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Susan Fillin-Yeh, Faculty and Staff

A picture of Susan Fillin-Yeh

Cooley Gallery Director Susan Fillin-Yeh in 1992, with Assistant Director Silas Cook

Susan Fillin-Yeh, director and curator, Cooley Gallery [1991–2001], June 9, 2014, in New York, of complications from cancer.

Susan Fillin-Yeh earned a PhD in art history from CUNY and taught art history at Brown, Hunter College, and Yale before coming to Reed to direct the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery. During her vibrant career, she won fellowships from the Andrew Mellon, Smithsonian, and Fulbright foundations.

She brought many distinctive exhibitions to the Cooley Gallery, including Documenting a Myth: The South as Seen by Three Women Photographers: Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, Doris Ulmann, Bayard Wootten, 1910–1940; Sniper’s Nest; Art That Has Lived with Lucy R. Lippard; Modotti/Weston: Mexicanidad; a Sol LeWitt retrospective; and Modern Art in America, which she created as a complement to the art history course she taught at Reed in spring 1996. 

Fillin-Yeh served as cocurator for a retrospective exhibition on the works of Lucinda Parker ’66 at the Portland Art Museum (PAM) in 1995, which included a catalog; and she collaborated on a Hilda Morris retrospective at PAM in 2006 (both on the exhibition and on a comprehensive catalog). These projects were important contributions to regional curatorial work beyond the scope of her work for the college. Her regular production of catalogs throughout her tenure was especially notable, as was her prolific writing on academic topics she was passionate about. Her published books include Dandies: Fashion and Finesse in Art and Culture; Charles Sheeler: American Interiors; Sunlight, Solitude, Democracy, Home: Photographs by Robert Adams; Hilda Morris; and John Sloan’s New York.

She was a “feminist fashionista” and an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and women artists. Her grace and determination during the 20 years she battled cancer were an inspiration, and she had a “contagious sense of delight.”

Stephanie Sakellaris Snyder ’91, John and Anne Hauberg director and curator of the Cooley Gallery [2002–], recalls her first meeting with Susan. “It was 1991, shortly after the Cooley opened. I was a student at Reed, and just beginning an internship at the Cooley. Susan breezed into the museum wearing a bright red miniskirt, black stiletto heels, and patterned stockings, and proceeded to offer me a detailed and revelatory exegesis on the work of Kit-Yin Snyder, who was exhibiting at the time. I was awestruck by her passion, understanding, and style. Susan was a dynamic, powerful, and brilliant woman. Energy and intelligence radiated from her, and she offered it generously to those that she worked with, both on and off of campus.”

Prof. Peter Parshall [art history 1971–2000] remarks, “Among the highlights of Susan’s tenure as the director were the many instances of collaboration across fields. A watershed experience for me was an exquisite installation of minimalist works selected by Prof. Michael Knutson [art 1982–] and accompanied one night by a concert of minimalist music in the gallery where students and faculty sat around, many on the floor, as these two discrete forces played over one another. Such occasions were common under her leadership, and in small ways they changed people’s lives.” On the occasion of Fillin-Yeh’s retirement, Prof. Peter Steinberger [political science 1977–], then acting president, noted, “Under her tutelage the gallery has become an important part of the Reed community and the Portland art community.” Fillin-Yeh was married to biophysicist Jen Yeh and they had one daughter, Kate. “Susan set a remarkable example at Reed, and it is an honor to be her successor at the Cooley,” says Stephanie. “May her spirit live on always.”

Appeared in Reed magazine: December 2014

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