The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
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The Institute of Fine Arts

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IN October, 1928, the Carnegie Corporation granted to the Board of Regents the sum of $20,000 annually for a period of five years for the purpose of promoting the teaching of the history of the fine arts and of stimulating creative work in them. As a result of this gift the Regents, in January, 1929, created the Division of Fine Arts and appointed Professor John Garrett Winter as Director, to administer the funds and to organize projects along lines intended by the grant. The director was made responsible to the President and the Board of Regents.

In 1931, when the College of Architecture was separated from the College of Engineering and was established as an independent unit, the definition of the Division was restated by the Regents and was made to include specifically the College of Architecture, the Department of Fine Arts (in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts), the Department of Landscape Design (also, at that time, in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, but now in the College of Architecture and Design), the courses in play production (a part of the Department of Speech and General Linguistics in the Literary College), and the courses in creative art, which were under the immediate supervision of the director. The purpose of the Division was further defined as a grouping of the various units mentioned to co-ordinate various allied activities and to develop the general field of the fine arts along consistent, progressive, and unconflicting lines. This grouping did not, however, affect the general independence and budgetary provisions of the constituent units insofar as these had been specifically established prior to the creation of the Division of Fine Arts.

When advanced and graduate work in Islamic art was introduced by Mehmet Aga-Oglu and in Far Eastern art by Benjamin March in 1933, it was placed in the immediate charge of the director, and all graduate courses in the fine arts and all advanced degrees were put under the control and direction of the Division of Fine Arts. In May, 1936, the name Division of Fine Arts was changed by the Regents to Institute of Fine Arts, but no change was made in its organization.

In addition to developing the general program of correlating various activities and of establishing courses leading to advanced degrees, the Institute of Fine Arts has improved the facilities for teaching the history of art by assembling a large collection of prints and photographs, by equipping a study room as a special fine arts reference library, by adding to the material in the General Library, by organizing advanced instruction in Islamic and Far Eastern art, by introducing work in creative sculpture, and by providing exhibitions of paintings, sculpture, textiles, and etchings.

After the Carnegie grant expired, the University, in accordance with the terms of the gift, carried on the work that had been begun, but the budget was greatly reduced, and certain projects, especially creative work in painting, awaited development. The details of the various activities of the Institute can be found in the annual reports to the President (P.R., 1928-40). An enterprise of major importance since 1934 has been the publication by the Institute of Ars Islamica, a semiannual journal issued by the Research Seminary in Islamic Art, from special funds at the disposal of the University.

Mr. March died on December 13, 1934. Page  1142In the University he found the type of work in teaching and research for which he was ideally fitted, and his enthusiasm and happiness in it continued unabated to the end. In September, 1935, James Marshall Plumer was appointed Lecturer on Far-Eastern Art in the Division of Fine Arts, and Dr. Aga-Oglu's title was changed from Freer Fellow and Lecturer on Oriental Art to Associate Professor of the History of Islamic Art. Aga-Oglu left in 1938 and was replaced by Richard Ettinghausen. Plumer's courses, which originally were taught in the University Museums Building, have been given in Alumni Memorial Hall since 1939. Although he had been ill for several months, the death of Associate Professor Bruce M. Donaldson early in 1940 came as a shock to his colleagues in the Department of Fine Arts. Harold E. Wethey was appointed Associate Professor of Fine Arts and Chairman of the Department of Fine Arts in his place (see Part III: The Department of Fine Arts).

In addition to the members of the several units and departments who are directly responsible to their respective departmental officers and deans, the staff of the Institute of Fine Arts in 1940 comprised the following persons: Richard Ettinghausen, Associate Professor of the History of Islamic Art (since 1938), Avard T. Fairbanks, Associate Professor of Sculpture (since 1929), Helen B. Hall, Curator (since 1930), Helen Ladd, Assistant Curator (since 1939), Dorothy March Goss, Assistant (since 1935), James M. Plumer, Lecturer on Far Eastern Art (since 1935), and John G. Winter, Director (since 1929).


Announcement, Graduate School [Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, 1937-], Univ. Mich., 1928-40.
President's Report, Univ. Mich., 1928-40.
Proceedings of the Board of Regents …, 1931-40.
Far Eastern Art

The University had been interested in the Orient ever since President Angell had served as United States Minister to China in 1880-82. This interest was strengthened with the establishment of the Levi Barbour scholarships in 1917. In 1933, when the Detroit Institute of Arts discontinued the curatorship of Far Eastern art, the curator, Benjamin March (Ph.B. Chicago '22), came to the University to teach new courses in Far Eastern anthropology and art. He died in December, 1934, but 1935 saw the appointments of two men to carry on the work he had started. Mischa Titiev (Harvard '23, Ph.D. ibid. '35) came to teach anthropology, and James M. Plumer (Harvard '21, A.M. ibid. '37), who had been in Chinese government service, was appointed Lecturer on Far Eastern Art.

