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Former UMMA Director, Charles H. Sawyer, Dies at 98

Charles H. Sawyer

Charlie, as he was fondly known, died after a brief illness on February 25, 2005. He was born in Andover, Massachusetts on October 20, 1906 to James Cowan Sawyer and Mary Pepperrell Frost Sawyer. He attended Phillips Academy, Andover and then Yale University where he received his AB in 1929. He then went on to Harvard University, intending to become a lawyer, but a museum class with legendary teacher and museum director Paul Sachs took Sawyer in a new direction. During that year he was invited to become the first curator of the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy, Andover, beginning a life-long career as an art museum administrator and art historian. He was hired by the Worcester Museum of Art, Worcester, Massachusetts in 1940 and then took a leave during the war years to join the OSS, working with the Roberts Commission to document works of art confiscated by the Nazis and see they were returned to their rightful owners. Sawyer went back to Yale in 1947 where he was granted an honorary MA and took on a challenging new position as Director of the Division of the Arts. His duties there included overseeing the Colleges of Architecture, Art, and Drama, the Art Gallery, and the Department of History of Art. During his tenure at Yale he oversaw the construction of a major addition to the Yale University Art Gallery working with legendary American architect Louis Kahn. In 1957 he moved from New England to the Midwest, accepting a position as the second director of the University of Michigan Museum of Art and a member of the University faculty, where he remained until his retirement in 1972. During his years at Michigan, he created a landmark program in museum practice to train museum administrators, one of the first of its kind in the United States; graduates of that program have filled leadership positions in major museums throughout the country, including the Toledo Museum of Art and the Cincinnati Art Museum. A section of the pending addition to the University of Michigan Museum of Art to house a Center for Museum Studies will be named in his honor.

Sawyer was a member of the Smithsonian Art Commission from 1973 to 1982 and has remained a respected advisor to successive museum directors there and around the country. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors, the Century Association, and the American Antiquarian Society. He was preceded in death by his wife Katharine Clay Sawyer (Kitty), whom he married in 1934, his devoted partner in receiving students and other guests into their home over many years. They had no children, but are remembered with love by his niece, Elizabeth (Lee) Klaeson Sawyer of Durham, New Hampshire, his nephew George F. (Geoff) Sawyer, Jr also of Durham, and Katharine's three nieces, Phebe Leighton of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Susan Berard of Fripp Island, South Carolina, and Paula Bungen of San Rafae, California.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the University of Michigan Museum of Art, c/o Director James Steward, with optional designation for the Charles H. Sawyer Center for Museum Studies.