UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 12 Spring 20 Library
Coe Sweet
Art History

A Farewell to Dan Ehnbom

Indian Miniatures: The Ehrenfeld Collection by Daniel J. Ehnbom

Some people on the verge of retirement cannot stop thinking about the traveling they will do. Not Daniel Ehnbom. The celebrated South Asian Art History scholar, who first arrived on Grounds in 1991, has different ideas. "As a result of my being an historian of South Asian art, I end up traveling a lot. So, whenever people ask me about where I will go now that I am retiring, I say that I think I would like to actually stay home a little more." 

Over the course of his nearly 30 years at UVA, Ehnbom has taught undergraduate survey lecture courses on Indian and Buddhist art, as well as upper-level undergraduate lecture courses and undergraduate and graduate seminars in topics including 16th-century Indian painting; early Indian sculpture and architecture; and architecture, sculpture, and painting of the Gupta Period. He is the author of Indian Miniatures: The Ehrenfeld Collection (1985), articles on painting and Indian architecture, and contributions to various exhibition catalogues. Ehnbom also serves as Adjunct Curator of South Asian Art at The Fralin Museum of Art, a role he has found rewarding. 

Bill Wylie and Dan Ehnbom at the opening of Asian Art from the Permanent and Select Private Collections curated by Professors Dorothy Wong and Daniel Ehnbom
(Photo: Coe Sweet)

"As someone who is interested in works of art," he said, "I have always thought that it was great that we have the photographic and now digital resources that we have, but it is also good to have original works of art. I am a specialist in South Asian painting, and through a combination of gifts and purchases, we have built a small, but not insignificant collection of it. I was able to work with one of my graduate students, Krista H. Gulbransen, on a small touring exhibition, and every time you tour, when you put an exhibition together and publish the material, you are getting it out into the world. You are getting the UVA collection known a little better."

He has felt fortunate, he said, to be working at a University known as a major center for the study of South Asia in the United States. "We have a very strong collection of scholars in history, politics, language, religious studies, sociology, and anthropology. So, I have benefited greatly not just from the art historians I work with, but from a wide-ranging community of fellow scholars of South Asia, and that has been very rewarding professionally, intellectually, and personally." As for his own department, Ehnbom said that he has been pleased to see a growing commitment to a more diverse subject matter in art history than ever before, citing recent hirings of an Africanist and an Islamicist. "When I first came here, there was one Asianist on the faculty, and he taught East Asian, and principally Chinese art. "When I came, I became the Asianist, and we then hired East Asianist, Dorothy Wong, who is a well-known scholar." He cited the recent Mellon Grant that has brought scholars in Australian Aboriginal Art and Native American Art as further examples of the evolution. 

As he prepares to leave his academic home of three decades, Ehnbom will do so with a collection of former students he cherishes, including many who have gone on to be his colleagues. He will do so with a multidisciplinary array of friends across Grounds, and with an enduring appreciation for the remarkable beauty of his longtime academic home." I have a friend from Vienna Austria, who is a distinguished historian of South Asian architecture and came here to give a lecture. We put her up at the Colonnade Club. When she saw me after she settled in, she said, 'When you said you were at a state university, you didn't tell me it was so beautiful!'" It's a sentiment he shares. "Not to sound corny," he said, "but whenever anything takes me to The Lawn, I always pause and look around and think what a great architectural setting this is and how it is really a privilege to be able to do things in it."

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