UMass Names Islamic Art Scholar Walter Denny Distinguished Professor

Walter Denny

AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees has appointed Islamic art scholar Walter Denny of the art, architecture and art history department to the rank of Distinguished Professor.

In recommending the appointment to university President Robert Caret, UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and Provost James Staros wrote that “through 40 years of exceptionally energetic research, Professor Denny has established himself as a preeminent scholar of Islamic art.”

“With his professional colleagues and all who have learned from his publications and exhibitions, we stand in awe of his rich and original intellect and contributions,” they added.

An unnamed external reviewer of the nomination called Denny “one of the most prolific and versatile scholars of Islamic art in the world.”

Another wrote that Denny’s “distinguished career in the academy and the museum world could serve as a historiography of Ottoman art history of the last 40 years.  His remarkable record of achievement bears eloquent testimony to a life of unceasing effort, happily combined with equal amounts of intellect and creativity.”

Denny joined the UMass Amherst faculty in 1970, after earning a bachelor’s degree at Oberlin College, and master’s and Ph.D. degrees in fine arts at Harvard.

Focusing on the art of the Ottoman Empire, and in particular Islamic ceramics, carpets and textiles, he has published 13 books or catalogues, more than 30 book chapters or catalog contributions, 40 articles, and countless other contributions to reference works, reviews and other writings on Islamic art.

Denny’s most recent book, “The Sultan’s Garden: The Blossoming of Ottoman Art,” was published in 2012 and he is currently at work on what his nomination letter describes as “his magnum opus, a monumental study of Islamic carpets.” His new book “How to Read Islamic Carpets” will appear this coming October from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press.

Denny, who has taught a graduate seminar in museum studies at UMass Amherst over three decades, has helped organize major exhibitions of Islamic art for prominent museums in the United States and abroad. Since 2007, he has served as senior consultant in the department of Islamic art of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

In addition to on-campus awards that include the Conti Fellowship, the Chancellor’s Medal, the Distinguished Academic Outreach Award, the Distinguished Teaching Award, and the Award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Research and Creative Activity, Denny has received the George Hewitt Myers Award, the most distinguished honor in the field of textile arts, from The Textile Museum. He is the longest-serving member of the board of governors of the Institute of Turkish Studies in Washington, and locally serves on the board of directors of Arcadia Players, one of New England’s premier early music performance organizations.