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A large crowd turned out at the Mahaney Center for the Arts to wish Emmie Donadio well at her retirement party.

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Emmie Donadio Reflects on 28 Years at Middlebury

February 6, 2018

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – One of Emmie Donadio’s fondest memories of her 28 years at the Middlebury Museum of Art was curating the 13 Alumni Artists exhibition in celebration of the College’s bicentennial.

“I loved doing that alumni exhibition in 2000, for which I also had the pleasure of serving as a juror,” she said. “I visited nearly all 13 of the artists in their studios, from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York, and talked with them about which of their works would go into the exhibition.”

Speaking from her office just down the hall from the museum, Donadio apologized for the clutter of boxes, folders, papers, books, and brochures stacked on every surface. The energetic and much-admired Middlebury staff member retires this month from her position as curator of modern and contemporary art and director of programs and events—two of the many titles she has held over the years.

“One of the artists in that exhibition was the painter Peter Krashes ’85, who was a former student of both my husband’s and mine. As always in this job, there would be echoes of my former life in the curatorial projects that I worked on.”

Donadio first arrived at Middlebury in 1977 with her husband, Stephen, who was joining the faculty as a professor of American literature. (They had been to the Bread Loaf School of English the year before.) With her master’s degree from Columbia, she taught sections of Middlebury’s introductory course in art history as a part-time faculty member here and at the University of Vermont. It was not until 1989 that she came to work at the Museum of Art as acting director for one year. And when Director Richard Saunders returned from leave, Donadio stayed on as assistant director at the museum, which was housed in the Johnson Memorial Building at the time.

As the College community gathered on January 30 in the Mahaney Center for the Arts to say farewell to Donadio, Saunders paid tribute to the person who worked by his side for nearly three decades:

“Emmie has played an instrumental role in organizing exhibits and contributing to the growth in the museum’s permanent collection, while also devoting significant energy to furthering the educational mission of the museum: teaching winter term courses; overseeing student interns; giving public talks; codirecting MuseumWorks, our summer internship program; and most recently serving as coeditor of our forthcoming collections handbook.  

“When you work at a small museum you develop a sense of humility,” Saunders continued. “You learn that despite spending years earning a PhD, as Emmie did from Columbia, you may find yourself completing virtually any task that needs to get done—from polishing a vitrine to helping to clean up after a party, or shuttling speakers to and from the Inn on the Green. 

“Museum work is a team sport, and as every coach will tell you: there is no ‘I’ in team; nor is there one in ‘museum.’”

Born and raised in Cleveland, Donadio graduated from Western Reserve University where, she recalled, “I had a wonderful introduction to the field by working in the painting department at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Part of my responsibilities was to organize an exhibition of artists of the quote-unquote ‘Western Reserve,’ and the juror that year was Fairfield Porter, a great, great painter.” 

Donadio went on to Columbia University where, she adds, “I received my MA in one year and my PhD in 30.” The Donadios had two children, Rachel and David, and for many years “I would wake up at 5 a.m. to work on my thesis before anyone else in the house got up. Then I would come to work and do my job here.”

Her doctoral dissertation on the American sculptor Richard Stankiewicz led to an exhibition of his work curated by Donadio at the Addison Gallery of American Art in Massachusetts. That show later traveled to New York, Austin, Texas, and Basel, Switzerland, she said.  

Richard Saunders estimates that he and Donadio worked together on about 200 exhibitions, and, aside from 13 Alumni Artists, two of Donadio’s most memorable endeavors were What Became of Peter’s Dream in 2003, which she researched in St. Petersburg, Russia, with Anne Odom ’58; and Screened and Selected I and II in 2006 and 2013, two exhibitions inspired by Marianne Boesky '89 of works acquired by Middlebury between 1999 and 2011.

She lists her years as cohead of Atwater Commons among her more notable Middlebury experiences. She also cherishes the time she spent studying Hebrew with the late Professor Eve Adler and reflects fondly on her work with the Committee on Art in Public Places, with which she delighted in rubbing elbows with fascinating artists like sculptor Patrick Dougherty.

But more often than not, Donadio’s memories circle back to her students. “I am not going to start mentioning names now because I know I will forget some people, like all of the phenomenal interns we have had the last three summers doing MuseumWorks.”

While her decision to retire wasn’t announced long in advance, Donadio says, “It wasn’t a sudden decision. The time just seemed right.” And while her husband has no plans to step down from teaching, Emmie Donadio is considering some freelance curating and writing in the future. “I am leaving Middlebury College with great anticipation, pride, and a little trepidation, too.”

– Written by Robert Keren

4 Comments

Congratulations to Emmie on her retirement. She has been a wonderful colleague among small liberal arts college museums. We met several times when I visited my daughter on campus and her warmth, collegiality, and talent were always in evidence. Her talents have been central to the success of the Middlebury College Museum of Art. Lesley Wright, Director, Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell College

by Lesley Wright P'12 (not verified)

Dear Emmie, While I have never had the pleasure of meeting you, I have long credited your excellent husband with my very own Teacher of The Century Award. I studied with him for four years at Vermont, and one in Oxford. My own high school students found me an estimable teacher of literature, but anything I shared with them, I learned from Stephen. I wish you many happy years doing exactly what you want to do in your retirement. Please give my warmest regards to dear "Mr. Donadio." Just thinking of him brings a smile to
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my face, and I was happy to hear that he is still teaching, still enriching others with his insights, humor, and respect for great words. Sincerely yours, Irene Nicastro PS By the way, I often offered him and you a place to stay in The Netherlands at any time.
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by Irene Nicastro (not verified)

Emmie, I am so sorry that I missed your farewell party. You know how often I have commented on your warmth, your smile, and your quiet ability in a challenging position. Hopefully, you will have time now to join in some of our more leisurely pursuits. Max and I send you best wishes for your future plans. Lois and Max Kraus

by Lois Kraus (not verified)

Congratulations Emmie! What a storied career you have had. Blessings for future endeavors. Deanna Shapiro

by Deanna Shapiro (not verified)

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