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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Art history professor dies suddenly at 58

Professor Melvin Lader, a former chair of the art history department who was currently serving as a graduate student adviser, died suddenly in his Alexandria, Va., home Wednesday of a heart condition. He was 58.

Lader is survived by his wife and two sons. This semester he taught a graduate seminar in 20th-century art. He joined the faculty in 1978 and served as chair of the department from 1990 to 1991.

Professor Lilien Robinson, a former chair of the department, described Lader as one of her closest friends and best colleagues. She said Lader would best be remembered for his personality, his manner and his courtesy.

“He was an incredible friend – caring, compassionate, kind. It sounds like it’s trite, but it’s not,” Robinson said.

Barbara Stephanic, a student of Lader’s at GW in the early 1980s, said Lader’s legacy at GW is his innovative ideas and “enormous contributions to the art history program.”

Stephanic explained that when she took art history classes at GW, the fundamental areas of study were ancient art and Renaissance art.

“Contemporary art, while deemed important, it wasn’t the centerpiece of the program, and Professor Lader made it so because it was so important to bring art history students and thinking into the 20th century,” Stephanic said. “He was able to do that and still maintain that connection with the fundamentals.”

Art history professor Barbara von Barghahn said that as a graduate adviser, Lader worked at resolving students’ day-to-day problems with “panache” and assisting with students’ concerns about their future course of work.

Robinson said Lader’s students appreciate how much they learned from him, and they were inspired by his love of art history. Joanna Biglane, a second-year graduate student who took an expressionism class with Lader last fall, said students and faculty are shocked by his death. She explained that Lader opened her eyes to modern art and always made time for his students.

“He taught modern art, which I wasn’t familiar with, but after having his class he gave me such an appreciation and understanding of it,” Biglane said.

Alex Sandra, a second-year graduate student who took Lader’s abstract expressionism course as well, said her entire class formed a strong bond with him.

“You always knew he was there, and you always knew you had an ally in the department – someone to talk to,” Sandra said.

Stephanic, describing her experiences as a student, said Lader was easy to talk to and knowledgeable of his field, and she feels privileged to have been his student and friend.

Professor Turker Ozdogan, who teaches ceramics, said losing Lader was like losing a brother. He described Lader as “a peace-loving, ultimate gentleman.”

“(I)n faculty meetings, we start to discuss and argue things, but he was the person to always bring kindness and peace to the department,” Ozdogan said.

In addition to his interest in contemporary art, Lader also had a passion for collecting 19th-century American glass and developed an extensive collection with his wife, Robinson said.

Robinson said Lader had planned on applying for sabbatical next year, and he told her he hoped to spend time conducting research at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City to explore his interest in genealogy.

Last summer, Lader visited Venice, Italy, to work on Peggy Gugenheim’s museum of 20th century art, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Robinson said. On the same trip, he visited a cousin in England whom he had recently discovered.

Robinson said Lader was known in the department for his willingness to do any task and served on groups such as the Dean’s Council and Personnel Committee.

Lader was a native of Auburn, N.Y., and received his Ph.D. from the University of Delaware.

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