Joe Deal, Professor Emeritus and former Provost passes away

Joe Deal with big bass. Courtesy Betsy Ruppa

Joe Deal (Professor Emeritus, Photography) passed away Friday, June 18, 2010 in Providence, Rhode Island after a prolonged battle against cancer. Over the course his career, he developed one of the signature bodies of work in American post-war photography. Born in Topeka, Kansas in 1947, Deal studied graphic design at the Kansas City Art Institute and earned advanced degrees in photography from the University of New Mexico. 

In 1975 Deal was included in “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape” at George Eastman House which marked a paradigm shift in the world of photography and the genre of landscape. Deal contributed to the exhibition and catalogue designs in his capacity as Director of Exhibitions at George Eastman House. This seminal exhibition will soon move from the Center for Creative Photography to an international tour which will include museums in Austria, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Germany. Deal began exhibiting with Light Gallery in New York in 1973 to be followed by three additional shows by 1981. Throughout the 1980s he documented the rampant development boom eating away at the West’s great wildernesses. Deal was commissioned to document the more considered building projects of the LA Museum of Contemporary Art (1984-86) and the Getty Center (1984-1997).

 In the 2000s Deal created two bodies of work that took him back to the Great Plains: “West and West: Reimagining the Great Plains” and “Karst and Pseudokarst”. Of the latter which captured the topographies of sinkholes and caverns below the level surface of the Plains, Deal wrote “I am drawn to these two powerful images: first of boundless grasslands and, second of a darker and, for the most part, invisible subterranean landscape. Not only do they represent opposites (light and dark, open and enclosed, positive and negative, etc.) to my mind they are also evocative of different aspects or mythologies of the American West.”  “West and West” was first exhibited at the RISD Museum of Art in 2009 and at Robert Mann Gallery earlier this year. The exhibition is on view at the Center for Creative Photography through August 1st, 2010. Earlier this year the Joe Deal Archive was situated in the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. Deal’s photographs are held in numerous public collections internationally and nationally. His view on human interventions into fragile and subtle landscapes earned the accolades of artists, curators, and critics and influenced a generation of photographers. 

From 1999-2005 Deal served as RISD’s Provost and Professor of Photography until his retirement in 2009. During his tenure he negotiated the academic presence in the Chace Center, the Mason and Fletcher buildings were acquired to house burgeoning graduate programs, and RISD started to develop the infrastructure necessary to support more robust art and design research.  Deal cut an elegant figure but remained resolutely the down to Earth Joe who was a passionate fly fisher and self deprecating wit. He stepped down from the position of Provost to recapture his life as a working photographer and teacher.  Provost Jessie Shefrin notes that “Eloquence and integrity marked not only the man but also Deal the administrator and teacher. He will be deeply missed by all those who had the opportunity to know and work with him.” 

Prior to joining RISD he held positions at the University of California at Riverside and Washington University where he also served as Dean of the School of Art (1989-1999), and where the flag is currently flying at half mast in Joe’s honor. He sat on the College Art Association board of directors and numerous committees and panels for the National Endowment for the Arts. He was the recipient of two NEA Artist’s Fellowships and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

 In the words of Jan Howard RISD’s Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, “The RISD community has just lost a great artist, friend, professor, former provost and museum advocate. He had a special gift for communicating– through his photographs, teaching and administrating. We were honored to celebrate his exceptional accomplishments in photography with him last fall with the exhibition, Joe Deal: New Work.  Since that time the Museum has received nearly 50 photographs in his honor as gifts from friends, colleagues, and former students. He will be deeply missed.”

Joe is survived by his wife Betsy Ruppa, his daughter Meredith Ivy Deal of Boston, and father Percy H. Deal of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

On Sunday, June 27th, 2010 Ruppa is hosting a casual Joe Deal Celebration/Open House for all who cared about and loved Joe to eat and drink and visit with others. Location: 93 Congdon St; Time: 2pm – 6pm.  Please note that there will be neither eulogies, nor ceremony.  Ruppa is also planning a Joe Deal Celebration in St Louis in October: details to follow. 

 The family asks that donations, in lieu of flowers, be made to:

The Center for American Places at Columbia College Chicago, Attention: Kim Clement, 600 South Michigan Avenue, Fourth Floor, Chicago, IL 60605-1996. IMPORTANT NOTE: Add  “In memory of Joe Deal” in the memo line.

Kansas State Foundation/Konza Prairie Research Excellence Fund,
IMPORTANT NOTE:  Mention “In Memory of Joe Deal” in the memo line.

Read the NY Times obituary here

Read the Providence Journal obituary here

Division of Fine Arts, Joe Deal, obituary, Professor Emeritus

Scroll Up