Remembering Dr. Mary Sheriff

The staff of the Ackland Art Museum mourns the loss of one of our long-time UNC-Chapel Hill colleagues, Dr. Mary Sheriff, W.R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Art History in the Art Department, who passed away 19 October 2016.

Dr. Sheriff was internationally renowned for her research in the fields of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century French art and culture, particularly in the areas of creativity, sexuality, gender, and, more recently, travel and cultural exchange. In all these areas, and in her capacity as chair of the Art Department, Mary was a treasured friend of the Ackland, engaged in advising on acquisitions, interpreting exhibitions, and encouraging her many advanced students to take advantage of professional development opportunities at the Museum. She avidly used the Museum’s collection in her undergraduate and graduate classes, firmly believing in the importance of object-driven teaching and research. For many years, she served on the Ackland’s Academic Advisory Committee. For several decades, the Ackland’s exhibition program has been enriched by projects undertaken with her forceful guidance by her graduate students, just as many works of French art owe their place in the collection to her advocacy, enthusiasm, and expertise.

Carolyn Allmendinger, the Ackland’s director of academic programs and a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill’s PhD program in Art, recalled how much fun it was to get a few minutes with Mary in front of an interesting work of art in the galleries. “It was always clear that in addition to the depth of understanding she had about all the literature, all the contextual issues, that she just truly enjoyed the pleasures of looking closely at eighteenth-century art.”

Peter Nisbet, deputy director for curatorial affairs, praised Mary Sheriff’s passionate belief in the ways in which the Ackland could bolster the efforts to create and maintain a first-rate department of art history at UNC-Chapel Hill, covering as broad a range as possible of the world’s visual art traditions. “Mary could be counted on to hold the Ackland to the same high standards she applied to herself and her students,” Nisbet recalled. “We have lost a great champion for serious engagement with art and an energetic partner in our enterprise.”

Ackland Art Museum director Katie Ziglar noted that, although she had arrived too recently to get to know Mary, her effect on the Ackland was easy to spot. “We pledge to continue on her path of creative cooperation with our Art Department colleagues,” Ziglar affirmed. “I speak for all of us at the Ackland in sending our deepest condolences to her husband Keith and all her family and friends following this terrible loss.”