When John Howett arrived at Emory in 1966 as an assistant professor, the University's fledgling Department of Art History consisted of little more than two faculty members sharing a cramped space in Annex B, one of three wooden structures dating from the post-World War II era. Three decades later, the department has grown to include twenty faculty members and a full program of graduate studies, all housed within the elegant marble walls of Michael C. Carlos Hall.
Perhaps the greatest change in Howett's thirty years at Emory has been the rebirth of the Emory Museum, which evolved from a dusty collection of curios to the nationally respected Michael C. Carlos Museum, housed in a $7.6 million Michael Graves architectural showpiece. Through his involvement in the planning of the sleek, postmodern structure and the museum's reorganization in the early 1980s, Howett played a central role in its development. As a tribute to his efforts to bring together a collection of prints and drawings for the museum, the Works of Art on Paper study room was recently named for him.
A scholar of Italian Renaissance and contemporary American art who retired this spring, Howett has also been a popular teacher honored with the Emory Williams Award for Teaching in the Humanities and the Emory Senior Council Award for Outstanding Teaching and Service to Undergraduate Students. "He provokes his students to question, explore, and wander," says Margaret Shufeldt, one of Howett's graduate students in art history. "He is patient with their quests, whether for the expected or for the serendipitous insight."
Howett is also widely known as a creative curator, having organized many exhibitions at the Carlos Museum, the High Museum of Art, and other galleries throughout Atlanta. His shows have ranged from early illuminated manuscripts to Spectacles, a 1989 exhibition for children at the High. "Throughout his career, he has sought out forgotten, unknown, or misunderstood art," Emory Magazine reported in 1989. "He has worked in an academic niche alongside other scholars and art intellectuals, but at the same time, a stronger pull has drawn him to the museums, where he can teach the general public, through displays, that art can be accessible to all."
A fund honoring Howett will benefit the art history department and the Carlos Museum, providing an endowment for acquisitions and programs. Contributions may be sent to the John Howett Endowment Fund, Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, 571 S. Kilgo Street, Atlanta, Georgia 30322. (Photo by Kay Hinton)
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