Obituary of Brian Curran
Renowned art historian and educator Professor Brian A. Curran succumbed to complications from ALS on July 11, 2017 at his home in State College, PA. He is survived by his wife Mary Curran, his mother Doris Curran of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, his brother Keith Curran of New York, NY, his sister Sheila Dennin, her husband Matthew, and their children Daniel, Patrick and Natalie of Crofton, Maryland, and his brother Geoffrey Curran, his wife Jill, and their children Ned and Joe, of Little Rock, Arkansas. He was preceded in death by his father William J. Curran.
Dr. Curran was born in Boston on June 25, 1953 and grew up in Newton, Massachusetts. He received his BFA in painting and interrelated media from the Massachusetts College of Art, an M.A. in art history from the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in art history from Princeton University. Early in his career he worked for six years in the Department of Egyptian, Ancient Near Eastern, and Nubian Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. At this time he worked evenings as the unit clerk in the labor and delivery department at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. It was here that he met his beloved Mary, who was then employed in the hospital’s hematology lab.
Brian was a Teaching Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University, before becoming a professor in the Department of Art History at Penn State University in 1997, where he worked until the time of his death. H achieved the rank of full professor in 2011. He was an internationally recognized scholar of Italian Renaissance art, and taught courses on medieval and baroque art, as well as sculpture, film, and historiography. He directed over a dozen doctoral dissertations and even more masters’ theses on these and related topics, and was deeply respected and beloved by an enormous and loyal cadre of students. Professor Curran’s former graduate students honored him with a festschrift symposium in 2016. An inspired and inspiring lecturer who selflessly devoted countless hours to his students’ academic welfare, he was the recipient of Penn State University’s most coveted awards for teaching and scholarship; the College of Arts & Architecture Faculty Award for Outstanding Teaching, Roy C. Buck Award for Outstanding Scholarly Article, George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching and the President’s Award for Engagement with Students.
He is the author of The Egyptian Renaissance: The Afterlife of Ancient Egypt and Egyptian Antiquities in Early Modern Italy (University of Chicago Press, 2007); and was one of the four authors of Obelisk: A History (Dibner Institute/MIT Press, 2009). He wrote dozens book chapters and reviews, and his many articles appeared in the most respected refereed journals and books. He frequently presented his research at national and international conferences and symposia.
Brian was extraordinarily generous in his service to both Penn State and the field of art history. In addition to his extensive committee work in the University’s Department of Art History and the College of Arts & Architecture, he served on the Editorial Committee for Penn State University Press for over three years, and he was particularly proud to hold the office of president of Penn State’s Chapter of the American Association of University Professors. He was active with the American Academy in Rome, serving as editor of the Academy’s scholarly journal for several years. He was often sought out by journals and university presses as an outside reader because of his broad knowledge of diverse aspects in the field.
Brian did not draw a fine line between high art and popular culture. He studied art history with an eye for the popular and the vernacular and he engaged music, film and popular literature with a seriousness and investment not unlike his academic pursuits. His knowledge of pop, rock and roll, and punk rock music rivaled that of any music historian. At once diligently focused and refreshingly eclectic, Brian carried this disregard for hierarchies deep into his personal character. Few art historians past or present have been at once so intellectually revered and personally treasured.
As extraordinarily smart and accomplished as Brian was, he also was uncommonly modest, kind and funny. His delightfully dry wit and ironic sense of humor was evident in all his endeavors. He brought out the best in others as an always encouraging teacher, colleague and friend. He was as principled as he was passionate, and from his late teens through mature adulthood, he committed himself to progressive politics and social justice. He was most proud of his part in defeating the Penn State Wellness Initiative. With an uncannily clear sense of “the big picture,” Brian always seemed to know what mattered most, and was unafraid (in fact he was almost sure to) stand up for it.
A memorial service will be held at Penn State University’s Hintz Family Alumni Center on September 22, 2017, at 3:00 p.m. Burial will take place at a later date in Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Memorial contributions are appreciated and may be sent to the ALS Therapy Development Institute (www.ALS.net).
Brian’s family would like to extend their appreciation for the excellent care (and caring) given him over the last few difficult years by the caregivers, nurses and doctors from Home Instead, 365 Hospice, Geisinger and most of all the ALS Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Arrangements are under the care of Koch Funeral Home, State College. Online condolences and signing of the guest book may be entered at www.kochfuneralhome.com.
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