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Gaertner, Johannes A[lexander]

Date born: 1912

Place born: Berlin, Germany

Date died: 1996

Place died: Easton, PA

Aesthetician, art educational theorist, professor of art history at Lafayette College, Easton, PA,1947-1977. Gaertner was the son of Carl Eugen Gaertner (1884-1937) and Fanny Hurwitz (Gaertner). Though his mother was Jewish, he was raised a Christian. Gaertner received his doctorate in theology from the University in Heidelberg in 1936, writing a dissertation on Johann Gottfried Herder's position on Christian art. His intent was to become a Christian minister. Despite being half Jewish, Gaertner was eligible for conscription in the German army. To avoid this, he emigrated to Peru immediately after graduation. There he met and married a Jewish refugee, also from Berlin, Gerda Meyer (1916-2004), a fashion designer, in 1941. The coupled lived in the South American country until the end of the World War II where Gaertner worked as a private language tutor in Lima and subsequently for a book importer. He and his wife moved to the United States in 1946, initially settling in New York working for a book publisher. He was sponsored in the United States by the director of the Boston Athenaem, Walter Muir Whitehill (1905-1978), through a mutual interest in Latin. Gaertner was hired at Lafayette College in Easton PA in 1947, initially as the Latin teacher. He parlayed his skills in the small college to teaching a variety of humanities courses of the years. He published poetry in Latin and German between 1954 and 1964. At Lafayette, Gaertner instituted the first art history courses, a single one-term class. He was promoted to associate professor in 1958. Gaertner collecting his thoughts on American painting in a German-language book, Prisma der Demokratie: Ausdruck und Selbstkritik in der Malerei Amerikas, published in 1961. He was promoted to professor of art history in 1967, remaining teaching there for the next ten years until he retired emeritus. Students inspired by Gaertner included the Yale University art historian Jules Prown (q.v.). He died at a local hospital at age 83.

Gaertner was characteristic of many one-person art history departments in the second half of the 20th Century in the United States. He taught all areas of art as a way to bring cultural studies to a small college. His early publishing career was on Latin instruction (his appointment at the time) and later on art articles on art instruction. Prown described Gaertner as "an inspirational but idiosyncratic undergraduate teacher."

Home Country: Germany/United States

Sources: [Staff Biographical Form, Lafayette College, complete December 7, 1965]; Wendland, Ulrike. Biographisches Handbuch deutschsprachiger Kunsthistoriker im Exil: Leben und Werk der unter dem Nationalsozialismus verfolgten und vertriebenen Wissenschaftler. Munich: Saur, 1999, vol. 1, pp. 184-5; Bliwise, Robert. "Dr. Johannes Gaertner: The Many Dimensions of a Lafayette Scholar." The Lafayette May 11, 1972; Ruthizer, Jeffery. "My Lafayette Experience - Connecting My Life After Lafayette." Lafayette Alumni News Summer 2006. http://www.lafayette.edu/press/magazine/June06/reflect.html; Prown, Jules David. [comments from the symposium dinner, October 20, 1995] Yale Journal of Criticism 11 no. 1 (1998): 9-10; [obituaries:] "Johannes Gaertner, 83, Lafayette Professor of Foreign Languages." Morning Call January 30, 1996, p. B5; Express Times (Easton, PA) January 30, 1996, p. B6; personal conversation, Susanna Gaertner, February 13, 2008.

Bibliography: [dissertation:] Johann Gottfried Herders Anschauungen über eine christliche Kunst. Ph.D., Heidelberg, 1936, published Berlin, 1938; "Myth and Pattern in the Lives of Artists." Art Journal 30, no. 1 (Autumn, 1970): 27-30; Prisma der Demokratie: Ausdruck und Selbstkritik in der Malerei Amerikas. Berlin: B. Hessling, 1961.

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