John Rhodes, senior lecturer emeritus of art history, died on March 21 at the age of 75. For 28 years, from 1982 to 2010, John was a distinguished instructor in the art department and in the writing program. While teaching a wide array of courses in his area of specialization, the art and architecture of the modern era, he played a leading role in the College’s experimental First-Year Cluster program, and with his art department colleagues Peter Fergusson and James O’Gorman belonged to a distinguished triumvirate of faculty experts on the landscape and architecture of the Wellesley College campus.
John came to Wellesley in 1982 after teaching at Williams College and Boston College. He took all his academic degrees at Harvard, graduating from Harvard College magna cum laude in fine arts and Phi Beta Kappa, and later writing his doctoral dissertation on mid-19th century British design theory. At Wellesley, John taught surveys and topics courses in Western painting, sculpture, architecture, and decorative arts since the 18th century, as well as first-year writing courses and interdisciplinary courses on modernism and on gender, sexuality, and body themes in art history. He was a constant and valuable part of the ARTH 100 team, and his Viennese art Wintersession course took students to Vienna. He also taught an especially memorable seminar on Gertrude Stein and her circle.
John was a dedicated and much-admired member of the Wellesley community, a frequent advisor of first-year students, and also a frequent invitee to alumnae club events. Many of his presentations to alums drew on his expertise on the history of our campus. His publications included studies of the Jewett Arts Center, the Science Center, the Davis Museum, and the Lulu. With professors Fergusson and O’Gorman, he was a co-author of the authoritative and beautifully produced volume entitled The Landscape and Architecture of Wellesley College, published by the College in 2000. During those years in the 1990s and early ’00s when Wellesley was so focused on restoring a historic landscape that had been neglected over time, John’s deep interest in landscape and in garden design coincided happily with the College’s needs and priorities.
Over his career at Wellesley, John enriched our community in many ways—with his wide-ranging and innovative courses, with his passion for this place, with his cross-disciplinary collaborations (typified by his introductions to lunchtime concerts by our resident musical trio, Triple Helix, by the “paper prayers” that he created for an art department exhibition raising awareness and funds to fight AIDS, by his guest lecturing in philosophy, German, and English courses). Many alumnae will remember the beautiful quilts hanging on the walls of the Art Library in Jewett; those quilts are gifts from his amazing collection.
Those of us who worked and studied with him remember his brilliant mind, his discerning eye, his ready wit, his beautiful writing, his excellent baking, and the vases of flowers, cut from his own garden, that he brought into the art office to brighten our days.
John was a loyal colleague and a friend and ally to all the arts at Wellesley.