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Dr. John Francis Moffitt

1940 - 2008 Obituary Condolences
Dr. John Francis Moffitt, Jack to his friends and family, died in his sleep June 1, 2008 at his home in Las Cruces. Dr. Moffitt was a Professor Emeritus of Art History at New Mexico State University, published twenty books during his lifetime as well as hundreds of scholarly articles, and presented lectures about his research across the U.S. and abroad.
John Moffitt was born in San Francisco, California on February 25, 1940, and grew up there and in Hawaii. His father, Colonel John F. Moffitt, died in combat during World War II. His mother, Jean P. Moffitt, passed away in Las Cruces in the late 1990s. He was married twice, first to Jessie Lawson of Columbia, Missouri, and then to Lea Henry, who died in 1984.
After serving in the Army and the California Army National Guard, Moffitt earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting and Drawing from the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1962, and a year later earned his Master of Arts degree in Art History from California State University, San Francisco.
He then moved to Spain, where he earned a Diploma de Doctor (Ph.D.) in Art History from the Universidad de Madrid in 1966. Spain remained a second home to Moffitt, who traveled there frequently, most recently last year to present a lecture on the Dama de Elche, a Spanish national icon which was the subject of his fourth book, "Art Forgery: The Case of the Lady of Elche" (1995).
In 1966, Moffitt assumed his first tenure-track faculty position as Assistant Professor of Art and Art History at East Carolina University in North Carolina. In 1968, he became Assistant Professor of Art and Art History at Sonoma State College in California.
Dr. Moffitt's four-decade professional relationship with New Mexico State University began in 1969, when he was hired as Assistant Professor of Art. He earned promotions to Associate Professor and then full Professor at N.M.S.U., and became Professor Emeritus upon his retirement from active teaching in 1996.
His many books include "Spanish Painting" (1973), "O Brave New People: The European Invention of the American Indian" (1996), "Picturing Extraterrestrials: Alien Images in Modern Mass Culture" (2003), "Alchemist of the Avant-Garde: The Case of Marcel Duchamp" (2003), "Caravaggio in Context: Learned Naturalism and Renaissance Humanism" (2004), "Our Lady of Guadalupe: The Painting, the Legend and Reality" (2006), and "The Arts in Spain: Ancient to Postmodern" (1999, reprinted by Thames and Hudson, London, 2005). Moffitt also translated numerous works such as Juan Antonio Ramírez's "Architecture for the Screen: A Critical Study of Set Design in Hollywood's Golden Age" (2004).
At the time of his death, Moffitt had at least half a dozen additional book-length manuscripts in various stages of preparation for publication, including "Painterly Perspective and Piety: Religious Uses of the Vanishing Point," "The Hidden Worlds of Joseph Beuys," and "Creative Dementia in the Arts: Madness, Mindlessness, Automatism and Serendipity from the Paleolithic to the Present Day," coauthored with Peter Shotwell. Several of these manuscripts will be published posthumously.
Dr. Moffitt was an accomplished visual artist as well, whose work has been included in more than two dozen exhibitions coast-to-coast. His media included oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and in recent years, manipulated digital photographs, some of which can be viewed online at In collaboration with Henry Mancha, Moffitt also created a unique, postmodern sculpture gallery in the backyard of his Las Cruces home.
Another aspect of Moffitt's legacy was his teaching. Stuart Pimm, now Professor of Conservation Ecology at Duke University and the University of Pretoria, South Africa, recently recalled, "Jack looked after me in all kinds of ways when I was a very poor graduate student. My wife Julia and I loved his humour, and his extraordinary creative genius." Another former student, Paul Tegmeyer, teaches in Italy and always visited Jack when in the U.S. Yet another, Tony Pennock, painted the distinctive Las Cruces water tank murals after a conversation about the idea in Moffitt's office in 1972.
John F. Moffitt is survived by his cousin, Robin Petrie of Berkeley, California, his uncle and aunt, Pete and Gwen Petrie, of Sausalito, California, and his cousin, Patricia-Moffitt Mehlinger of San Francisco. He is survived as well by countless friends and colleagues whose lives were touched and enriched by Jack's life and work. In lieu of flowers, donations in Jack Moffitt's name to KRWG-FM are requested. A memorial service and wake (casual attire) will be held at Chez Moffitt, 1104 Luna Street, at 7pm on Saturday, June 21, 2008.
Entrusted to the care of Baca's Funeral Chapels and Sunset Crematory, (575) 527-2222.
Published in Las Cruces Sun-News on June 15, 2008
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