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Dean Allen Porter

June 13, 1939 ~ September 1, 2022 (age 83)

Obituary

On Thursday, September 1, 2022, as the sun reached its highest point in the sky, Dr. Dean A. Porter smiled, handed his earthly paintbrush and pen to his wife, daughters, and granddaughters, and took his last breath.  Heaven celebrated his arrival with a symphony of billowing clouds dotting the bluest of skies he so loved. 

Dean was the firstborn son of Arnold W. Porter and Gertrude Hurley McKean Porter, born in Gouverneur, New York, on Tuesday, June 13, 1939.  The son of the Chief of Police and a homemaker who insisted her boys keep their hair short and neat, Dean was also big brother to Robert.  The boys reveled in everything sports, playing baseball, basketball, and hockey and improvising when the family budget didn’t allow for a new hockey stick.  In fact, both Porter boys were raised to work hard, cutting lawns, shoveling sidewalks, and delivering newspapers, so penny candy, a Sunday movie, or a new basketball were never far from their reach.

Though Dean is a lifetime son of Gouverneur, as a child, he always dreamed of working for Notre Dame.  Imagine that?

His first stop before Notre Dame was the State University of New York (SUNY)-Binghamton, where he earned his BA and MA.  Later, he would also earn his PhD in Art History, becoming the first triple-graduate in SUNY-Binghamton history.  The school’s seal, still prominent today, was designed by none other than Dean, when he was a fledgling art student.

It was at SUNY that Dean met the love of his life, Carol DuBrava.  At first, this tall, handsome, and somewhat bullish young man didn’t stand a chance with the pretty professional.  Yet, with hard work, perseverance, and a bit of groveling, the two went on to marry, start a family, and live joyfully as partners, best friends, and members of the Catholic church for more than sixty years.    

If one were to ask Dean to describe the highlight from forty years of service to Notre Dame, he would give you one answer: the people.  He enjoyed warm and close relationships with members of the Congregation of Holy Cross, including Fathers Beauchamp, Burtchaell, Collins, Conyers, Flanigan, Hesburgh, Joyce, Lauck, and Malloy, among many others.  He delighted in their support of the Museum and the doors each opened to collections such as Ufer, Higgins, and Meštrović.  And, of course, Notre Dame’s students and benefactors, each of whom brought life, light, and friendship into the Snite.  As Dean often said, “Museums should be for everyone, by everyone.”  His joie de vivre was contagious and made art exciting and accessible for all.    

Finally, Dean adored his Snite colleagues and attributed the success of the Museum to its team extraordinaire.  Ann, Doug Bradley, Greg Denby, Joann Mack, Iris Mensing, Steve Spiro, Heidi Williams, and others: thank you for loving Dean, despite his addiction to broadcasting Yanni’s Greatest Hits throughout the Snite offices.  We love you for this and for being part of our family.  

When Dean retired from the Directorship after forty years, Notre Dame’s Snite Museum of Art was widely recognized as one of the best college museums in the country, both in content and in character.  Dean presided over a collection, both temporary and permanent which included Picasso’s Le Miroir, Chagall’s Le Grand Cirque, and notable other artists including Charles Marion Russell, Frederic Remington, François Boucher, and Ivan Meštrović.  During Dean’s tenure, over 48 million visitors were treated to a visual arts experience rivaling that of our world’s great cities.  Before his retirement, his Notre Dame family agreed:

Said Lou Holtz, “You are the embodiment of the best and you have succeeded in bringing worldwide recognition to the Snite.”  Former Snite Advisory Council member Dorothy Griffin echoed, “Dean is one of my most favorite and admired persons and the steady growth of the Snite is a very tangible tribute to his talent.”  Former University President Edward (Monk) Malloy went on to say, “keep your hand on your wallet when you have lunch with Dean Porter,” while former University Executive Vice President Edmund (Ned) Joyce shared a similar perspective, “it was very difficult to say no to Dean about anything which improved the Snite Museum.”   

Other university museum directors added their thoughts:

“When I first met Dean at the Association of Art Museum Directors’ meetings,” reflected Georgia Museum Director Emeritus Dr. William Eiland, “I thought, this man must be at the wrong convention.  He’s not stuffy; he’s not arrogant.  He’s genuinely nice.”  Echoed Cornell University’s Dr. Frank Robinson, “Dean is truly the dean of all university museum directors.  What he has created at the Snite is the model of a true learning museum, a museum where all of us become students and experience the pleasure of learning again!”

