University Community Mourns Loss of Former Fine Arts Dean Robert S. Olpin

Nov. 7, 2005 – Robert Spencer Olpin, 65, beloved professor of art history and former dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Utah, passed away Saturday, Nov. 5, due to complications following a stroke.


A prominent Utah art historian, Olpin authored many well-known publications, including the original Dictionary of Utah Art. In 1998, an autographed copy of the book was added to the Utah governor’s collection of “outstanding books about Utah.” Olpin received numerous honors and awards, including the Utah History Media Award for his book Utah Art. He was named a Thomas D. Dee Fellow for his accomplishments as a teacher and an educator.


“Bob Olpin can be credited with creating and shaping art history, which evolved into a program with undergraduate and graduate degrees here at the U. His fascination with Utah art, however, was profound: He single-handedly guided the development of Utah art as a discipline. In addition to his published books, he helped to initiate the Utah Artists Project, a U of U Marriott Library Web site resource, which features Utah artists and their works. Because of his long association with the University, he impacted many people on campus. He will be missed by students, colleagues and friends,” notes Elizabeth Peterson, chair of the Department of Art and Art History at the University.


Former art student David Meikle says of Olpin: “In addition to having great knowledge of Utah art and art history, he was a really wonderful person, a great story teller who was very generous with his time.”


Olpin was recognized for his research accomplishments in the area of 19th- and 20th-century American and regional art.


A professor of art history at the University for 34 years, Olpin served as dean of the College of Fine Arts for 10 years. He co-directed the Utah Fine Arts Institute and was president of Associated Art Historians, Inc., a non-profit organization. He was consulting curator of American art for the U’s Utah Museum of Fine Arts and consulting curator of the permanent collection at the Springville Museum of Art.


Olpin served as a member and trustee of numerous boards, including those of the Utah Arts Council, Pioneer Theatre Company, the Salt Lake Art Center and the Bountiful/Davis Art Center.


Born in Palo Alto, California, he came to Utah to attend the University of Utah, where he received his bachelor of science and master of arts degrees. He received his Ph.D., in 1971, from Boston University.

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