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Irene A. Bierman-McKinney

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Irene A. Bierman-McKinney Obituary
November 1, 1942 - March 8, 2015 Born Irene Abernathy to Henry J. and Irene Lehman Abernathy, Renie grew up in Connecticut and New Jersey. She attended Western College for Women (now Miami University in Ohio) and earned an M.A. in Middle East Studies at Harvard, followed by a certificate in Arabic from American University in Cairo. During the 1970's, Renie lived in Portland, Or. and taught courses on Islamic Art and Architecture at Portland State University and at the University of Washington. With her colleague, Jere Bacharach, she received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for interpretive exhibitions of "Oriental" carpets which became the "Warp and Weft of Islam." The show traveled from Seattle to Portland, Bellingham, Spokane and Reno with accompanying publications and presentations. This was followed by a 12-part TV series on Islamic Art shown in the Pacific Northwest. All this time,she was also working on a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago which she earned in 1980. A major change in Renie's professional life took place in 1981 when she interacted with a wide range of art historians as a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study of the Visual Arts, part of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. She then joined the faculty at UCLA with a tenure track position, was promoted through the ranks, and retired as Professor Emerita in 2012. As an academic administrator, Renie was known for her professionalism, openness and fairness. She served 8 years as Director of the Middle East Center and was also Chair of the Department of Art History. As a mentor to graduate students, she set exceptionally high standards. As one of her doctoral students reflected: "Renie was my first teacher in art history, and I never realized how unique she was until I entered the world and discovered the breadth with which she enabled her students to think outside the boundaries of disciplinarity┬┐..I feel echoes of her teaching in my own work almost every day." Outside UCLA, Renie served as Interim Director of American Research Center in Cairo and was the only art historian President of Middle East Medievalists. During her career, she was an active committee member of many other academic organizations including Middle East Studies Association. Renie created collaborative research projects that involved numerous international activities. These included serving as Director of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers/Getty Foundation Professional Mediterranean Heritage Training Program in Istanbul; Co-Director, UW/Getty Foundation Summer Institute in Istanbul; Co-Director and PI, UCLA/Getty Foundation Summer Institute in Istanbul; and Co-Director, ARCE/IFAO 4-year research project in Cairo including 3 international conferences. Her publication record includes seven authored or edited books, 25 articles and numerous exhibition pamphlets, catalogues and project reports. A colleague wrote: "Her scholarship was both historical and interpretive, solidly rooted in research and knowingly conversant with theory. Her work on the role of public writing in Islamic iconography was path-breaking; her study of the Ottomanization of cities was extremely inventive, and her understanding of the function of conservation in our cities today constructively critical." Beyond her academic achievements, Renie enjoyed spending time walking the paths of the Metolius River and Camp Sherman in central Oregon and hiking both in the So. California Sierra and LA canyons. She will always be remembered for her giggle, her dedication to academic discovery by "thinking outside the box", her devotion to friends and animals. As one of her admirers said: "in short, Renie was a stylish, graceful, intellectual whirlwind." May she rest in peace. Renie is predeceased by her sister, Phyllis, and her parents. She is survived by her husband, Carlton McKinney of Los Angeles, her brother, Frederick Henry Abernathy and his family in Massachusetts and numerous lifelong friends. A gathering in celebration of Renie will be held May 27 at 2:30pm at ARCE in Cairo, Egypt and, organized by the Department of Art History at UCLA, on that campus in fall 2015. Donations in Renie's memory may be made to a dog or cat rescue society of one's choice.
Published in the Los Angeles Times from May 26 to May 31, 2015
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