Longtime Art Historian and Associate Dean to Retire

photo of Dr. Cathy Pagani
Dr. Cathy Pagani

Catherine Pagani, professor of art history and recent associate dean of the UA Graduate School will retire December 31, 2021, after 28 and a half years at UA. Pagani started out in the department of art and art history, where she served seven years as chair and is now professor of art history. She served five and a half years as associate dean for Graduate Academic Programs, stepping down last year.

The Graduate Council presented Pagani with a resolution recognizing her service and thanking her for her dedication to the Graduate School. As associate dean, she oversaw key areas of accreditation and program approval. She inaugurated the Graduate Council’s Policy Committee and served as chief liaison for the Graduate Awards Committee and Graduate Curriculum Committee.

The Graduate Council’s resolution declared in part, “in all of her academic roles, Dr. Pagani has held student success as her highest priority, helping countless students find their paths forward through her insightful and caring mentorship as well as her significant talents in conflict resolution.”

Pagani said she will miss interacting with students the most, both in teaching and as an administrator. “In the Graduate School, I’d ask, ‘What can we do to make students feel supported?’ It sounds like “admin-speak,” but it’s true.” She answered that question in part by developing effective career preparation and academic support programs for students – for example, in the development and implementation of the Publisher-in-Residence series for graduate students and significant improvements to the Graduate Teaching Assistants Workshop.

Another area where Pagani has supported students is as the faculty adviser for Alabama Triathletes. She competed in the ITU Triathlon World Championships in Beijing in 2011 and now is a CAT 1 official for USA Triathlon. She teaches indoor cycling in the department of kinesiology and spin classes at the UA Rec Center and the YMCA. She is also a personal trainer and recently completed her Pilates certification.

Pagani also served on the Board of Directors of the National Council of Arts Administrators, and as an on-site accreditation visitor and chair for the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. She served on the executive board and as committee chair of the Council of Southern Graduate Schools. She was appointed to the City of Tuscaloosa’s Historic Preservation Commission in 2011 and currently serves in her seventh term as chair.

Pagani’s expertise is in Chinese art, particularly the cultural contacts between east and west during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She holds a Ph.D. in East Asian Studies and a master’s degree in Museum Studies, both from the University of Toronto. Pagani said that when she came to UA in 1993, there was “just one course on Asian art on the books. The department wanted to hire someone with an actual specialization in Asian art. At that time, the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation (of Taiwan) was offering grants to institutions that wished to hire someone in an area of Chinese studies. The grant would cover salary for three years and provide some funds that would support the position, like books for the library. The institution was then expected to support the position after that. Ron Robel [then professor of Chinese language and history] got together with Eloise Angiola [then professor of art history] to write a grant for a historian of Chinese art.” She added, “And the rest is history.”

“At a time when a lot of institutions were not replacing positions for retiring faculty – and certainly they were not creating new positions – UA was one of few institutions in the country that was able to add a new faculty line,” Pagani said. “It was really an exceptional situation.”

As chair of the department of art and art history from 2008 through 2015, Pagani oversaw the department’s name change to reflect its broader focus, in addition to the expansion of the faculty, elevation of the department’s staff, the department’s first study abroad program, in Cuba, and the significant acquisition of the Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art.

Dr. Lucy Curzon, associate professor of art history and graduate program director for art history, worked with Pagani as a fellow art historian and on the Graduate Council’s Graduate Curriculum Committee. “Both in the department and as an administrator in the Graduate School, Cathy’s contributions to scholarship, education, and administration have been quite significant,” Curzon said.

Rachel Dobson, communications specialist and visual resources curator for the department, worked closely with Pagani when she was chair. “Along with her teaching, Cathy made sure our students had access to incredible resources, particularly several Asian art exhibits she curated, through her contacts with the Birmingham Museum of Art and with Asian art collector Dr. William T. Price. She helped lay the groundwork for the department’s relationship with Dr. Price, who donated his vast library of Asian art books and journals to us, which has been an invaluable resource.”

For information about The University of Alabama’s programs in studio art and art history, visit our Degree Programs page.