Curator of Asian Art Maribeth Graybill Announces Retirement

The Portland Art Museum announces the retirement of Maribeth Graybill, Ph.D., The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Asian Art. Dr. Graybill will retire at the end of October, after 12 years with the Museum.

Dr. Graybill retires from a distinguished career that culminated with Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art: Selections from the Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles, the fall 2018 exhibition that led to a major gift from the Cowles collection and included an international symposium and catalogue. Dr. Graybill’s expertise in Japanese painting and prints allowed her to elevate the Museum’s important collection of Japanese prints and paintings during her tenure. She also oversaw the growth, scholarship, and research in all areas of the Asian art department, including the addition of two grant-funded Asian-art curatorial positions.

“Maribeth’s passionate and meticulous stewardship of our Asian art collection has been transformational to this institution,” said Portland Art Museum Director and Chief Curator Brian Ferriso. “Her experience in Japanese prints further cemented our collection as one of the premier collections on the West Coast, and her commitment to elevating the scholarship of our entire Asian art collection is exceptional. I am grateful for her dedication and leadership. It has been an honor to work with her.”

Dr. Graybill was responsible for the acquisition, display, and interpretation of the Museum’s collection of Asian and Islamic art. She oversaw gallery rotations of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and pan-Asian sacred art, as well as thematic exhibitions on topics as varied as Persian narrative painting, ancient Chinese bronzes, and the arts of Japanese Noh drama. Graybill was responsible for such notable acquisitions as masterworks of Japanese painting, ceramics, and lacquer; Chinese painting and calligraphy; Korean ceramics and calligraphy; and a collection of Islamic ceramics.

During her time at the Museum, Dr. Graybill curated and organized more than 20 important exhibitions, including last year’s Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art: Selections from the Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles; The Artist’s Touch, The Craftsman’s Hand: Three Centuries of Japanese Prints from the Portland Art Museum (2011); Samurai! Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection (2013); the Chinese art section of In Passionate Pursuit: The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Collection and Legacy (2014); the Asian art section of Quest for Beauty: The Architecture, Landscapes, and Collections of John Yeon (2017); Hand and Wheel: Contemporary Japanese Clay (2014); Breaking Barriers: Japanese Women Print Artists 1950–2000 (2014); and Ceramics of the Islamic World: The Ottis Collection (2013).

Over 12 years, she oversaw the acquisition of nearly 1,300 works of art, including Ganesha, Lord of Obstacles (Northeast India or Bangladesh, 11th century); Negoro Ware Ewer for Hot Water (Japanese, 17th century); Subok screen: Characters for Longevity and Good Fortune in Various Scripts (Korean, 19th century); Myōchin Munemasa, Nimaidō Gusoku Armor (Japanese, 18th century); Fujikasa Satoko, Flow #1, (Japanese, 2011); Itō Jakuchū, Carp Ascending a Waterfall, (Japanese, 1798); Luo Jianwu, Rock Like a Cloud, (Chinese, 2006–2010), Jikokuten, (Japanese, early 13th century); Mino-Iga Type Bucket-shaped Mizusashi with Handle (Japanese, early 17th century); Pavilion Overlooking a Misty Valley (Chinese, late 12th/13th century); Yayoi-Period Jar with Incised and Appliquéd Designs and Red Pigment (Japanese, ca. 300 BCE/300 CE), and Illustrated Competition Between Poets of Different Eras: Lord Seishin and Retired Emperor Sutoku (Japanese, mid-13th/early 14th century).

Dr. Graybill led a significant cultural moment for the Museum—the repatriation of the Five Buddhas painting to Korea in 2016. Prior to its repatriation to Songgwangsa monastery, the 18th-century Buddhist painting was the subject of an exhibition and symposium. Also reflecting her commitment to access and scholarship, Graybill played an integral role in the Museum’s receipt and implementation of an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant in 2017. The Japanese Print Initiative, currently in its second year, creates online access to the Museum’s collection of almost 3,000 traditional and modern Japanese prints, books, and portfolios, which comprises rare traditional prints and is one of the most comprehensive collections of modern Japanese prints in North America.

“The arc of my career has taken me across North America and to both sides of the Pacific. Landing in Portland was not something I could have predicted, but the Portland Art Museum has been the perfect place to put into use my experiences of decades of teaching, curatorial work, and travel,” said Graybill. “The challenge of looking after the entire Asian collection presented ever fresh challenges and opportunities. What made it all fun and rewarding was the constant encouragement from Brian Ferriso, the camaraderie of colleagues, and the professionalism of everyone on the Museum staff, as well as the warm support of collectors and donors, including the Asian Art Council. My deepest thanks to you all.”

Prior to joining the Museum, Graybill served for seven years as Senior Curator of Asian Art at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor. From 1981 until 2000, she taught Japanese and Asian art at the undergraduate and graduate levels at the University of California, Berkeley, and Swarthmore College. She holds an M.A. in Japanese Studies and a Ph.D. in Japanese Art History from the University of Michigan. During the course of her undergraduate and graduate education and her postdoctoral career, she spent more than eight years in Japan studying the language and art history.

Dr. Graybill will give a final lecture on October 20 followed by a farewell reception, and her last day will be October 31. A national search for her replacement will begin immediately.