Bryn Mawr Mourns the Passing of Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Professor in the Humanities Gridley McKim-Smith

Posted October 21st, 2013 at 4:20 pm.

Note: This post has been updated with information about the memorial service being held on Saturday, April 5, at 3 p.m. in the Goodhart Hall music room.

The College continues to welcome your remembrances of Professor McKim-Smith in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

gmckimsmith-2Dear Faculty, Students and Staff,

Last month I wrote with the very sad news that Gridley McKim-Smith passed away on Friday, October 19th after a brief acute illness.  I write again to share more about her distinguished career as well as plans for a memorial service to be held this spring on campus.

Professor McKim-Smith received her B.A. from Tulane University in Romance Languages and Literatures and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Fine Arts from Harvard University.  She came to Bryn Mawr College in 1982 as an assistant professor, was named associate professor in 1985 and full professor in 1992.  For many years, Gridley served on the Advisory Accessibility Committee and was also active on the Library Committee.  In 1998, she received the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching and in 1999 was honored with an endowed chair as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Professor in the Humanities.

Among the foremost Hispanists of the United States, Gridley pioneered contributions to the scholarship of the art of Baroque Spain as well as of the Spanish-speaking world.  A significant portion of her scholarship concentrated on the implications of scientific examinations of 17th-century Spanish paintings, particularly works by Velazquez.  Her broad scholarly interests and more recent research also included work on the history of the body through the study of costume and on the polychrome sculpture of Latin America.

During her career, Gridley authored numerous books and articles, with many recent articles focused on dress in colonial Spanish America.  Her most current work, “Dress in Colonial Spanish America,” will appear in the Lexikon of the Hispanic Baroque: Technologies of a Transatlantic Cultural Transfer, to be published by the University of Texas Press in January 2014.  In 2010, she published the catalog for an exhibition on Spanish Painting and Sculpture from 1600-1700 at the National Gallery in London.  Her book, Examining Velazquez, published in 1988, was the first winner of the College Art Association /Heritage Preservation Award for Distinction in Scholarship and Conservation.

Gridley was a wonderful teacher, a supportive advisor and a valued mentor to generations of undergraduate and graduate students.  She was the supervisor of numerous M.A. and Ph.D. theses.  One of her colleagues notes that “Even though she taught less over the years, she continued to work with just about every one of our students.”  Gridley taught a wide variety of courses that were valuable not only to the History of Art department and the Graduate Group in the Humanities, but also to our interdisciplinary programs in Latin America, Latino and Iberian People and Cultures (LALIPC) and Gender and Sexuality Studies.  In recent years, she converted her longtime course, HART 241, “The Art of the Spanish-Speaking World,” into two new courses – a re-named HART 241 “The Visual World of the Spanish Empire 1492-1800” and HART 242 “Material Identity in Latin America 1800-present.”

Associate Professor of History Ignacio Gallup-Diaz, her colleague in the LALIPC program, recalls: “Gary McDonogh and I, when offering the “Intro” course for the Latin American, Latina, Iberian Peoples and Cultures concentration (LALIPC), invited our colleagues in the program to provide guest lectures throughout the semester.  Gridley provided an expertly-crafted talk that explored the complex relationship between Spain and the Americas, something that she shared with the students through a series of ‘close readings’ of images that she provided.  Her presentation was patient and rigorous, and she engaged the students (and Gary and me) in a fascinating conversation about how the study of Spanish art has been enriched by changed perspectives about the art made in the Americas.  She taught us how scholars have moved away from viewing artists in the Americas as provincial figures — lesser practitioners in forms ‘perfected’ in Europe — to craftsmen working in a mutually shared idiom.  I came away from that class session with several conclusions: I knew that the students had greatly benefited from Gridley’s presentation of information; that I had learned a lot myself; and that I had just observed a masterful teacher.”

Dale Kinney, a longtime colleague and Eugenia Chase Guild Professor Emeritus in the Humanities, remembers Gridley’s style: “When she joined the faculty her MS was not yet visible; she was a beautiful, seemingly carefree woman.  Her husband Frank was a photographer; they had an apartment in New York, friends in the art world and a busy life.  It all seemed glamorous.  Fate and the disease took almost everything away from her, but through all the tragedies and afflictions she kept her impeccable style.  I think it helped her rise above the pain and indignity of illness and to be what she always was: her own person, able to accomplish what she wanted and more than most people who have no such difficulties to contend with.  It was an awesome performance.”

It is hard to capture in words the significance of the loss of Gridley.  She exemplified the scholar-teacher model, cared deeply about her students and worked tirelessly to promote the excellence of the College.  She will be deeply missed.

Gridley’s family will gather next week in Florida to celebrate her life.  Details of the service, as well as information on contributions in her honor, can be found in this obituary from the Havana Herald.

The College will hold a memorial service for Gridley on Saturday, April 5, 2014, following the conclusion of a celebration marking the 10th anniversary of the Graduate Group.  Plans for this event will be available in the spring.

With best wishes,

Kim Cassidy

Interim President


17 Responses to “Bryn Mawr Mourns the Passing of Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Professor in the Humanities Gridley McKim-Smith”

  1. Dr.Luzma Umpierre Says:

    What a loss to someone in Latino and Latin American Art. I do not remember her but I send my warm Puerto Rican embrace to the entire BMC community.

