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Art history professor emerita Esther Dotson dies at age 91

Media Contact

Joe Schwartz

Esther Gordon Dotson of Danby, N.Y., professor emerita of art history at Cornell, died Oct. 28 after a long illness. She was 91.

Dotson was a compelling teacher whose course History of Art 240: Introduction to the Renaissance became one of the most popular undergraduate courses at Cornell in the 1970s and 1980s.

Dotson graduated summa cum laude from Vassar College in 1939 and taught art history after graduation and during her graduate studies at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts. She completed her Ph.D. in 1973 and became the first woman appointed to a full-time professorship in the Department of the History of Art at Cornell. She retired in 1989.

She received the College Art Association's Award for Distinguished Teaching of Art History in 1986 and was an authority on Michelangelo, publishing a two-part article on the Sistine Chapel ceiling in The Art Bulletin in 1979. She was a consultant on the ceiling's restoration and was received at the Vatican by Pope John Paul II in recognition of her scholarly work on the Sistine Chapel.

She also published articles in Collier's Encyclopedia of Art and the Art Journal; was editor-in-chief of the journal Marsyas and researched 18th-century Austrian architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach.

Her husband, Arch Dotson, was a professor of government at Cornell. He died in 2006.

The Dotsons lived in a Richard Meier '56-designed home and were interested in alternative energy and land preservation, adding solar panels to their house, working with the Finger Lakes Land Trust to protect large tracts of land and helping to create a community park in Danby.

Esther Dotson was a founding member of Loaves and Fishes, which serves meals to the poor; and a long-time volunteer with the Southern Tier Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Meals-on-Wheels, and various community groups.

A memorial service will be held Dec. 12 at 11 a.m. at St. John's Episcopal Church, Buffalo and Cayuga Streets, Ithaca. Donations can be made in her name to Loaves and Fishes (c/o St. John's Episcopal Church), or the Danby Community Park Association, 1825 Danby Road, Ithaca, NY 14850.