Donald Roberts, "Garden of Unanswered Questions–Dawn," oil on canvas, 2001
Donald Roberts, “Garden of Unanswered Questions–Dawn,” oil on canvas, 2001

OU Mourns Loss of Longtime Art Professor

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Ohio University is mourning the death of Professor Emeritus of Art Donald Roberts, who died on March 16 at his home in Athens.

He served as a professor of art in the Ohio University School of Art from 1953 to 1991.

Roberts, 91, became a nationally known lithographer, painter and sculptor as well as a highly-respected teacher in the classroom during his long career.

A member of the Ohio University Kennedy Museum of Art’s Advisory Board since 2010, Roberts played a major role in collecting prints for the College of Fine Arts, which eventually became the Museum’s Contemporary Print Collection.

Mary Manusos, Ohio University professor emerita of art, said much of what the School of Art is today was helped to be set in place by Roberts and former Dean of Fine Arts Henry Lin.

“Don Roberts has been missed for 20 years or more,” Manusos said. “He was a stellar faculty member, artist and teacher. He loved Ohio University, the program and his students. He was a very learned, driven and generous individual. He and Henry Lin did remarkable things in an era where the School of Art had some real champions at this University.”

Ed Pauley, director of the Kennedy Museum of Art, also shared his thoughts on Roberts.

“Donald Roberts was a great friend and teacher to many,” Pauley said. “He understood the important role art plays on campus and within the community. To that end, his passion and support for the Kennedy was unwavering.”

Roberts’ pursuit of a higher education degree was interrupted by World War II after he was inducted into the U.S. Army in March 1943. He served in the European theater of war in a medical unit until being discharged in January 1946.

Before joining the Army, Roberts attended the Vesper George School of Art in Boston, Massachusetts. After the war, he resumed his studies at Vesper George and graduated in 1948. He taught at the school through 1950.

Athens resident Rick Duff said although Roberts loved Athens and lived here during the academic year, he spent more than 50 years at his summer home in Vinalhaven, Maine. He said Roberts became popular and well-known to the residents on the tourist island located about 15 miles from Rockland, Maine.

“Donald built many relationships with the island’s permanent residents, including lobstermen,” Duff said. “I think when he died he had done everything in this world that he was put here to do. He had a full and interesting life and touched people in many ways.”

Roberts was born in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, in 1923. In 1952, he earned his bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Rhode Island School of Design. He received his master’s degree in fine arts from Ohio University in 1953.

In June 1949, Roberts married OHIO alumna June Carver Branham, who earned her bachelor’s degree in fine arts in 1958. She preceded him in death in January 2002. The couple didn’t have any children.

Although there will be no funeral service for Roberts, a memorial service is being planned by his friends.

The article originally appeared in Ohio University’s Compass.