History of Art and Architecture

In Memorium

Matthew Roper’s death on October 30, 2014, came as a shock to many of us, even though his long-standing health problems were well known. Matthew had a long history in the department, starting with his enrollment as an M. A. candidate in the 1970s. Matthew was capable and hard-working, but exactly how he made the transition from graduate student to assistant and then head of the “slide room” I don’t remember. He served in that role for many years and his prodigious memory often helped faculty members find that special slide in the anxious moments before class started. In addition, he became the departmental “factotum,” the person to whom many of us would turn when we had a problem involving a reluctant projector, a lost key, or the name of an artist or the location of a specific work. His broad knowledge and the research skills he learned at Pitt served Matthew well when he later worked for a local auction house.

When I was serving as Director of the University Art Gallery between 1976 and 1992, Matthew was indispensable, working together with Veronica Gazdik, we mounted more than one hundred exhibitions. While some were “package” shows from the Smithsonian and elsewhere, a great number originated at the gallery. Matthew and Veronica played a role not only in choosing the exhibitions but, especially, in the difficult processes of designing the shows and mounting and displaying the art. As the date of the opening approached, I could count on them to show up at any time and to do anything. One of our most important accomplishments was the first retrospective of the work of Duane Michaels in the fall of 1982.

Matthew was a connoisseur of fine art and good food. He collected examples of Louis Comfort Tiffany desk sets, beautiful books, and religious objects. He was a man of strong opinions in politics, religion, art, and life. He especially regretted the Vatican II decision that the Catholic Mass should be celebrated only in the vernacular. He fought for the reintroduction of Latin; it is appropriate that the Mass celebrating his life and passing was the Latin Mass that he loved so much.

I was thinking about Matthew this past week as I mounted an exhibition of E. E. Cummings’ paintings and family items, including the great poet’s baby clothes and bonnets, at the Madison Historical Society in New Hampshire. I missed Matthew’s enthusiasm and his creativity, his research skills and his ability to display anything and make it look good. We would have worked hard together, we would have laughed, and he would have said “No, David, here’s how we should do it….”

David Wilkins