Mary Miller

Sterling Professor in the History of Art

Image of Mary MillerMary Miller, A.B. Princeton University, Ph.D. Yale University, faculty member at Yale since 1981: You are one of the preeminent historians of art of the ancient new world. You spent your early life on a small working farm in the Finger Lakes of New York and then found your way to Princeton in the third entering class of women, before arriving in New Haven, where the great brain trust of Pre-Hispanic studies was to be found in the 1970s.

Throughout your professional life you have followed three, and eventually four, threads: teaching, research and writing, curating, and eventually administration. Your research led you to Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions and their potential for interpretation of Maya art, particularly of the eighth century, and especially of the murals at Bonampak, Mexico, on which you wrote two books, twenty-seven years apart. Finding little you could assign to your undergraduates in survey courses, you wrote the best-selling handbook to the art of Mesoamérica, now in its sixth edition.

Engaged with the object from your undergraduate days, you partnered with Linda Schele of the University of Texas in 1986 to curate and write the catalogue for The Blood of Kings, an exhibition at the Kimbell Art Museum that introduced a new interpretation of Maya art. The exhibition galvanized attention worldwide, and while many specialists bristled at the audacity of the claims that you and Schele made for the 116 objects on view, the catalogue would go on to win the A. Hyatt Mayor award of the College Art Association, and the show is recognized as the single most important exhibition of Maya art. Your next big curatorial project, this time at the National Gallery of Art in 2004, Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya, owed Blood of Kings a great debt.

Your significant research and engaged teaching were not all: almost as soon as you received tenure, you served two terms as chair of your department. A year or two later you became master of Saybrook College, bringing a steady hand to a college that had experienced administrative disturbance. You had almost completed two terms at Saybrook when you were tapped to serve as dean of Yale College, the first woman to serve in that office. As dean, from late in 2008 until 2014, you worked closely with chairs and guided departments through challenging economic times without sacrificing excellence. During the years of heavy engagement with faculty and undergraduates alike, you kept your scholarship alive, publishing five books—meanwhile dashing to Washington for five consecutive Sundays to deliver the A.W. Mellon lectures. In 2015 you were appointed Slade Professor at Cambridge. After a year as a Fellow at the National Gallery of Art, you returned to Yale and your department, and to serve as senior director of the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage on the West Campus.

In April 2018 the Getty called you to serve as the director of the Getty Research Institute, to be its first woman director and only the second American in the role. While you may now be in California, your portrait on the walls of Connecticut Hall reminds us that wherever you are, you will always remain a part of Yale, the place that formed you and that you, in turn, helped form.