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Washington and Lee’s Pamela Simpson Wins Teaching Award

Pamela H. Simpson
Pamela H. Simpson
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Pamela H. Simpson, the Ernest Williams II Professor of Art History at Washington and Lee University, received the Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Southeast College Art Conference (SECAC) on Oct. 22, 2010.

The nomination cited her "exceptional teaching career and her ongoing mentorship of students." Noting her 36 years as an "outstanding professor" at a school where "teaching is central to its mission," the document praised her "stellar classroom performance" and the impact she has had "on the lives of her numerous students."

SECAC is a regional non-profit, founded in 1944. The second-largest such professional group in the U.S., it draws its membership from some 42 states. It promotes the visual arts in higher education and the discussion of pertinent creative, scholarly and educational issues among teachers and administrators in universities, colleges, professional art schools and museums.

Simpson was one of four SECAC members honored with teaching awards at the annual conference of the organization, in Richmond, Va.

"This award recognizes superlative teaching, and in that regard, SECAC could not find a more deserving teacher than Pam Simpson," said Hank Dobin, dean of the College at Washington and Lee.

In his nomination letter on Simpson's behalf, Dobin wrote: "As an expert of southern and vernacular art and architecture, she is unsurpassed in all of academia.... Pam's teaching territory is basically all of American art, modern art (globally, but with special attention to Europe), architecture, women's art and African-American art. Not only is Pam's scope immense, but so is her reputation as a demanding yet approachable classroom instructor, as a mentor and adviser of countless students interested in careers in art, as a director of independent studies and senior theses, and as an expert pedagogue who has shared her experience and talents with the rest of the faculty in her department and the College."

George Bent, head of W&L's Department of Art and Art History, noted in his nomination that Simpson has had a major impact on generations of W&L students, many of whom were not art majors but who remember her courses as among the best they took at Washington and Lee.

"She has touched the lives of thousands of today's leaders, and they have all left Washington and Lee the better for it," wrote Bent. "What is particularly noteworthy, however, has been the way that her dedication to them has worn off on the rest of us [in the department] - all hired and mentored by Pam over the last 25 years - who have been trained by her to show this same brand of commitment to the personal growth and intellectual development of each and every student who wanders into our corridors."

Simpson joined the Washington and Lee faculty in 1973. During her tenure at the University, she served as chair of the Department of Art and Art History on two occasions and as assistant and then associate dean of the College from 1981 through 1986. From 1984 to 1986, she chaired the Coeducation Steering Committee, which implemented the University's decision to admit women.

A graduate of Gettysburg College, she received her M.A. in art history from the University of Missouri and her Ph.D. from the University of Delaware. She is the author of the 1999 book Cheap, Quick and Easy: Imitative Architectural Materials, 1870-1930 and is co-author with the late Royster Lyle Jr. of The Architecture of Historic Lexington.

Simpson is completing work on a new book, Icons of Abundance: The History of Corn Palaces and Butter Sculpture. During the conference at which she was honored, Simpson presented a paper entitled "Ephemeral Edible Edifices: Midwestern Grain Palaces at the Turn of the Century," which is part of the book.