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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Colleagues, student remember generous gay art-history professor
by Ariel Parrella-Aureli
2019-01-30

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Martha Pollak remembered colleague Ross Edman bringing his Pekinese dogs to campus at

the University of Illinois at Chicago ( UIC ), which she considered a welcome surprise. Pollak—art history professor and chair of the department at UIC—said having dogs around brought on calming effects, but in the '80s, therapeutic benefits from the four-legged friends were still novel.

"It's now known they can be very helpful in a number of stressful situations so it was great to

have them around," Pollak said.

Edman was not just known for his furry friends. Pollak said he was always dressed in pristine attire with signature bowties, had expertise in Asian art and culture, and was never late to a class. The esteemed art-history professor taught for 30 years, and he left a legacy and a grand donation of $1 million to the institution's department upon his death in 2017. The money established a merit-based award for graduate-level art history students in his name, which the department received earlier this year and chose its first Edman Fellow in August.

The award comes from the estate of Edman, who died at 80, and of his longtime partner, Jon Waltz, who died in 2004. The two also left a nearly $1 million bequest to the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, where Waltz was a professor for three decades.

Pollak said the income will allow the department to have at least one fellow a year and add visibility to the program, which will be a huge difference for the university. The award is the only one that is just for art history students, which makes it quite exceptional, she said.

"It will allow us to increase the number of students that we can help and improve and grow the grad program," she said.

Pollak began teaching at the university in=1983 and overlapped with Edman for more than a decade. She said she did not know about the bequeathed money but was surprised with joy at hearing the news. However, Virginia Miller, associate professor emerita and former chair of the department, said she knew about the money but not the exact amount.

Miller first met Edman in 1977, when she was a new professor at UIC. She said most professors in academia looked down on her novice status and were not very open, but Edman took her under his wing and made her feel comfortable. If she had a question about anything related to teaching style or history, she knew she could turn to him.

"If you could not remember the date of something, where some church was or how to find a slide, Ross would find it right away—he was like a walking encyclopedia," Miller said.

Edman's specialty in Asian art made him the first professor to offer classes in the subject, but he taught a wide variety of classes at UIC. He was also exemplary in how he treated his students; his dedication to them earned him the Silver Circle Award for Excellence in Teaching, voted on by students.

Edman's love for antiques, art and culture, cooking and the outdoors distinguished him in the academic community, Miller said.

"This type of person doesn't really exist anymore in academia," she said.

She was also startled to learn that, after Edman's partner died, he hiked the Peruvian structure Machu Picchu, which was a goal of his. She called him a character from a different era who had a nice life in Chicago and in his home in Michigan with his partner, where she went to visit a couple of times.

It's been 23 years since Edman retired at UIC so, consequently, not many students or faculty at the university remember him, Miller said. But his devotion to art history and to his students will be passed down via the Edman Fellowship, giving students a feel for what he was like.

Leslie Wooden, the first recipient of the fellowship, said, "[The fellowship] was a life-saver; I was absolutely honored. It gave me the freedom to research independently, which is what I love to do."

Wooden is studying global contemporary art and is interested in curating international emerging artists. She said the award set the bar high for when she applies to other fellowships and has boosted her confidence. It also gave her a feel for Edman's character.

"[Edman] donating this large amount of money to the program says so much about the type of person he was," Wooden said. "He had a huge heart and loved what he did. It brings me to tears because I wish I could have met him to tell him thank you."

Pollak said the department has received other donations in the past, like the recent gift from late professor Peter Hales' widow to create the Peter Hales Scholarship Fund. However, the Edman bequest is the largest sum the department has ever received and she hopes it inspires other retired faculty.

"It provides us with a definite model that I can show to other faculty who have retired and might consider giving us a similar gift," Pollak said.

Pollak said the department has received other donations in the past, like the recent gift from late professor Peter Hales' widow to create the Peter Hales Scholarship Fund. However, the Edman bequest is the largest sum the department has ever received and she hopes it inspires other retired faculty.

"It provides us with a definite model that I can show to other faculty who have retired and might consider giving us a similar gift," Pollak said. "The Edman bequest is head and shoulders above anything that we have managed to raise for the department in the past and the fact that it came as a gift was even more marvelous."


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