Art School Names New Dean

Richard Mead Atwater Benson, adjunct professor of photography, has been named dean of the Yale University School of Art, beginning July 1, 1996, University President Richard Levin announced today. He will replace David Pease, who has been dean since 1983.

“I am extremely pleased that Professor Benson has accepted Yale’s offer to lead the School of Art for the next five years,” says President Levin. “As an artist of the first rank, Professor Benson embodies the creative distinction that the School of Art has come to represent. I know that his energy, high standards, and passion for artistic excellence will help the school continue to nurture and train the important artists of the future. I join the faculty of the School of Art, and all those who care about the school, in enthusiastically welcoming Professor Benson to this leadership position.”

Professor Benson, who has taught at Yale since 1979, is one of the most innovative and widely admired printers and photographers of our day. Born in Newport, Rhode Island, he graduated from St. George’s School in 1961 and briefly attended Brown University. He studied at the U.S. Navy Optical Repair School in Great Lakes, Illinois, and the Art Student’s League in New York, took figure drawing from Robert Lamb in Providence, Rhode Island, and learned stone carving at the John Stevens Shop in Newport, Rhode Island, then his brother’s shop, founded in 1702 and thought by many to be “the oldest business in continuous operation on the same site” in the United States. Between 1966-1972 he worked at the Meriden Gravure Company in Meriden, Connecticut, under the tutelage of E. Harold Hugo. He has had his own printing and photography studio since the mid-1960s.

In 1974 Professor Benson was co-author, with Lincoln Kirstein, of “Lay This Laurel,” an album of photographs of the Augustus St. Gaudens Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw, published by Leslie George Katz of The Eakins Press Foundation. He has worked on the production and printing of many books, including “The American Monument,” photographs by Lee Friedlander; for Jay Mellon, “The Face of Lincoln,” published by Viking Press; “The Work of Atget” four volumes, for the Museum of Modern Art; and he co-authored and printed the large, limited edition book, “Photographs of The Gilman Collection” for the Gilman Paper Company, called by some “the finest photographic reproductions ever made,” copies of which quickly became collector’s items. He has shown his work for many years at The Washburn Gallery in New York City, and his photographs appear in many private and museum collections. Among his many honors and awards are a five-year MacArthur Foundation Award and two John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowships. In 1990, The New Yorker Magazine published a long profile of his life and work by Calvin Tomkins. Professor Benson’s continuing scholarly interest, manifest in his printing and photographic work, is in the historical and artistic relationship between printing, photography, and the computer.

The study of the visual arts at Yale began with the opening in 1832 of the Trumbull Gallery, founded by patriot-artist, Colonel John Trumbull, one-time aide-de-camp to General Washington. It was one of the very first art museums in the world. Yale’s School of Fine Arts was established in 1864, thanks to the generosity of Augustus Russell Street, and formally opened in 1869. It was the first American art school affiliated with an institution of higher learning. >From its beginning, the Art School admitted women students, and the first woman granted a degree by Yale was Josephine Miles Lewis 1891, an art student.

Today Yale’s School of Art offers professional instruction in four areas: graphic design, painting/printmaking, photography, and sculpture, leading to the degree of Master of Fine Arts. In addition, the School of Art offers an undergraduate major for students of Yale College. The faculty is comprised of artists of acknowledged accomplishment who represent a broad range of styles. Josef Albers, Bernard Chaet, Gretna Campbell, Walker Evans, and Jack Tworkov are among those who have held pivotal faculty positions.

Distinguished alumni of the School of Art include portraitist Deane Keller, cartoonist Robert Osborne, and painter Leonard Baskin, and more recently, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Ivan Chermayeff, Chuck Close, Sheila de Bretteville, Rackstraw Downes, Howardena Pindell, Richard Serra, and many others. In a typical year, 750-800 applicants compete for the 50-60 slots in the entering class of the graduate program. Well over 90 percent of those admitted each year choose to enroll.

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