While many will measure Dean’s life by his work at the Snite, his greatest legacy is still in the making.  From the seeds first planted by Fathers Lauck and Hesburgh and the Higgins and Klauer families, Dean became a nationally known scholar and author who devoted much of his career to studying and writing about the Taos Society of Artists.   

Prior to his passing, Dean commented, “For many years, scholars searching for information on the Society have been required to travel extensively to access original sources.  Research has been continually hampered by the time and expense required to retrieve valuable research material.”

Dean played a key role in attracting the support necessary to open a research center and museum facility dedicated to the early Taos art colony and the Taos Society of Artists.  Today, construction is complete on The Lunder Research Center at Couse-Sharp Historic Site, the state-of-the-art facility which provides researchers with access to documents and papers on all twelve of the Society’s artists.  With the opening of The Lunder Research Center for the Taos Society of Artists, scholars now have access to documents and papers on the Society in one location, in Taos, the town where the art was created.

The Center’s main gallery is named in honor of Dr. Dean A. Porter.  Together, Dean and his wife, Carol, donated their Mission furniture collection to furnish the entire Lunder Research Center.  His family looks forward to continuing to build upon both Dean and Carol’s legacy. 

Dean is survived by his honey, Carol, daughters, Kellie, Tracie, and Connie, son-in-law Rob, grandchildren Julianna, Andrew, Stephen, and Alexandra, brother Bob, in-laws Carrie, Bob, Barbara, June, Steve, Elaine, Cindy, and Ted, nephews Rich, David, Philip, Jeff, Bill, Bob, Brian, Clark, Edward, nieces Jennifer, Michelle, and Caroline, cousins Michaeleen and David, Mary Lou and Matt, and Andrea and Joseph (and all of their families), four-leggers Maggie, Blue, and Bubbles, and countless friends who are all family. 

Private celebrations of Dean’s life will be announced later.  In lieu of flowers, please consider contributing to:

The Lunder Research Center at Couse-Sharp Historic Site

c/o The Couse Foundation
P.O. Box 1436
Taos, New Mexico 87571

https://couse-sharp.org/donate

The DuBrava Porter Endowment at the Center for Social Concerns

c/o Department of Development

University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame, Indiana 46556

https://giving.nd.edu/

 

Dean Porter Anecdotes

Grandson Stephen:  He tells really good Dad jokes.  What did the mommy tomato say to the baby tomato?  “Catch up with me!”

Boss, Father Ted Hesburgh:  Dean recognizes one of the greatest pieces of wisdom is to be able to change one’s mind.

Friends, Liz and Skip:  He is the consummate matchmaker! (a sentiment echoed by one of Dean’s undergraduate students who enlisted Dean’s participation in a marriage proposal in front of Françoise Boucher’s Offering of a Rose)

Daughter, Kellie:  Our weekly Pizza Hut lunches and Tommy’s diner…the best of times.

Colleagues:  Yanni’s music.  Always playing in the office.  Always.    

Friend, Ken Lindsay:  Paintings, woodcuts, watercolors, museum director, author, and the list goes on.  From a small town in upstate NY his career took flight like that baseball and no one can guess how far or where it still will go. 

Friend, Don Vogl:  We’d often receive a show at the Snite loading dock one day before opening.  Once the art was unpackaged, we’d stay up all night painting the galleries, mounting the show on still-drying walls, editing labels with a pen knife.  I’d toss an open knife to Dean and he’d catch it, palm up, and we’d keep working.  The show must go on!

Friend, David Witt, Curator, Harwood Museum:  at the Sacred Site of the Taos Art Colony, Dean stumbled upon and then sat on Opuntia, which for decades guarded the premises with its sharp spines.  Thanks to Dean, Taos has fewer spines than it once did and has been tamed for civilization.  Botany’s loss is art history’s gain.  Dean risked life and limb in this wild country for the good of humanity. 

Taos Tour Participant:  Is he the natty gentleman on campus or the New Mexico figure in jeans?  Touring Taos with Dean is a whirlwind!

Painting Exhibition Participant:  I entered the restroom only to find it filled with ladies who just left a class led by none other than the famous Dean Porter.  They had all fallen for his charm and were chattering madly about him, what a great teacher and artist he is…and they wondered, did he wear a wig?  I dashed to the stage and told him the story, only later realizing that another person might have been insulted.  But because Dean lovingly took up the duty of teaching, he understood perfectly that they had a crush on their teacher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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