Lucy Der Manuelian, pioneer in Armenian architecture and art, dies aged 93

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An American researcher who pioneered Armenian art and architecture, Dr. Der Manuelian died at his home on September 20 of complications from dementia. She was 93 years old and had lived in her Belmont home since 1965.

Dr Der Manuelian was the first to hold the Arthur H. Dadian and Ara T. Oztemel Chair in Armenian Art in the Department of Art History and Architecture at Tufts University, and she had been the force behind securing staffing funding for the position.

Academically focusing on architecture and armenia art was virtually unknown in the United States when she began her doctoral work almost 50 years ago.

“His thesis is also widely regarded as the first American thesis devoted to Armenian art,” wrote Christina maranci, who chairs the Department of Art History and Architecture at Tufts, in a tribute.

In a published interview on YoutubeDr Der Manuelian said she came to regard Armenian art and architecture “as a kind of lost treasure”.

When she spoke to the audience about her work, “everyone got enthralled and I felt very happy because a lot of them said that, you know, the lectures opened their eyes to another part. of the world – a part of the world that they hadn’t known anything about – and at different periods of history that were important to Western civilization.

Dr Der Manuelian was drawn to her academic orientation almost by accident.

“I was taking classes at Harvard and kept going through these footnotes on Armenian art and architecture,” she said in the video interview.

“And it was very surprising to me because I had never encountered any mention of Armenian art and architecture in any of the art history textbooks,” she added. “And I began to realize that – based on what the footnotes said – further research in the field of Armenian art and architecture could answer some of the most important questions without answer and the most haunting in the history of medieval art. “

Among these questions, said Dr Der Manuelian, how “did medieval architects in Western Europe learn the building techniques that enabled them to build these imposing Gothic cathedrals?” “

Although some scholars believed there was a connection between European cathedrals and Armenian architectural techniques developed centuries earlier, there was no documentation in the art history books she studied. .

“I thought,” she said, “why not pursue this area? “

Born June 7, 1928, Lucy Der Manuelian grew up in Boston and Arlington, the youngest of three siblings.

His mother, Armenouhy Altiparmakian Der Manuelian, fled the Istanbul region in 1915 at the start of the genocide that decimated the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire. Years later, she wrote an autobiography and stories about her family.

Dr Der Manuelian’s father, Manuel Der Manuelian, was a successful real estate agent.

She graduated from Girls’ Latin School in 1946 and received a bachelor’s degree in 1950 from Radcliffe College, where she majored in English.

A few months after graduating, she married Dr. Richard L. Sidman, a neuropathologist.

Their marriage ended in 1972 after she raised sons David Sidman, now from Brooklyn, NY, and Peter Der Manuelian, now from Boston, and moved to Belmont.

“She was totally devoted to us,” said Peter, “but she also fueled his insatiable curiosity.”

When her sons were young, she attended classes at Harvard University. And in a written tribute, they both noted that she was “also honing her gourmet cooking skills.”

Befriending Julia Child and her husband Paul, Dr Der Manuelian invited them to dinner at a time when most people would have been too intimidated to cook a meal for the celebrity chef.

“It was an evening full of fun and satisfaction,” said Childs and her husband in a handwritten July 1968 thank you note.

“She was an inspiration,” David said of his mother, who he said transmitted traits such as “optimism, entrepreneurship, persistence and caring for others.”

His curiosity, he added, was not limited to academic pursuits.

“She could never go to a restaurant without asking the waiter where she was from,” David said. “She was engaging in conversations with everyone. She was very interested in their stories.

After Dr Der Manuelian’s marriage was over, she enrolled for a doctorate at Boston University and a Harvard professor, Oleg Grabar, helped supervise her thesis on Geghard, an Armenian monastery whose cathedral was completed in the 13th century. She graduated in 1980.

His research was in part inspired by his godfather, Arshag Fetvadjian, an Armenian artist, designer and painter known for his paintings of architectural monuments in the ancient city of Ani, which was the region’s capital before modern Armenia.

Dr Der Manuelian used photography to record his explorations in Armenia and received a scholarship from what was then the Bunting Institute in Radcliffe to study Armenian churches.

“I had taken something like 60 rolls of film with me,” she recalls with a chuckle in the video interview. “I had two cameras, four lenses and no shooting experience. “

Maranci, who now holds the Dadian and Oztemel Chair at Tufts, said in her tribute that “Lucy was fearless, physically and psychologically. Before the era of drones, she would hang out in helicopters taking good aerial photos of monasteries and churches.

During times of tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, “the KGB suspected her of being a spy because of all her travels and photographs,” Maranci added, which led to a meeting in the Armenian capital.

“One night they visited her in Yerevan and, to avoid handing over the film, Lucy hid him in her dress, daring them to manhandle her,” Maranci wrote. “The history of art has won and we have the photographs.”

In addition to his two sons, Dr Der Manuelian leaves behind two grandsons and a great-granddaughter.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on October 23 in the Story Chapel in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

Dr. Der Manuelian “always only did a hundred things at a time,” said Peter, mixing fundraising for his academic work with his participation in the Boston Ballet and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

“As anyone who knew her can attest, Lucy was unconventional and indomitable,” Maranci wrote. “An avid tennis player, she had boundless energy. She believed in using every minute: she kept a stack of books in the car and read at every traffic light (often to the dismay of the drivers behind her).

Whether she was teaching or hanging out in a helicopter to take pictures, Dr Der Manuelian could improvise her way through any challenge.

If no parking was available at Tufts, Maranci wrote: “Sometimes Lucy would keep her car for office hours.


Bryan Marquard can be reached at [email protected]


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