Cheryl Robertson, a highly respected curator, speaker and author in the Arts and Crafts community, passed away over the weekend of July 6th, at her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was 60 years old.
For more than thirty years Cheryl had served in museums as well as at universities, both as a professor and as a curator. As such she organized, prepared and directed the installation of numerous temporary and permanent displays for major exhibitions. Cheryl prided herself in her efforts to help museums revitalize what she liked to call "tired art museum exhibits." In addition, she often assisted private individuals restoring and furnishing historic homes, helped manage small and large single-owner collections, and worked with local historical societies.
Cheryl contributed her knowledge to many seminal museum exhibitions, including the pioneering “The Art that is Life” (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1987) and “International Arts and Crafts” (Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 2005). While curator at the National Heritage Museum, she mounted “Designing in the Wright Style: Furniture and Interiors by Frank Lloyd Wright and George Niedecken” and wrote the accompanying book. Her keen interest in English industrial designer Christopher Dresser and the Japanese influence on American art was surpassed only by her passion for women’s studies; in particular, the female role in homemaking.
Attendees at the Grove Park Inn Arts and Crafts Conference will recall that Cheryl delivered a memorable seminar in 2009 on Frank Lloyd Wright and the design of Prairie School furnishings. Her breadth of scope was remarkable, as she also delivered talks on Greene & Greene furniture, the Arts and Crafts movement in the West, the Byrdcliffe art colony, 19th and 20th century architecture, the colonial revival, and the role of women in history.
She knew objects and loved ideas, and her rare ability to combine the two made her one of the leading decorative arts and architectural historians in the country. She served as curator of American Decorative Arts at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (Hartford, CT); Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs at the National Heritage Museum (Lexington, MA); and Curator of Decorative Arts at the Milwaukee Art Museum. She also served as Assistant Director and lecturer at Sotheby’s Institute for American Art in New York City and as an Assistant Professor in the Winterthur Program in American Culture (University of Delaware). More recently, she taught in the American and New England Studies Program at Boston University.
Wendy Kaplan, Department Head and Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, remembered that, “Cheryl's passionate advocacy had an enormous impact on Arts and Crafts movement scholarship. Her meticulous research and cogent analysis not only informed her own writing and teaching, but made her the ‘go to’ first reader for her friends in the field, including me. Boundlessly generous, intellectually curious, and an astute observer both of historical documents and human nature, she was an invaluable colleague and friend.”
Cheryl was a culture hound, attending lectures, theater and concerts regularly. Recipients of her New Year's letter looked forward to receiving her annual photographic collage and amazing compendium of adventure, travel, and accomplishments. The last letter featured her and her husband David snowshoeing in New Hampshire, scuba diving in Belize, camping at Acadia National Park, and exploring Mesa Verde. The latter was done the week before she gave the keynote lecture for the conference “At the Frontier’s Edge: The Arts & Crafts Movement in Denver and Environs.”
Cheryl was born in Dayton, Ohio, the only child of Vera and Leroy Keener. She studied history and French at Oberlin College from which she graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. in 1975. She received a M.A. from the Winterthur Program in Early American Material Culture at the University of Delaware in 1979. Cheryl is survived by her husband of almost fourteen years, David Schloerb, of Cambridge, MA; her first cousins Amy and Jon Shellabarger of Minneapolis, MN, and Miami, FL, respectively; and hundreds of admiring colleagues, students and friends. Donations may be made in her memory to Winterthur for research fellowships there. (Cheryl had received three of these.)
A memorial service will be held in her honor at the Old North Church in Boston's historic North End on Saturday, July 27 at 6pm; a reception will follow. For further details, please contact Marilee Meyer at mbm0044(at)aol(dot)com.