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Art conservation graduate student Leah Bright challenges Earl Lewis to find the toned Japanese tissue repairs she made on a late 19th century Tlingit spruce root basket.
Earl Lewis, president of The Andrew W.
Mellon Foundation, spent a full day at the University of Delaware on
Tuesday, Nov. 3, sharing personal and professional stories with the UD
community, touring art conservation labs and sitting in on a research
seminar all before delivering a public lecture on the future of education.
Lewis, a distinguished social historian who became the foundations
sixth president in 2013, met in the morning with a group of students,
faculty and staff members in an informal Life Story session.
The discussion group, which met in the Mechanical Hall art gallery,
was a rare opportunity for participants to hear one anothers personal
accounts of how they made their way along different educational and
career paths, said Ann Ardis, director of UDs Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center and interim vice provost for graduate and professional education.
The group included graduate students in such fields as criminology,
disaster science management, history and climatology and an
undergraduate who has conducted research in Kenya and is planning to
attend law school.
Their backgrounds varied children of immigrants from Ghana and
Nigeria, a native of Sierra Leone who worked with former child soldiers
there before coming to the U.S., students who held jobs in counseling,
financial services and as a corrections officer before pursuing graduate
degrees. Some started college preparing for medical school but found a
passion for history or political science instead.
Education is a journey, Ardis said as the discussion session ended.
Youve given me a lot to think about in your own stories of how you
Lewis spoke to the group about his own education. Born in Virginia,
he described himself as a member of the transitional generation of
African Americans there, attending segregated schools until
desegregation came when he was in 10th grade. After that tumultuous
period, he said, he decided to leave his home state and attend college
He went on to earn a doctorate in history and to hold faculty
positions at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of
Michigan and Emory University, where he also served as provost and
executive vice president for academic affairs.
With academic administration, I found that I actually could make a
difference and have an effect on peoples lives, Lewis told the group.
He said he was about to take a job as a university president when he was
offered the opportunity to head the Mellon Foundation.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Earl Lewis (center right) meets with students, faculty and staff members following an informal discussion in Mechanical Hall.
Lewis said he called an old friend for advice, who summarized his
choices this way: begging for money or giving it away. He chose the
Mellon Foundation presidency, overseeing an organization that provided
grants of about $235 million in support of higher education and culture
The foundations mission is to strengthen, promote, and, where
necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to
human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic
In his role with Mellon, Lewis has championed the importance of
diversifying the academy, enhancing graduate education, re-envisioning
the liberal arts, exploring the role of digital tools for learning and
connecting universities to their communities. He is the author or
co-editor of seven books and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts
Also during his visit to UD, Lewis visited Winterthur Museum, where
he toured the conservation and scientific research laboratories and met
with students in the graduate Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC) and in preservation studies and with doctoral students in UDs art history curatorial program.
In the labs, students described their conservation and technical
study projects, including the scientific analysis and preservation of
Native American basketry, a painting from 1940 by Grandma Moses, a
Plexiglas cube by the artist Connie Fox, library materials and
hand-colored photographic postcards from the 19th century and an export
Chinese lacquer sewing cabinet
WUDPAC, a three-year program whose students earn a masters degree,
is one of only five graduate programs in art conservation in North
America and one of only two jointly sponsored between a university and a
The curatorial track for doctoral art history students was launched
in 2011 with the support of a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon
Foundation. The program is one of only a handful in the country to
prepare future curators for careers in specialized historical art
Dr. Lewis connection to and engagement with our graduate students
and faculty was energizing, and his visit enjoyed and appreciated by
all, said Debra Hess Norris, Unidel Henry Francis du Pont Chair in Fine
Arts and director of WUDPAC.
After the Winterthur visit, Lewis returned to the Newark campus to
attend a research seminar with faculty and staff affiliated with the
College of Arts and Sciences Center for the Study of Diversity.
Late Tuesday afternoon, he delivered a talk, titled Why Learn: In Search of Higher Educations Future, as part of UDs Thought Leader Speaker Series.