Emmie Donadio steps down after nearly three decades at museum

MIDDLEBURY — One of Emmie Donadio’s fondest memories of her 28 years at the Middlebury College Museum of Art was curating the “13 Alumni Artists” exhibition in celebration of the college’s bicentennial.
“I loved doing that alumni exhibition in 2000, for which I also had the pleasure of serving as a juror,” she said. “I visited nearly all 13 of the artists in their studios, from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York, and talked with them about which of their works would go into the exhibition.”
Speaking from her office just down the hall from the museum, Donadio apologized for the clutter of boxes, folders, papers, books and brochures stacked on every surface. The energetic and much-admired Middlebury staff member retired last month from her position as curator of modern and contemporary art and director of programs and events — two of the many titles she has held over the years.
“One of the artists in that exhibition was the painter Peter Krashes ’85, who was a former student of both my husband’s and mine,” she said. “As always in this job, there would be echoes of my former life in the curatorial projects that I worked on.”
Donadio first arrived at Middlebury in 1977 with her husband, Stephen, who was joining the faculty as a professor of American literature. (They had been to the Bread Loaf School of English the year before.) With her master’s degree from Columbia, she taught sections of Middlebury’s introductory course in art history as a part-time faculty member here and at the University of Vermont. It was not until 1989 that she came to work at the Museum of Art as acting director for one year. And when Director Richard Saunders returned from leave, Donadio stayed on as assistant director at the museum, which was housed in the Johnson Memorial Building at the time.
As the college community gathered this past Jan. 30 in the Mahaney Center for the Arts to say farewell to Donadio, Saunders paid tribute to the person who worked by his side for nearly three decades:
“Emmie has played an instrumental role in organizing exhibits and contributing to the growth in the museum’s permanent collection, while also devoting significant energy to furthering the educational mission of the museum: teaching winter term courses; overseeing student interns; giving public talks; codirecting MuseumWorks, our summer internship program; and most recently serving as co-editor of our forthcoming collections handbook.
“When you work at a small museum you develop a sense of humility,” Saunders continued. “You learn that despite spending years earning a PhD, as Emmie did from Columbia, you may find yourself completing virtually any task that needs to get done — from polishing a vitrine to helping to clean up after a party, or shuttling speakers to and from the Inn on the Green.
“Museum work is a team sport, and as every coach will tell you: there is no ‘I’ in team; nor is there one in ‘museum.’”
Born and raised in Cleveland, Donadio graduated from Western Reserve University where, she recalled, “I had a wonderful introduction to the field by working in the painting department at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Part of my responsibilities was to organize an exhibition of artists of the quote-unquote ‘Western Reserve,’ and the juror that year was Fairfield Porter, a great, great painter.”
Donadio went on to Columbia University where, she noted, “I received my MA in one year and my PhD in 30.” The Donadios had two children, Rachel and David, and for many years “I would wake up at 5 a.m. to work on my thesis before anyone else in the house got up. Then I would come to work and do my job here.”
Her doctoral dissertation on the American sculptor Richard Stankiewicz led to an exhibition of his work curated by Donadio at the Addison Gallery of American Art in Massachusetts. That show later traveled to New York, Austin, Texas, and Basel, Switzerland, she said.
Richard Saunders estimates that he and Donadio worked together on about 200 exhibitions, and, aside from “13 Alumni Artists,” two of Donadio’s most memorable endeavors were “What Became of Peter’s Dream” in 2003, which she researched in St. Petersburg, Russia, with Anne Odom; and “Screened and Selected I and II” in 2006 and 2013, two exhibitions inspired by college alum Marianne Boesky of works acquired by Middlebury between 1999 and 2011.
She lists her years as co-head of Atwater Commons among her more notable Middlebury experiences. She also cherishes the time she spent studying Hebrew with the late Professor Eve Adler and reflects fondly on her work with the Committee on Art in Public Places, with which she delighted in rubbing elbows with fascinating artists like sculptor Patrick Dougherty.
But more often than not, Donadio’s memories circle back to her students.
“I am not going to start mentioning names now because I know I will forget some people, like all of the phenomenal interns we have had the last three summers doing MuseumWorks,” she said.
While her decision to retire wasn’t announced long in advance, Donadio says, “It wasn’t a sudden decision. The time just seemed right.”
And while her husband has no plans to step down from teaching, Emmie Donadio is considering some freelance curating and writing in the future.
“I am leaving Middlebury College with great anticipation, pride and a little trepidation, too.”

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