor to the Grand Dukes of Tuscany. In 1978, she contributed essays and entries to the catalogue for the international exhibition on Giambologna, organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

From 1982 to 1986, Watson served as a member of the Accreditation Commission for the American Association of Museums and from 1985 to 1987 as gubernatorial appointee to the Maine Arts Commission. In 1990, she was elected to the Smithsonian Council, a 25-member panel of eminent scholars and scientists who guide the Smithsonian Institution in developing activities for the advancement of knowledge in science, history and the arts.

She has served as a trustee for the Williamstown Regional Art Conservation Laboratory Inc., the Museum of Art of Ogunquit and the Surf Point Foundation. She has also served on numerous regional and national advisory committees.Watson is married to Paul L. Nyhus, a Bowdoin history professor.

As director of the Bowdoin museum, Watson focused on care and strengthening of the collections, particularly in the areas of works on paper, preservation of the Walker Art Building, the museum's home, and coordination of the design for climate control of the historic building. She oversaw the planning of an active and varied exhibition program accompanied by publications of exceptional quality, among which are "Old Master Drawings at Bowdoin College" by David P. Becker and "The Legacy of James Bowdoin III," a series of essays by distinguished scholars on the origin and traditions of Bowdoin's art, scientific and library collections for the College's 1994 bicentennial.

Another major museum project during her directorship was "The Architecture of Bowdoin College" by Patricia M. Anderson. In recent years, Watson has focused on fundamental re-orientation of the museum toward greater integration with the College's academic program, including the writing of a new mission, long-range plan and collections' policy.

She has raised foundation support for the museum's activities including important grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Henry Luce Foundation. During more than two decades as director, Watson has initiated collaboration with academic departments and programs across the College.

The museum has become a center for interdisciplinary scholarship and creativity, and a vital presence in teaching. Many of the Bowdoin students who have worked as museum assistants are now distinguished art professionals; their training and continuing mentoring have been and continue to be an essential part of Watson's directorship.

About the Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Bowdoin's art collection, which was one of the earliest formed in the United States, came into existence through the 1811 bequest by James Bowdoin III of 141 Old Master drawings and 70 paintings.

The Walker Art Building, which now houses the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, was built in 1894 as a memorial to Theophilus Wheeler Walker of Boston, a cousin of Bowdoin's fourth president, Leonard Woods.The funds for the building's construction were donated by Walker's nieces, Harriet Sarah and Mary Sophia Walker.

Among the museum's collections are paintings, drawings, prints and woodcuttings by Winslow Homer; American colonial and federal portraits; sculpture, vases, terra cottas, gems and coins from the ancient world; and prints, paintings and drawings by John Sloan and Rockwell Kent.

The museum scheduled temporary exhibitions of art lent by individuals or institutions throughout the United States.

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