University Establishes Brettell Award in the Arts in Honor of Educator

Dr. Richard Brettell
Dr. Richard Brettell

The University of Texas at Dallas, with a generous gift from philanthropist Margaret McDermott, has announced the creation of the Richard Brettell Award in the Arts, a biennial honor recognizing established artists in any medium.

The award will be bestowed upon artists whose body of work demonstrates a lifetime of achievement in their field. Winners will receive a $150,000 prize and will participate in a campus residency where they will spend time interacting with faculty and students.

“Dr. Richard Brettell is recognized worldwide for his prolific scholarship, for his charismatic lectures that have introduced thousands to great art, and for his leadership in creating numerous cooperative organizations in which scholars and artists can collaborate in new and rewarding ways,” said Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, executive vice president at UT Dallas. “Margaret McDermott has made a visionary gift that honors her esteemed friend and colleague Rick Brettell, while simultaneously providing a major new enrichment of the cultural life of UT Dallas and the greater Dallas community.”

The campus residency will provide award recipients with access to the innovative work being conducted at UT Dallas in the arts, science and technology. Recipients will have an opportunity to connect with the students and faculties across the full spectrum of the University’s research centers and academic departments. The residency will include a major public lecture along with seminars, faculty round-tables, and extensive interactions with students and with members of the larger Dallas arts community.


Details will follow after an official announcement of the awardee in The Dallas Morning News on Sunday, April 9.

The award may be given to an artist working in any art form including performance, literary and visual arts. The inaugural recipient of the award has been selected by McDermott and Brettell, and will be announced Sunday, April 9.

The award honors Brettell, the Margaret M. McDermott Distinguished Chair of Art and Aesthetic Studies and the Edith O’Donnell Distinguished University Chair. One of the world’s foremost authorities on Impressionism and French painting from 1830 to 1930, Brettell is also the founding director of the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History at UT Dallas.

“Following the leadership of Mrs. McDermott, the arts have come to play an increasingly important role at UT Dallas.” Brettell said. “This award will further emphasize that role, and ensure that artists in all mediums — architects, painters, actors, photographers, dancers, digital artists, choreographers, poets, novelists — the sky is the limit — will regularly visit UT Dallas and the Dallas metroplex, enhancing the links between the city and our university and inspiring our faculty, staff, and students. It is an immense honor that she suggested that this award, which is modeled on the one honoring her late husband at MIT, be named after me.”

McDermott’s prior contributions to UT Dallas include the McDermott Suite in McDermott Library, the Eugene McDermott Scholars Program, many major endowed professorships, the ongoing UT Dallas Campus Enhancement Project, and the Eugene McDermott Graduate Fellows Program.


Brettell Award Events

The first recipient of the Brettell Award in the Arts will be featured at two lectures and a public forum:

Tuesday, April 11, 4 p.m.
Lecture at UT Dallas

Wednesday, April 12, 5 p.m.
Public forum, followed by reception
at Nasher Sculpture Center

Thursday, April 13, 2 p.m.
Lecture at UT Dallas

Chemistry Professor’s Research Strengthens Art Conservation


Dr. David McPhail, the newest professor in the chemistry department in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, is studying how ultra-slow surface processes can gradually change the appearance of museum objects over time-scales of tens, hundreds or even thousands of years.

McPhail, who is also the Distinguished Chair of Conservation Science in the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History, is an expert in the field of ion beam mass spectrometry — an analytical technique that can typify the composition of a material’s surface and tell you how that composition is changing over time as the surface interacts with the immediate atmosphere around it.

“The ultimate aim of my work is to provide conservators and curators with practical steps that they can take to arrest completely or significantly reduce the degradation so that the useful life of the museum objects can be extended for the many future generations of museum visitors,” McPhail said.

He also uses a range of complementary electron microscopy, optical microscopy and atomic force microscopy techniques to better understand physical changes in the surfaces over time such as the development of cracks and pores.

“This is an exciting new thrust for our campus and partner museums. The conservation science effort brings together UT Dallas’ strengths in science, engineering and technology and pairs them with critical needs in the arts,” said Dr. Bruce Novak, dean of the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

“We currently have several faculty members who are working on conservation projects, and we’re looking forward to initiating a much broader agenda under Dr. McPhail’s leadership,” Novak said. “He is a tremendous catalyst for new partnerships that will involve chemists, physicists and materials scientists working closely with the arts community.”

McPhail is also working closely with the O’Donnell Institute and the Dallas-Fort Worth area’s major art museums, including the Dallas Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, in collaborative research projects.

I am very keen indeed to reach out to all colleagues at UTD and beyond who are interested in conservation science so we can grow capacity in this area and become an international center of expertise in conservation science in the years to come.

Dr. David McPhail,
Distinguished Chair of Conservation Science

“David was unique among our international applicants to this joint professorship in being truly distinguished as a research scientist as well as deeply involved in the physical or forensic study of works of art,” said Dr. Richard R. Brettell, founding director of the O’Donnell Institute and the Margaret M. McDermott Distinguished Chair of Art and Aesthetic Studies.

“He will hit the ground running and become part of UTD’s important School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics as well as the region’s distinguished group of fine arts conservators,” Brettell said. “The art and science focus of the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History is splendidly embodied in our first chaired appointment.”

McPhail is working with conservators from the DMA to characterize the dyes used in Andean textiles to understand how the fabrics were made and how to best conserve them. He is also analyzing materials used by the Mexican printmaker José Posada with the Amon Carter Museum and, again with the DMA, technical studies of the working methods of Texas-based contemporary artist John Wilcox.

