Dean Porter, director emeritus of the Snite Museum of Art and professor emeritus of art, art history and design at the University of Notre Dame, died Sept. 1. He was 83.
A native of Gouverneur in upstate New York, Porter earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the State University of New York at Binghamton.
His dream of working someday at Notre Dame came to reality in 1966 when he became curator of the University’s art gallery. Eight years later he was appointed director of the Snite — then under construction and completed in 1980 — a position he served in for the next 25 years. He taught in the Department of Art, Art History and Design from 1966 until his full retirement in 2001.
Under Porter’s leadership, the Snite became widely acknowledged as one of the outstanding university art museums in the country, now with a permanent collection of more than 30,000 works. He also grew the staff, education programs and endowment.
Exceptional holdings include the Kress Collection of Renaissance Art, the Jack and Alfrieda Feddersen Collection of Rembrandt Etchings, the Noah L. and Muriel Butkin Collection of 19th-Century French Art, the John D. Reilly Collection of Old Master Drawings, the Janos Scholz Collection of 19th Century European Photographs, a collection of Ivan Mestrovic sculptures, the George Rickey Sculpture Archive, and the Virginia A. Marten Collection of Decorative Arts. Other collection strengths include Mesoamerican art, 20th-century art, Native American art, African art, Old Master paintings, and decorative and design arts.
An accomplished artist in his own right, Porter painted in watercolor and oil with a particular focus on the American Southwest. He mounted more than three dozen solo exhibitions nationwide and was the author of numerous scholarly books and articles.
Porter first visited New Mexico in 1974 and for the rest of his career was a recognized authority on the art of the Southwest. He played an integral role in the creation of the Lunder Research Center, which is dedicated to the early Taos, New Mexico, art colony and the Taos Society of Artists, a group of 12 artists established in 1915 that contributed to the development of Taos into an international art center. The research center’s main gallery is named in Porter’s honor.
“For many years, scholars searching for information on the Taos Society of Artists have been required to travel extensively to access original sources,” Porter said not long before his passing. “Research has been continually hampered by the time and expense required to retrieve valuable research material. With the opening of the Lunder Research Center for the Taos Society of Artists, scholars will finally have access to documents and papers on all 12 artists.”
Porter is survived by his wife, Carol, three daughters, a son-in-law, four grandchildren and many in-laws, nieces, nephews and cousins.
Private celebrations of Porter’s life will be announced at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be considered for: The Lunder Research Center, https://couse-sharp.org/donate or the DuBrava Porter Endowment at the Center for Social Concerns at Notre Dame, https://giving.nd.edu/