Written by Richard Edwards

m_people_large120x120W ALTER SPINK came to the Department of History of Art in 1961. Those were days, if not of wine and roses, of extraordinary development. It was a time when the department, along with area centers, was in a period of conscious expansion. Charles Sawyer was already in place giving to the Museum of Art increasing national significance, expanding collections (for which the Parker Fund was used to bolster Asian holdings), and heading vital museum training programs. The year before, on George Forsyth's invitation, I had arrived from Saint Louis to fill a vacant post in what was still broadly the Asian area. What better at that point than to convince both the department and the growing center that my long-time friend of Cambridge and Brandeis experience was what we needed in Ann Arbor for scholarship and teaching in the arts of India and Southeast Asia?

 

u of michIT might be noted that Harvard's Jakob Rosenberg, who had just been a distinguished visiting professor at Michigan and returned to east of Worcester with praises of the program here, added his encouragement to a former student and friend. (Of course, we would have captured Walter anyway, but it helps to have powerful assistance.) There followed those years of the sixties under Marvin Eisenberg's focused and sensitive scholar-teaching direction as chair, when the area of Asian art - to say nothing of other appointments - received important attention. While Oleg Graber was well in place for the Islamic world, in mid-decade Calvin French was enlisted to give greater authority to the art of Japan. Subsequently, we were to add Virginia Kane, a second China appointment. Indeed, the department was to expand its coverage of Asia to a point when seven faculty members, on full or shared appointments, were offering courses on the arts of a great continent: east from the Mediterranean to the last unique expression of it on the island complex of Japan. In those periodic outside reviews that administrations appear to require, more often than not Michigan's focus on the arts of Asia elicited a "distinguished" evaluation.

While Walter, by undisguised self-admission, may be considered the antithesis of organizational man, he presented for us not only an alternative voice on Asia but a universal approach to the arts that shattered barriers between East and West, time present and time past. After all, it is in the nature of visible form more readily to scale those cultural walls so guarded by linguistic enclosures of verbal form. Uncomfortable in the systematic coverage implied by "The Arts  of Asia," he turned to an open-ended introduction: "Arts: Ideas: East: West. " His Indian specialty slipped readily into instruction on Western prints and drawings, always with first-hand exposure to collections, dealers, and collectors. He was, however, open to all the arts. Special was his love of poetry, graced from early contact with Archibald MacLeish to later friendship with Robert Bly. It included the teaching of Yeats, and one might catch his personal suggestion that the greatest twentieth-century poem was Wallace Steven's "Sunday Morning."

Given the glow of what the Chinese would define as his "true nature" (xing), it is perhaps inevitable that Walter would shine brightly well beyond the borders of academic Ann Harbor. Whether in concert, lecture, or scholarly gathering, floating down Michigan's rivers, exploring exhibitions, superintending quality photography and its distribution, or traveling the world, he ranged far beyond classroom walls. No need here to reiterate his love for "Mother India." Curiously, indeed dramatically, his burrowing into ancient caves became a tangible seal for his direct love for the visual. At Ajanta, it was in what he could see from a humble door hinge or rocky fault to the carved and painted glory of Buddha's kingdom that he claimed, in a methodology worthy of a scientist, to read fifteen years of creative activity in the second half of the fifth century.

As you continue to glance through Walter's publications and read the warm and heartfelt remarks of those who came closest to his scholarly and personal aura, there can be little doubt that his place in our departmental constellation was as a bright star, someone of special presence, of international stature, and in his field a leader.

Tribute Authors

Frederick M. Asher

Frederick M. Asher :: In Praise of Walterji

Frederick Asher is a specialist in South Asian art. His current research considers the architecture of contested religious space and the issue of copying/originality in Indian art.

Richard Edwards

Richard Edwards :: Colleague at Michigan

Michigan - History of Art | Professor of Far Eastern Art, 1960 | Professor Emeritus, 1987

Michael W. Meister

Michael W. Meister :: Spink On Wheels

W. Norman Brown Professor of South Asia Studies. He is a specialist in the art of India and Pakistan. He has served as Chair of the Departments of South Asia Studies (SASt) and History of Art and as Director of Penn's South Asia Center.

Janice Leoshko

Janice Leoshko :: The Importance of Questions

Prior to joining the faculty in 1993 at The University, Associate Professor Leoshko worked at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for seven years as the Associate Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art

Susan L. Huntington

Susan L. Huntington :: Homage to a Modern Cave Man

Susan L. Huntington, Ph.D., is Distinguished University Professor and Professor of History of Art, Emerita, but continues to teach and advise graduate students at The Ohio State University. 

Donald M. Stadtner

Donald M. Stadtner :: The Cow Herder Goes to Washington

for many years an Associate Professor at the University of Texas, Austin, after completing his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. His publications include Ancient Pagan: Buddhist Plain of Merit (2005) and Sacred Sites of Burma (forthcoming).