  2. Kate Cuffari AB'99 Says:

    I am stunned and so exceedingly sad to hear this news. Prof. McKim-Smith was a remarkable woman, a dedicated scholar and a generous and rigorous mentor. I owe her a great debt of gratitude for her support in the development of my quite cherished career in conservation. Bryn Mawr has lost someone truly great, and she will be missed.

  3. Marcy Epstein Says:

    Sincere condolences on the loss of another wonderful Bryn Mawr teacher.

  4. Lilly Says:

    Let there be many stars of smart, amazing women to be inspired leaders and thinkers everywhere.

  5. Laurie Granieri Says:

    She formed me as a scholar of art history and nourished my curiosity about conservation, but here’s the thing: She taught me grace, every day, as she dealt with her MS and the many vicissitudes of life. She was rarely interested in feeling sorry for herself. I am blessed: I am the proud owner of her Aunt Hattie’s apple-cake recipe, and, of all random things, I watched the OJ Simpson verdict with Gridley, dining on salmon and succotash. I am sad, but mostly I am grateful.

  6. Lee Wacker Says:

    She was one of the most wonderful educators and mentors. I owe to her my love of Brasilia and Pepon Osorio. I am so sad to think of the college without her. All my love to those who also mourn her loss.

  7. Rebecca Mersereau Says:

    I knew Dr. McKim-Smith only as her research assistant. Always gracious, she informed my bearing as a future scholar-teacher through her kindness and consistently calm demeanor. My sympathies to all who were so fortunate as to know her.

  8. Myriam Arnold Miller Says:

    I am so very sad to hear about Prof. McKim-Smith’s passing. While I was never a student in her classes, I did have the privilege of working for her as a research assistant for a few months. What a gracious, courageous and strong woman! Her impact on me during that short time was such that twenty-seven years later, she still inspires me and often think of her. My condolences to her family, friends, colleagues and all the Bryn Mawr community.

  9. Rachel Says:

    Gridley pushed me to achieve academically in a way I never thought I could. I had the pleasure of working for her during the same period that she was my adviser – I feel grateful to have had both of these experiences. She was a poised, graceful person who was completely dedicated to her students. I treasured the time I spent with her on quiet afternoons in her office, and will always remember those moments.

  10. Florence Goff Says:

    This is such sad news. Grimley was always gracious, always ready with a worthwhile comment, and always present in conversation. She once commented that It takes a very healthy person to live with a chronic illness. Remembering her smile …

  11. Jen Morse Says:

    A terrible loss! I’m so glad we saw Gridley at our recent Reunion and that our young daughter got to meet her. One day when we were playing frisbee with Greta she told a story about one of her recent medical appointments where the doctor told her she was “lucky to have lived with MS for so long” and she corrected him – no one is lucky to live with a chronic disorder! That story and her grace and spirit have stuck with me.

  12. Deirdre Lloyd Says:

    Although I never personally knew Professor McKim-Smith, she will always be treasured both as a scholar and as an exemplary woman. May she have eternal peace and may she never fade from our hearts.

  13. Cynthia Bisman Says:

    A woman of true grit who embraced life with grace and wisdom. So many memories from over four decades of art museum visits and movies; of meals and celebrations; of Greta, Dieter and Jett. Gridley’s friendship has been a treasure that will always bring me joy.

  14. Graham Brownstein Says:

    I knew Gridley through my mother, Prof Cynthia Bisman, who was a long-time friend and colleague of Gridley. Over the years, Gridley and I became close as well. Gridley was one of the most remarkable people I’ve known. I am particularly struck by her grace and joy for life and her work. I am also struck by how she neither defined herself by her MS nor was she angry or bitter. She just did what she had to do within the confines of her illness to lead the fullest life possible. It was a life more full than many without any physical limitations lead. I am deeply grateful to have known her.

  15. Julie E. Van Vliet Says:

    Gridley will forever be one of the most genuine people that I have had the pleasure to get to know. She inspired me. I trained Dieter and Jett, both of her service dogs that succeeded Greta. We laughed together and cried together. We spoke our minds and shared our hearts. She was a brilliant scholar and warm humanitarian, who had the perfect words to say to me, always, when I needed to hear them. I will treasure her fond memory for all time. Love to all her knew her and mourn her loss.

  16. ron martinetti Says:

    At Tulane, she was very special whether it was late nights at La Casa
    or bright New Orleans afternoons singing the Texas fight song and loving life as only she could.

  17. Joseph willey Says:

    Gridley was my intro to art history teacher in 1973, at the University of Kansas, and I still remember her lecture on Pablo Picasso the day that he died. The following year I took her Spanish Art class, and I remember taking a friend to class one day so he would understand why I raved so about her. She was brilliant, engaging, inspirational. Gridley later organized a multidisciplinary program on Spanish arts and literature, which included an exhibit of Spanish Baroque drawings; Gridley wrote the introduction to the accompanying book, which I still have. Years later I ran into her in NYC, where I had moved, and as always she was gracious and entertaining. I am so sad to receive news of her death, but I am grateful for the time i had with such a brilliant teacher.

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