Obituary: Julie Allyn Nicoletta
Mother, college professor, author
Julie Allyn Nicoletta died peacefully at her home in Seattle on August 28 after a two year battle with lung cancer. Her husband, Michael Kucher, son, Luca Kucher, mother, Stella Nicoletta, and younger sister Amy Nicoletta were by her side. She was 57 years old.
A professor at the University of Washington Tacoma for more than two decades, Julie taught thousands of students. She developed courses in American history, art and architectural history, and material culture studies. She found joy in encouraging her students to pay attention to the ordinary world around us to understand the past lives of everyday people.
She was born in Buffalo, New York, on December 22, 1965, the eldest child of Carmen Anthony Nicoletta, an aerospace engineer, and Stella Dolores (née Mangione) Nicoletta, a homemaker. Her father took a job at NASA to work on the Apollo moon missions in the late 1960s, moving the family to suburban Washington, D.C. When the Apollo program wound down in the early 1970s, the family relocated to Claremont. Although she only lived in California for 15 years, she always thought of that state as her home. She loved the desert environment of Southern California and returned there often to visit family. She attended public schools in Claremont, graduating from Claremont High in 1983.
She began her college career as an economics and finance major at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, but a work-study job as an inventory assistant at the University Museum at UPenn studying Near Eastern artifacts led her to switch gears. She transferred to Pomona College and became an art history major. Her professors there, all grounded in social historical approaches to the study of art, taught her the importance of using social, political, and economic factors rather than just aesthetic ones to understand art history.
She graduated from Pomona College in 1987, then enrolled at Yale University to continue her studies. At Yale, she worked with the Mesoamericanist Michael Coe, and art historians Abbott Lowell Cummings, George Hersey, and Jules Prown. It was professor Coe who raised an interest in the Shakers. She was intrigued by the religious group’s religious and social complexities, despite their outward simplicity in dress, architecture, and furniture. She wrote her dissertation on the dwelling houses at the Shaker community at Mount Lebanon, New York, near Albany, and earned her Ph.D. in 1993.
After working briefly as the architectural historian in the State Historic Preservation Office in Carson City, Nevada in the mid-1990s, the couple moved to Tacoma, Washington in 1996, where they took teaching jobs at the new University of Washington campus there, only six years old at the time. She spent her entire academic career at UW Tacoma, rising through the ranks to become a full professor in 2007. She produced numerous articles on women’s art, Shaker architecture, and the architecture of the New York World’s Fair of 1964-1965, among other topics. She published two books, “The Architecture of the Shakers” (W.W. Norton/Countryman Press, 1995), and “Buildings of Nevada” (Oxford University Press, 2000).
She met her future husband Michael when they were graduate students in Wilmington, Delaware. They married in 1993. Their only child, Luca, was born in 2004. She loved being a mother. She cherished her time with her son and was grateful to see him thrive and grow into a young man. She enjoyed walking, hiking, traveling, and cooking. She could spend hours walking cities and neighborhoods around the world looking at architecture.
In September 2021 she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer that had metastasized to her spine. Though surgery to remove the tumor was successful, the tumor caused a partial spinal cord injury, initially leaving her unable to walk and with chronic nerve damage. Over the subsequent months, with a lot of strength and determination, she relearned to walk, first with a walker, then with a cane or trekking poles, and then with no aids. She worked on her physical recovery while undergoing chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation treatments for the cancer. When the cancer treatments stopped working, she decided to switch to hospice care at home in May 2023.
“Michael and Luca will be forever grateful to the dozens of family and friends, near and far, and neighbors in Julie’s beloved community of Wallingford who pitched in to provide meals, run errands, do chores, drive Julie to appointments, and take walks with her as she recovered her mobility,” her family shared. “They also thank all the doctors, nurses, staff, and amazing valet parking attendants at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center who made dealing with cancer as easy as it could possibly be.”
In addition to her husband, son, and mother, she is survived by her sister, Amy Nicoletta; brother-in-law, Chris Jones; niece, Mia Jones; and brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Mark and Diane Iezzatti.
A celebration of life is being planned in 2024. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center at fredhutch.org/en.html, or Planned Parenthood at plannedparenthoodaction.org.