Lee Glazer, BA Art History ’84, came to Mason at a time when the Fairfax Campus was little more than a cluster of brick buildings tucked into the woods. But that sleepy exterior belied the activity taking place.
“It was a vibrant intellectual community that seemed worlds away from suburban strip malls and subdivisions,” Glazer says. “The [art history] faculty at that time was young—they had been trained by some of the old masters of the discipline, but they also had the benefit of coming of age just as a more socially engaged, more rigorously theorized approach was coming to the fore, so their students got the best of both worlds.”
That ethos of building bridges between worlds followed Glazer all the way to the Smithsonian’s Freer|Sackler, which she joined in 2007 as curator of American art. Under her helm, she focused on creating exhibitions that showed the links between the American collection and the gallery’s overall identity as an Asian art museum.
One of her most memorable achievements at the museum involved the Peacock Room. On view continuously since the Freer opened in 1923, the Peacock Room has long been a key part of Washington, D.C.’s art scene. James McNeill Whistler designed the room for the London home of shipping magnate Frederick Leyland, who was the artist’s first important patron. Charles Lang Freer bought the room in 1904 and had it reassembled, first in his Detroit mansion and eventually in the museum that bears his name.
But it was Glazer who worked to restore the Peacock Room to match its appearance in Detroit in 1908, when it was filled with more than 250 ceramics from all over Asia. “By presenting the room according to Freer’s aesthetic vision,” she says, “we were finally able to make visitors understand why an extravagant Victorian dining room is part of an Asian art museum.”
Recently, Glazer was appointed as the founding director of the Lunder Institute of American Art at Colby College in Maine, where she says, “[The] work will be as much about making connections and breaking down boundaries as it will be about producing provocative new work.”
It’s a mission based on a love that Glazer found decades ago at Mason, poring over slides of masterpieces and visiting the nearby National Gallery of Art on weekends. “I signed up for [now Professor Emeritus of History and Art History] Carol Mattusch’s Survey of Art History second semester of freshman year to fulfill a humanities requirement and I was hooked. Looking at objects of great beauty, learning what they meant to the peoples who made them, learning how they were made, relating them to larger historical and social issues—I liked the combination of aesthetic pleasure and deep historical thinking.”
Glazer was one of the 50 Alumni Exemplars recognized at the Alumni Association’s 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2018.
— Priyanka Champaneri, BA ’05, MFA ’10 / First published in the Spring 2019 issue of Spirit magazine.