Avery, Myrtilla

Full Name: 
Avery, Myrtilla
Year Born: 
Year Died: 
Place Died: 
New York, NY, USA
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Medieval art scholar and chair of Department of Art, Wellesley College; influential in1920s-30s. Avery graduated from Wellesley in 1891 majoring in Greek. She taught Greek and Latin briefly before moving to the University of the State of New York, Albany. She was employed in the library system at Albany, organizing the first traveling library and working on a bachelors in library science which she received in 1895. While a librarian organizing pictures for schools and clubs, she became interested in art. She worked as assistant to the director of the University until 1913, when she received a Master of Arts degree from Wellesley. Avery began teaching at her alma mater and working on a Ph.D. in art history at Radcliffe College. In 1915 she introduced the first art history classes at Wellesley, then open only to seniors. With Art Department chair Alice Van Vechten Brown (1862-1949), she reorganized the museum, instituting some of the earliest courses for curators in the country. She received her Ph.D. from Radcliffe in 1927. In 1929 she became Chair of the Art Department and director of the Farnsworth Museum at Wellesley. The next year, at the advice of her medievalist colleagues at Princeton and New York University, she hired Sirarpie Der Nersessian (q.v.) to teach courses in Byzantine art, a visionary move at the time. Avery retired in 1937 (succeeded by Der Nersessian) and settled in New York.
Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p. 63; Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 58; Obituary. New York Times April 5, 1959; p. 86; "Five at Wellesley will Leave Staff." New York Times June 13, 1937; p. 42. "The Alexandrian Style at Santa Maria Antiqua, Rome." Art Bulletin 7 (1925): 131-49; The Exultet Rolls of South Italy. 2 vols. Published for the Department of Art and Archaeology of Princeton University. Princeton, NJ: University Press, 1936.