Introductory courses were offered in the art of India and China. The art of Japan and the art of Siam were taught in advanced courses. A regular course Page  1143was offered in Chinese ceramics, and in 1940 a graduate seminar entitled Our Pacific Heritage in Art was introduced.

The introductory courses were attended by fifteen to forty students a semester, with limited numbers admitted to advanced work. Special research has included investigations of early Chinese ceramics and of bronze mirrors, conducted both in Europe and in Ann Arbor under faculty research grants.

The quarters in Alumni Memorial Hall combine the facilities of seminar room, archeological study room, and office, and include a few exhibition cases. Frequent exhibitions have been held on the campus.

Oriental materials are made available to students in the School of Architecture and Design who are interested in techniques in the fields of painting, ceramics, textiles, or bronze casting.

Far Eastern art courses acceptable in the Oriental degree program were offered in three successive summer institutes of Far Eastern studies at Ann Arbor in 1937, 1938, and 1939. The attempt has been made not only to acquaint students with Far Eastern art but also to present it as documentary of an ancient culture and, contrary to the common aesthetic approach to art, to emphasize less the physical accomplishment and the sensory appeal of art than its meaning and metaphysical significance.


In the spring of 1929, as a result of the grant from the Carnegie Corporation, in order to stimulate creative work and thus promote one of the two objectives of the Carnegie Corporation in giving the money, Avard T. Fairbanks (B.F.A. Yale '25, Ph.D. Michigan '36) was appointed Associate Professor of Fine Arts. He had studied at the École Nationale des Beaux Arts and at the Grande Chaumière Academie Colarossi under such teachers as James E. Fraser, G. Rossi, A. E. Zardo, and Dante Sodini. He was a Guggenheim fellow in 1927-28 and came to Michigan from the University of Oregon, where he had served as assistant professor of art from 1920 to 1927. Examples of his work include the State Memorial of Idaho, the memorial to Pioneer Mothers in Vancouver, Washington, the 91st Division memorial, medals, and busts.

With a selected group of students who were interested in sculpture, Fairbanks organized his classes on the fourth floor of University Hall. Life studies were instituted, and the students were given creative compositions to develop. The aim of the work was to train students in the technique and appreciation of sculpture. These classes have continued to attract a small but interested group of students. When the Carnegie grant terminated after five years, the program in sculpture was continued as one of the units of the Institute of Fine Arts.

Each spring an exhibition of the work of Professor Fairbanks and his students was held in the Michigan League and was viewed by thousands of visitors. In connection with the exhibit a small illustrated catalogue was published.

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THE University of Michigan was the first institution in the United States to establish a chair of the history of Islamic art and to have a special unit devoted to its study. In June, 1933, Mehmet Aga-Oglu (Litt.D. Moscow '16, Ph.D. Vienna '27) was appointed Freer Fellow and Lecturer on Oriental Art. Dr. Aga-Oglu, a Turkish scholar, had received his education in Berlin, Moscow, Jena, and Vienna and had come to the United States in 1929 to be curator of Near Eastern art at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Miss Isabel Hubbard ('29, M.A. '35) was appointed Assistant Curator and assisted Dr. Aga-Oglu in the work of organization.

A program of courses, publications, and research activities for a proposed research seminary in Islamic art was drawn up in 1933 (Ruthven, pp. 285-88). The curriculum was designed particularly for advanced students who were interested in future museum work or in teaching, but it also offered a unique opportunity for students of fine arts and Oriental civilizations to round out their programs of study. General courses in the history of Islamic architecture and the decorative arts such as carpets, pottery, and glass were outlined. A course, Introduction to the History of Islamic Art (Fine Arts 181), was given by Dr. Aga-Oglu in the first semester. It was attended by six graduate students, one senior, and several visitors.

In addition to the courses it was planned to publish a journal, Ars Islamica, which was to contain articles by various scholars in the field, and also a series of monographs to be contributed by members of the Research Seminary in Islamic Art. The first number of Ars Islamica, edited by Aga-Oglu, appeared in January, 1934. Subscriptions came from all parts of the world, and the journal received an enthusiastic welcome internationally. To stimulate public interest in this comparatively little-known field the Research Seminary in Islamic Art sponsored many public lectures, three of which were given the first year.

