CORVALLIS - Oregon State University will present an honorary doctorate degree this Sunday, June 11, to Gordon W. Gilkey, who has spent more than 70 years teaching, preserving, promoting and creating art.
Gilkey, a former dean of liberal arts at OSU, is known worldwide for his printmaking and art collection, and for his efforts to save works of art during World War II. He is curator for the Vivian and Gordon Gilkey Center for Graphic Arts at the Portland Art Museum and printmaker-in-residence at the Pacific Northwest College of Art.
"Gordon Gilkey enjoys an extraordinary and multifaceted career in education and art that continues to benefit society immeasurably," said Tim White, interim provost and executive vice president at OSU. "Few Americans have made as many contributions to the world of art, and all of us benefit by his vision and dedication."
Gilkey began teaching art in 1930, as a student teacher at Albany College. From 1937-39, he was the official etcher at the New York World's Fair. He joined the art faculty of Stephens College in 1939, where he remained for three years until World War II interrupted his academic career.
While serving in the military, Gilkey wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt, asking that a unit be established to review military tactics - especially bombing plans - to minimize damage to significant art and architecture in Europe. That unit was established, with Gilkey as a member, and in the final days of the war, he and his "art detectives" tracked down and repatriated literally thousands of pieces of art that had been looted.
For his efforts, he was knighted by France and given similar honors by Italy, Germany and Sweden. The U.S. awarded him the Meritorious Service Medal.
Following the war, Gilkey came to Oregon State College in Corvallis to head its art department. He built the program from a tiny group of three faculty to one of the largest, most noted art departments in the Northwest. After 15 years as department chair, he became the first dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (now the College of Liberal Arts), a move which helped transform OSC into Oregon State University.
At the same time, Gilkey was active on the state and national art scene. He was instrumental in establishing the Oregon Arts Commission, and was the prime mover in events that led to the formation of the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
He continued to produce his own art and today is represented in most of the major museums in the United States, and many abroad, including the Metropolitan Museum, The Library of Congress, The Smithsonian, Bibliotheque Nationale (Paris), The British Museum, Staatsgalerie (Stuttgart), and the National Academy of Fine Arts (China).
After 30 years at Oregon State, he was forced to retire because of state-mandated age limits. That hardly has slowed him. He amassed a world-class collection of art prints - many given to him by grateful European countries - that, when he left OSU in 1976, totaled 8,000 prints valued at $12 million. That collection became the core of the Vivian and Gordon Gilkey Center for Graphic Arts at the Portland Art Museum, which now numbers more than 25,000 pieces.
Still active as a printmaker, Gilkey has staged more than 60 exhibitions of his own work, and has branched into experimentation with computer-generated polymer printing plates.
Gilkey will be honored Sunday at OSU's morning commencement ceremony for graduate students, which begins at 9 a.m. in LaSells Stewart Center.