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Tufts, Eleanor [May]

Date born: 1927

Place born: Exeter, NH

Date died: 1991

Place died: Dallas, TX

Pioneer feminist art historian and Spanish-art scholar. Tufts was the daughter of James A. Tufts, a New Hampshire businessman, and Hazel Weinbeck (Tufts), a school teacher. She graduated from Simmons College with a B.S. in Spanish in 1949, working initially as executive secretary at Boston University between 1950 until 1956. She worked on a master's degree in art history at neighboring Radcliffe College, awarded to her in 1957. Her thesis was written with the assistance of Millard Meiss (q.v.) and Jakob Rosenberg (q.v.). Tufts was then hired at the Council on International Educational Exchange in New York City as director of program development. She moved to World University Service, New York, as associate director in 1960. In 1964 she became assistant professor of art history at the University of Bridgeport, Bridgeport, CT. In 1966 she joined Southern Connecticut State College, New Haven as an associate professor of art history. Tufts continued working on her Ph.D. at New York University, which was granted in 1971. Her dissertation, written under José Lopez-Rey (q.v.) was on the Spanish artist Luis Meléndez. 1974 was a watershed year for her. She was appointed professor of art history, Chair of the Division of Art at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX, along with Alessandra Comini (q.v.); she published her important book, Our Hidden Heritage: Five Centuries of Women Artists, and was awarded a summer National Endowment for the Humanities grant. Tufts and Comini became partners, the two developing and sharing feminist approaches toward art and a home in Dallas. The two spent summers tracking down works by women artists for the books and to raise curatorial awareness of important works by women languishing in storage. Tufts helped organize the National Academy of Design's exhibition on her dissertation topic, Meléndez, in 1985. In 1987 the first director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Anne-Imelda Radice, asked Tufts to curate the inaugural traveling exhibition, "Women in the Arts, 1830-1930." The show received extensive and controversial coverage. She contracted ovarian cancer and died at age 64.

Home Country: United States

Sources: Comini, Alessandra. In Passionate Pursuit: a Memoir. New York: George Braziller, 2004, pp. 155-157, [obituaries:] "Eleanor Tufts 1927-1991." Woman's Art Journal 13, no. 1 (Spring, 1992): 55; "Eleanor Tufts, Art History Professor, 64." New York Times December 10, 1991, p B20;

Bibliography: [dissertation:] A Stylistic Study of the Paintings of Luis Meléndez. New York University, 1971, revised and published as, Luis Meléndez: Eighteenth-century Master of the Spanish Still Life: with a Catalogue Raisonné. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1985; and Levin, Gail, and Corn, Wanda, and Comini, Alessandra. American Women Artists, 1830-1930. Washington, DC: International Exhibitions Foundation for the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1987; Our Hidden Heritage: Five Centuries of Women Artists. New York: Paddington Press, 1974.