Previously, McPhail lectured and conducted research at Imperial College London, where he developed research collaborations with London’s major museums. He was deputy director of the Graduate School at the university from 2011 to 2015 and acted as the academic lead on a joint PhD program with the National University of Singapore from 2010 to 2015.

He has won the Imperial College Rector’s Award for teaching — one of the university’s highest faculty accolades — twice.

McPhail has a PhD in mass spectrometry from Imperial College London, a postgraduate teaching certificate from the University of London and a bachelor of science in physics from Bristol University. He is a Fellow of the U.K.’s Institute of Physics and served on its council from 2010 to 2014.

“I am delighted to have this amazing opportunity at UTD to carry out research and teaching at the interface between the arts and the sciences,” McPhail said. “I am very keen indeed to reach out to all colleagues at UTD and beyond who are interested in conservation science so we can grow capacity in this area and become an international center of expertise in conservation science in the years to come.”

$17 Million Contribution Creates Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History at UT Dallas

Dr. David E. Daniel and Mrs. Edith O'Donnell
Edith O’Donnell, with UT Dallas President David E. Daniel, has been a longtime patroness of the arts and education. The Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building, which opened in 2013, will be home to the new institute’s campus offices.

Edith O’Donnell, longtime visionary and patroness of the arts and education, has made a contribution of $17 million to create the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History. The purpose of the investment is to elevate art history at UT Dallas to a nationally pre-eminent stature.

“UT Dallas excels in science and engineering. The moment is right to build a program of the same quality and rigor in art history,” O’Donnell said. “There is a natural affinity between science and the arts. UT Dallas founders Erik Jonsson, Eugene McDermott and Cecil Green actively supported the arts. Now, I look forward to seeing what the future holds for art history, UTD-style.”

Dr. David E. Daniel, president of UT Dallas, said, “The University extends its sincerest thanks and grateful appreciation to Edith O’Donnell. Her dedication to preserving and expanding the knowledge of art throughout the world inspires the creation of this institute.”

Dr. Rick Brettell
Dr. Richard R. Brettell

Dr. Richard R. Brettell will lead the stand-alone institute as the first Director and Edith O’Donnell Distinguished Chair. He will also serve as a vice provost, reporting to Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, executive vice president and provost.

Brettell, a professor of art and aesthetic studies who also holds the Margaret M. McDermott Distinguished Chair of Art and Aesthetic Studies in the School of Arts and Humanities, said, “Mrs. O’Donnell has made it clear that what interested her about funding art history at UT Dallas was our strength in the sciences, technology and management, thus creating the conditions that could foster a wholly new kind of art history.

“With art historians on campus who study the intersections between art and cartography, art and biology, and art history in the context of big data, UT Dallas has demonstrated a willingness to think about art and about history in new ways,” Brettell said.

O’Donnell said she recognizes that outstanding faculty and students are critical to the institute’s success. Her $17 million lead gift will endow Brettell’s position at the institute, four O’Donnell Distinguished Chairs, 10 O’Donnell Graduate Research Fellowships, and a research and program fund. The institute will provide support for conferences, research travel, and visiting faculty and lecturers.

The institute’s campus offices will be in the new Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building, a 155,000-square-foot facility that houses programs in arts and technology, visual arts, emerging media and communications, as well as a 1,200-seat lecture hall.

“The Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History will be the first such institute formed in the digital age,” Brettell said. “It will work with the distinguished older institutes” in New York (The Institute of Fine Arts), London (The Courtauld Institute of Art History) and Munich (The Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte) as well as the research institutes at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Clark Art Institute and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, and “will add a truly 21st-century dimension to the study of art history.”

The institute also will strengthen UT Dallas’ ties to area art museums. The Dallas Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art are working with UT Dallas on a partnership inconservation science. This partnership provides the museums with an opportunity to collaborate with UT Dallas scientists. Using state-of-the-art equipment, they will undertake long-term research projects focused on new scientific techniques and technologies to study artists’ materials. One of the new Edith O’Donnell Chairs will be dedicated to conservation science.

“We are very excited by the opportunity to collaborate with the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History and its director, Dr. Rick Brettell, to foster a better understanding of the creativity and history embedded in the visual arts,” said Maxwell L. Anderson, the Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art.

“The 22,000 works of art in our city’s encyclopedic museum will provide a laboratory for scholars from around the world participating in the life of this new institute. The DMA’s emerging strengths in both technology platforms and scientific research of our collections will also prove to be a fitting complement to the compelling vision articulated by Mrs. O’Donnell and by Dr. Brettell.”

Jeremy Strick, director of the Nasher Sculpture Center, said that the gift “represents a major step in advancing Dallas as an international center for the visual arts.

“Cementing existing programs, bringing new art historical talent to Dallas and fostering interdisciplinary research and institutional collaborations, the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History promises to be transformative not only of the arts in Dallas, but also of the field of art historical studies,” he said.

Existing programs that will be affiliated with the institute include theCenter for the Interdisciplinary Study of Museums, the Conservation Science Initiatives in partnership with the DMA and Amon Carter Museum, the DFW Art History Network and the Texas Fund for Curatorial Research.

Other affiliated museums and projects include the Census of French Sculpture in American Collections, the Crow Collection of Asian Art,Gauguin Catalogue RaisonnéJames Magee: The Hill, the DMA, theKimbell Art Museum, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Nasher Sculpture Center, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and theYale Series of Books on the History and Theory of Art Museums.

The institute will open this fall with events and activities to be announced soon.

This story originally appeared in the UT Dallas News Center on July 24, 2014