Obituary: Gerald M. Ackerman

Art historian, author, professor

Gerald M. Ackerman, a distinguished art historian, died peacefully at his Claremont home on Friday, January 1, 2016. He was 87. 

He was born in Alameda, California and grew up in Santa Cruz, the son of Alois and Eva Sadler Ackerman. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1952 and studied at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany. He earned his doctorate in art history and architecture at Princeton University.

Mr. Ackerman taught for six years at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and then returned to California to teach as associate professor at Stanford University for five years. He moved to Pomona College in 1970, where he became chairman of the department of art and art history and was professor emeritus.

“He was the driving force within the department throughout the 1970s, and we will always be grateful to him for establishing such a strong institutional presence for art history,” Frances Pohl, current department chair and close friend, said.

Mr. Ackerman was a premiere scholar of 19th century art and renowned for his book on the French painter and sculptor Jean Léon Gérôme, whom he helped re-introduce to the art world.  

He published many other books and articles on American and European art and academic theory and is recognized especially for his Bargue-Gérôme Drawing Course. The book, which he wrote with the help of artist Graydon Parrish, is sold in museum book stores and assigned reading in many art and drawing classes at schools across the country. His last work, yet-to-be published, was on the John Nava tapestries at the Our Lady of Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles.

Mr. Ackerman was honored with the exclusive Order of Arts and Letters from France for exceptional achievement, and in 2012 received a medal from the French Minister of Culture. In 2011, he was awarded Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine’s Trailblazer Award. Publisher B. Eric Rhodes said of him, “He was one of the finest art historians of our time and his influence will be felt for generations.”

He spoke six languages and traveled all over Europe and the Middle East. He was passionate about the opera, especially those by Wagner, classical music and reading the numerous books he cherished. Jerry will be remembered not only for his intellect and scholarship, but also for his quick wit and his generosity. 

He was preceded in death in 2014 by his husband and life-partner of 52 years, the actor and art historian Leonard R. Simon, who produced four plays Jerry had written. He was also preceded in death by his parents, his sister Shirley Ackerman Spencer and his niece, Maria Spencer Rowe.

Mr. Ackerman is survived by his sister Lois Ackerman Lawson and brother Alois M. Ackerman; nieces Brennie Small, Anusuya StarBear and Laurel Del Pozo and nephews Robert G. Spencer, Tracy Johnson, Barry Spencer, Clay Johnson, Steven Spencer and Derek Johnson. He also leaves 15 great-nieces and nephews and five great, great-nieces and nephews. Memorial services in Claremont and Santa Cruz are pending.


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