School of Arts and Humanities News

University Names New Director of Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History

Dr. Michael Thomas

Dr. Michael Thomas

Dr. Michael Thomas of The University of Texas at Austin has accepted appointment as director of the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History (EODIAH) at The University of Texas at Dallas, succeeding founding director Dr. Richard Brettell. As director, Thomas will hold the Edith O’Donnell Distinguished University Chair in Art History and serve as a professor in UT Dallas’ School of Arts and Humanities while directing its graduate studies programs and the array of local, national and international engagements for which EODIAH has become noteworthy.

“It’s a great opportunity,” said Thomas, who will start June 1. “UT Dallas is one of the most exciting and dynamic places for art history in the country right now.”

Brettell, in relinquishing his active administrative duties, will continue to contribute to the activities of EODIAH, and to broader University initiatives, as professor of art history in the School of Arts and Humanities and holder of two endowed professorships: the Margaret M. McDermott Distinguished Chair of Art and Aesthetic Studies, and the Edith O’Donnell Distinguished Chair of Art History.

The Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History was established by a gift of $17 million from Edith O’Donnell in 2014. This gift was supplemented with $10 million from the Texas Research Incentive Program, yielding aggregate endowments of $27 million with which EODIAH can support faculty and student research and collaborations with institutions in the region and around the world in the promotion of art historical scholarship. The institute, housed in the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building on the UT Dallas campus, also maintains facilities in the Dallas Museum of Art. The institute has co-sponsored symposia, lectures, fellowships and research programs regionally with the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center, the Crow Museum of Asian Art, the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and the Kimbell Art Museum. In addition, faculty members at The University of Texas at Arlington have collaborated with UT Dallas colleagues through the medium of the institute.

Thomas currently serves as director of the Center for the Study of Ancient Italy at UT Austin, which since 2011 has promoted interdisciplinary education and research in the archaeology and visual culture of ancient Italy from the Bronze Age through the fifth century A.D. After graduating from St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas, he pursued a bachelor’s degree in art history from Duke University and a master’s degree in art history from SMU. Thomas received his PhD in art history from The University of Texas at Austin in 2001. He also has taught at SMU, the University of Michigan and Tufts University. He is a member of the Meadows Museum Advisory Council at SMU and a board member of the Etruscan Foundation. His publications have focused on the art, architecture, archaeology and numismatics of Etruscan and Roman Italy.

Thomas has been engaged in archeological excavations in Italy for more than 25 years, where he co-directs two projects: the Oplontis Project in Torre Annunziata near Naples, and the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project & Poggio Colla Field School in Tuscany. The Oplontis Project is an important international collaboration excavating a Roman villa buried by the A.D. 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The full power of modern science is brought to focus on such topics as social history, material culture, paleobotany, geology and volcanology, and forensic anthropology, as well as Roman art, decoration and architecture. The results of the Oplontis research are being brought to the public through digital media, including three-dimensional tours of the buildings and grounds.

“Since I already work in ancient Italy, plus the fact that we already have strong Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History faculty members who work in Italy at this great center, I believe that ancient Italian, Renaissance and Baroque will always have a good place at UT Dallas,” Thomas said.

With his extensive experience in interdisciplinary research and large international collaborations and international experience, Thomas is well-qualified to further cultivate the many engagements of the O’Donnell Institute with other organizations. Such collaborations have included the Getty Research Institute, the Clark Art Institute, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Frick Collection and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Currently, the O’Donnell Institute has an international collaboration with the Museum and Royal Park of Capodimonte in Naples, where a Center for the Art and Architectural History of Port Cities has been created, located at La Capraia, a restored 18th-century agricultural building that houses scholars and students. In addition, a prospective collaboration is being pursued with Nanjing University in China. The goal is to further develop current activities focused on the study in China of American art. With funds from the Terra Foundation for American Art in Chicago and the cooperation of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, EODIAH has sponsored symposia, faculty and graduate student fellowships, and the first university course on the history of American art ever offered in China.

Provost Inga Musselman, in announcing the appointment of Thomas, said, “Michael Thomas has impressed all of us who participated in the search for a successor to Rick Brettell. Rick will be the proverbial ‘hard act to follow,’ but Michael’s remarkable wide range of experience and his demonstrated administrative acumen convinced us that he has all of the attributes needed to guide EODIAH into the future.

“With Dr. Brettell, Dr. Thomas will be an essential member of the executive team for the UTD Athenaeum. President Benson, I and Dean Dennis Kratz expect that under Dr. Thomas’ leadership, EODIAH, as it develops and matures, will be a leading force for the advancement of education and research in art history nationally, and for enhancing the impact of art in its most comprehensive sense on the life of UT Dallas.”

This article originally appeared in the UT Dallas News Center