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Making an immeasurable impression: Jean Makin retires from the ASU Art Museum

ASU Art Museum Curator of Prints Jean Makin poses in a gallery

ASU Art Museum curator of prints Jean Makin. Photos by Diane Wallace

June 06, 2016

When Jean Makin began working at the ASU Art Museum in 1989, the print collection consisted of just under 1,500 works on paper. Today that number is approaching 7,000.

“From the beginning, it was really hands on with the collection,” said Makin, who is retiring from the art museum after 27 years as curator of prints.

Makin began her arts career as an assistant registrar at the University of Iowa Museum of Art before moving to Arizona, where she worked as the registrar at the Phoenix Art Museum for more than three years.

The ASU Art Museum’s collection of works on paper, which includes artists from Dürer to Warhol, was a huge draw for Makin, who has an MFA in printmaking from the University of Iowa. She was hired as the museum’s first assistant curator of prints.

In the early years at the museum, she helped establish the facility at the Nelson Fine Arts Center, physically moving artwork from Matthews Center, where the museum was originally housed. Then came the task of cataloguing the work, which suited Makin well given her previous experience as a registrar.

Curator of Prints Jean Makin interacts with students at the ASU Art Museum

But ultimately, she said, the most gratifying part of the job came in her interactions with students, whether it was a larger class or an individual intern, in the Jules Heller Print Study Room.

“There have been numerous classes that have worked on specific aspects of the collection, researching and writing text that later is used in an exhibition,” Makin explained. “The students are engaged directly with the curatorial process, which is quite different from standard research for a hand-in paper. And they saw their work in the gallery — how many students can claim they created an exhibition?”

Melissa Button, an instructor in the ASU School of Art, regularly brought her classes to the print room to work with Makin.

“I cannot properly express how much I have appreciated and benefited from [Makin’s] endless knowledge and continuous desire to educate the students,” said Button. “[Makin] will not be soon forgotten, as [her] words and enthusiasm for prints will carry through my teaching for many years to come.”

Several of Makin’s former interns said their experience with Makin and the ASU Art Museum’s print collection was formative for them.

“Jean Makin is a gem and a real asset to the arts community,” says Laura Wilde, a former intern who graduated in 2014 with a bachelor in art history from the School of Art and who now works as the outreach and volunteer coordinator at the Phoenix Center for the Arts. “Her vast knowledge, experience and kindness helped me so much while I served as an intern at the ASU Art Museum print department, as I'm sure it helped many others. Her guidance helped me start my arts career.”

While interning at the museum, Emma Ringness’ research with the collection developed into a full-blown exhibition titled “Plate, Silk, Stone: Women in Print” (2013).

“Jean has an incredible wealth of knowledge both in art history and art making,” said Ringness, who graduated in 2013 with a degree in printmaking. “So much of what I learned during my time as an intern in the print study room was not from the research I conducted, but from my conversations with Jean.”

Throughout the years, Makin wore many hats (often simultaneously), from personnel manager to graphic designer, leaving an immeasurable impression on the museum itself. But her legacy extends even farther, to the larger ASU community and beyond.

“Jean has been central to the museum’s mission for over 27 years, and her commitment and expertise is shown through her amazing history of exhibitions and the building of the phenomenal print collection,” say ASU Art Museum Director Gordon Knox. “Thousands of students, academics and members of the public have come to know and love the print collection thanks to Jean’s hard work.”

Makin’s final exhibition at the museum, “The Brandywine Workshop Collection,” includes work from a satellite collection of prints that the ASU Art Museum received from the Brandywine Workshop in Philadelphia in 2015 and features artists such as Betye Saar, Tomie Arai and Willie Birch. The show will be on view July 5 through Dec. 17.

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