In the autumn of 1934 Aga-Oglu was granted a leave of absence to represent the University and to take part in the program of the International Congress of Orientalists and the millennial celebration of the Persian poet, Firdausi, held in the cities of Teheran and Tus, Iran. He was accompanied on this expedition by Peter Ruthven, a graduate student of Islamic art. Of special interest was Aga-Oglu's study of the shrine at Nedjef, where he photographed many examples of rugs and textiles hitherto unknown to the western world. During the remainder of the year 1934-35 he also conducted an extension course in Detroit, and in the summer of 1935 he conducted courses in Islamic art at Princeton University.

A large exhibition of Islamic decorative art was arranged at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and two smaller exhibits of similar material were assembled in Alumni Memorial Hall. The Research Seminary in Islamic Art began to draw prominent visitors, among whom was Professor L. A. Mayer, a noted Islamic scholar from Palestine, who gave a public lecture on Saracenic heraldry in the spring of 1935.

Page  1145After the proposed plan had been in successful operation for two years, in May, 1935, the Regents recognized the Research Seminary in Islamic Art as part of the Division of Fine Arts, and in September of that year Aga-Oglu was promoted to Associate Professor of the History of Islamic Art. Further recognition was given to the Research Seminary in Islamic Art by its election to honorary membership in the Institut d'Archéologie et d'Historie de L'Art, a branch of the Institut International de Cooperation Intellectuelle. In 1935 Aga-Oglu's book, Persian Bookbindings of the Fifteenth Century, appeared as a monograph from the University Press. It presented a selection of characteristic specimens from the period in which Persian bookbinders produced their best work.

During the first two years of organization a collection of slides and photographs was built up, and in 1935, after the Research Seminary in Islamic Art had been made a part of the Division of Fine Arts, the work was expanded. New quarters were obtained in Angell Hall, and room 4006 was made a study room, containing a collection of books, slide cases, study tables, photograph files, magazine racks, and office equipment. Magazines were received regularly as exchange or review copies. Exhibits of Islamic wood, Islamic and Coptic textiles, and pottery were arranged from the University's own collections, and there was also a loan exhibition of Islamic decorative art.

To continue its plan of stimulating interest in Islamic art the Research Seminary organized a series of eight lectures which were presented by members of the faculty in their own special fields of Near Eastern culture. Those participating were Professors Worrell, Boak, C. Hopkins, E. E. Peterson, Aga-Oglu, and Mrs. Adele Weibel from the Detroit Institute of Arts.

In 1936-37 the teaching curriculum included five lecture courses and five seminars. Ars Islamica was edited by Aga-Oglu with the following consultative committee: Laurence Binyon, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Maurice S. Dimand, Halil Ethem, Albert Gabriel, Ernst Herzfeld, Ernst Kühnel, John E. Lodge, Alexander G. Ruthven, Friedrich Sarre, Josef Strzygowski, Gaston Wiet, and John G. Winter. The first volume was a joint enterprise of the University and the Detroit Institute of Arts, but beginning with the second volume (1935) the University took full responsibility for the publication. The articles, contributed without honorarium, were printed in one of three languages, French, German, or English. In four years Ars Islamica was well established in its unique position as the only journal devoted to Islamic art, and it has received continued recognition for its high standards.

The curriculum established in the fall of 1936 was continued in 1937-38. A second lecture series was organized with the following persons participating, W. C. Rufus, J. W. Stanton, C. Hopkins, R. McDowell, J. Plumer, and M. Aga-Oglu.

In March, 1938, Professor Eustache de Lorey, of the École de Louvre, Paris, a distinguished scholar in the field of Islamic art, appeared on the University Lecture Series.

In May, 1938, Dr. Aga-Oglu resigned. He was succeeded by Richard Ettinghausen (Ph.D. Frankfurt '31), who in August, 1938, became Associate Professor of Islamic Art. In 1940 there were twenty-two graduate students, and one degree of doctor of philosophy was conferred.

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Aga-Oglu, Mehmet. "Islamic Art in San Francisco."Mich. Alum. Quart. Rev., 43 (1937): 566-68.
Aga-Oglu, Mehmet. Persian Bookbindings of the Fifteenth Century. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich. Press, 1935.
Aga-Oglu, Mehmet. "Pilgrimage to the Tomb of Firdausi."Mich. Alum. Quart. Rev., 18 (1935): 611-18.
Announcement, Graduate School [Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, 1937-], Univ. Mich., 1935-40.
Ars Islamica. Ed. by Mehmet Aga-Oglu. Univ. Mich., 1934-40.
President's Report, Univ. Mich., 1933-40.
Proceedings of the Board of Regents …, 1932-40.
Ruthven, Peter. "The Research Seminary in Islamic Art."Mich. Alum. Quart. Rev., 42 (1936): 285-88.