In Memoriam Donald Jenkins

Black and white photo of a man with a beard wearing a suit and tie.
Donald Jenkins as Portland Art Museum Director. 1976, photo by Alfred Monner

The Museum mourns the loss of Donald Jenkins, a long-serving leader whose tenure here included roles as an assistant, curator, chief curator, and director. Jenkins began his career with the Portland Art Museum in 1954 and became one of its most respected scholars as he built the Asian art collection and became internationally known for his expertise in Japanese prints. Jenkins served for a time as Director of the Museum and guided it through troubled financial times in the late 1970s.

“Donald Jenkins was a talented museum professional and scholar. His passion and ability to create wonder for generations of Oregonians truly brought joy to our community,” remarked Brian Ferriso, Portland Art Museum Director. “I am fortunate to have known Donald, and am extremely grateful for his many contributions, which continue to have a significant impact on our museum.”

Black and white photo of a man in a suit standing in an art gallery.
Donald Jenkins, undated.

Jenkins’s passion for Asian art began in 1964 and he pursued it by becoming fluent in Japanese, traveling to the country, and completing his graduate degree at the University of Chicago. Jenkins returned to the Museum in 1974 after some time at the Art Institute of Chicago, and just a year later assumed the role of Head of the Portland Art Association, the name that encompassed the Museum, the Museum Art School, and the Northwest Film Study Center. In 1977 he adeptly steered the institution toward solid financial footing after years of decline and remained helming the organization until 1981 when he stepped back into the curatorial realm as the Director of the Museum until 1987. He served as Curator of Asian Art from 1987 until his retirement in 2003, with an additional role as Chief Curator from 1997 to 2001.

Jenkins curated and organized numerous exhibitions at the Museum over five decades, among them The Floating World Revisited (1993) which was acclaimed for its scholarship in the field, and Images of a Changing World: Japanese Prints of the Twentieth Century (1983).

Black and white photo of a man holding a small work on paper standing next to a large framed painting.
Donald Jenkins, Curatorial Assistant. August 29, 1965. Photo by Leonard Bacon.

Jenkins retired from the Museum in 2003, giving him time and space to tend to his beloved farm outside of Portland with his wife, Mary Ella (Mel) Jenkins, who passed away in 2012. Those who knew Jenkins knew that this piece of land was always his sanctuary, and he cared for it with the same vigor as he cared for the Museum, its collections, and its community during his long and fruitful career. 

View artworks in the Museum’s permanent collection given by Donald and Mel Jenkins or in honor of Donald Jenkins.

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