Professor Emerita Ilene H. Forsyth, a renowned scholar of western medieval art, gifted teacher, generous philanthropist, steadfast supporter of the arts and humanities, and U-M’s first Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of the History of Art, died June 16.
She touched many lives through her benefaction, guidance and friendship.
Born in 1928, Ilene Eleanor Haering was the daughter of Austin F. Haering and Eleanor (Middleton) Haering. She was a dedicated student from the outset. After earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature from U-M in 1950, she spent the following year in Europe where the mosaics of Ravenna and other monuments prompted her to study medieval art.
Her Master of Arts and Ph.D. degrees were from Columbia University in 1955 and 1960, respectively. Her studies were directed by the renowned medievalist Meyer Schapiro. Following research as an AAUW, Fulbright, and Fels Foundation fellow, she joined the faculty at Barnard College and Columbia University, moving to U-M’s Department of History of Art in 1961.
Forsyth become a full professor at U-M in 1974. Students in a wide range of specializations benefited from her training. At a time when women were not well-represented in the higher ranks, she was invited onto innumerable boards and visiting committees, becoming an important voice in an expanding discipline.
In addition to her service on national and international committees, Forsyth lectured widely in her field both nationally and abroad. She held diverse national offices, received many honors and awards, and was inducted as Fellow in the Medieval Academy of America.
Invitations to teach came from many distinguished institutions. She was a Visiting Member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton (1977); Visiting Professor at Harvard University (1980); Mellon Professor of History of Art, University of Pittsburgh (1981); Distinguished Professor of Medieval Studies at the University of California, Berkeley (1986); and Kress Professor at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (1998-99).
Upon her retirement from U-M in 1998, Forsyth was named professor emerita of history of art. Her philanthropic support of art historical study extended over several decades and was impressively astute. She funded, at various points, student scholarships, faculty research, lecture series, and graduate and postdoctoral fellowships. She also endowed two professorships.
Behind every gift to the university was Forsyth’s unremitting belief in the importance of historical research and her enduring commitment to helping her department retain its position among the most distinguished in the country.
Forsyth was an ardent supporter of the arts at U-M in a broader way. She established three endowments at the University Musical Society to support three performances each season (orchestral, chamber arts and a theater presentation), and donated artwork to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and to the U-M Museum of Art.
She made significant contributions to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum as well as the Bentley Historical Library, where, in 2017, she deposited her first husband’s scholarly papers and where her own now reside.
In 1960, Ilene married medieval architectural historian George H. Forsyth Jr., who predeceased her in 1991. In 2011, she wed Karl V. Hauser. By her side at her passing, Karl steadfastly supported his wife’s interests and enthusiasms.
Ilene will be remembered by her family, friends, colleagues and everyone who had the opportunity to meet her as a brilliant and remarkable individual, a presence, one of the trail-blazing art historical greats of her generation.
- originally published on the University Record, August 1st 2022