In addition to JMU's general accreditation, all SADAH undergraduate and graduate degrees are professionally accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.

NASAD is the only accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education that covers the whole field of art and design; it provides a basis for public recognition of an institution’s quality. JMU has been accredited by NASAD since 1981.

School History

The School of Art, Design and Art History's programs developed over the course of more than 110 years of history and innovation. 

From the university's founding in 1908 to the current school that spans four buildings, three art galleries and state-of-the-art facilities, we have built a solid foundation for the success of today's students. 

The school serves more than 700 art majors studying architectural design, art education, art history, graphic design, industrial design and studio art. The school maintains a strong commitment to general education, helping the broader JMU population and the surrounding community understand the significance of artistic expression in diverse cultures within a global society.  

Duke Hall from the 1960s
Making History: 1908-1922

James Madison University was originally established on March 14, 1908, by the Virginia General Assembly as the "Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg."

Dr. Julian A. Burruss, an art educator who taught manual and industrial arts, was selected as the first president. After a year of developing curriculum plans and erecting two buildings, the school opened on Sept. 28, 1909, with 150 students and 15 faculty.

From the very beginning, the study of art was an important part of the curriculum. Burruss wrote in the first catalog, "The complete Normal School must be equipped to train teachers in agriculture and other rural arts, in cooking and sewing and other household arts and in drawing and other manual arts." Indeed, manual arts were an area of special interest to Dr. Burruss; prior to his appointment as president, he taught courses in "The Place of Industrial Branches in Education" and "Theory and Practice of Teaching Manual Arts."

Actual art training began in 1909 when Mattie A. Speck of the Harrisonburg public school system joined the faculty as a part-time instructor in Manual Arts. Raymond Dingledine, in his book on the history of JMU, noted, "Art classes from drawing to woodworking were taught in Maury (Hall), by the quiet, reserved and dainty Mattie A. Speck who placed her emphasis on practical skills." Ms. Speck left the college in 1914, and Frances I. Mackey, a member of the class of 1913 and one of Speck's former students, took over her work.

Maury, Jackson & Ashby
Maury, Jackson, and Ashby Halls, 1914.

Beginning in 1911, Ruth Hudson introduced courses in Art Appreciation and Art History as part of the offerings of the Manual Arts Department and were required for most students. By 1912, the collection of courses taught by the Manual Arts Department had become known as the "Industrial Arts Program," which emphasized classes in drawing, handwork and woodworking. Two years later, courses in drawing and handwork for the primary grades become part of an elective curriculum for students completing the two-year professional program in teaching. After 1914, all students in the Primary-Kindergarten program took these courses, and students pursuing intermediate and grammar school work took drawing and handwork courses specially designed for grammar grades. A separate program for high school teachers started in 1915 also required advanced drawing.

In 1914 the name of the institution was changed to the State Normal School for Women in Harrisonburg.

A real turning point, however, came in 1916 when the General Assembly authorized the institution to grant a Bachelor of Science in Education degree. The creation of the new baccalaureate degree resulted in higher entrance requirements and academic standards for the institution. As early as 1910, summer sessions became a popular feature for the college and required the employment of additional Manual Arts instructors. During these early years, Edmonia B. Shepperson, supervisor of Manual Arts in the Richmond Schools (1912-14,1916), Kathryn B. Roller, a Hampton, Va. drawing teacher (1917-19) and Julia S. Wollridge, supervisor of drawing in the Richmond Public Schools (1916-18, 1921-24) taught summer classes.

When Burruss resigned to become president at Virginia Tech in 1919, he left behind a campus of six bluestone buildings, more than 300 students and 26 faculty.

The second president, Samuel P. Duke, would direct the institution from 1919 to 1949. Despite financial constraints caused by the Great Depression, Samuel Duke oversaw the completion of many new buildings, including Alumnae, Sheldon, Johnston and Reed (now Keezell) halls, two new dormitories (Converse and Cleveland), a major library, and Wilson Hall, which would become home to the art program for more than 30 years.

Alimae Aiken Years - 1922-1957

In 1922, Alimae Aiken (M.A. in Art Education, North Texas University) replaced Frances Mackey as the department head. During her 35-year tenure, Aiken reorganized the Department of Manual Arts into the Department of Fine and Industrial Arts. From 1920-1935, the art program continued to grow its course offerings, including an art appreciation course that became a required class for students preparing to teach kindergarten, primary or grammar students.

In 1924, the designation as a "normal school" gave way to the new name "Harrisonburg State Teachers College" and in 1931, the art program moved to the third floor of Wilson Hall. The department's principal studio classrooms and faculty offices would remain in Wilson Hall until 1965.

In 1928, Grace M. Palmer (M.A. in Art Education, Kansas State) became the second full-time member of the art faculty. The 1932 student yearbook listed Palmer as an associate professor of fine arts and Aiken as a professor of fine arts. Together, Aiken and Palmer offered the courses "Primary Art" and "Grammar Grade Art." They began teaching painting and drawing in 1930. In 1933, the department added classes in art for elementary teachers and art education, and in 1937, added a class called "Art for Secondary Teachers." 

aerial view, ca. 1932
Aerial shot, 1932

In 1938, the institution became a multi-purpose college and was renamed Madison College. The curriculum expanded, but courses in art appreciation and art education continued to be required for most students preparing to become teachers.

Elizabeth Davis (1940-45) and Glada B. Walker, who replaced Palmer in 1943, taught during World War II. At the end of WWII, the Fine and Industrial Arts Department became the Art Department. A course called "Basic Art" replaced "General Art and Art Structures" as the beginning art course in 1947. During this period, enrollment in art courses increased, work in crafts expanded and a course in commercial art emerged.

In 1953, a course called "Art in General Culture" began, which continues to be part of the JMU general education program.

Coursework in art education was available as a part of the M.A. in Education degree, but a separate M.A. major or minor in art education was not approved until 1966.

In 1957, Aiken retired and was replaced by Dr. Crystal Theodore.

Dr. Crystal Theodore Years - 1957-1968

In September 1957, Dr. Crystal Theodore (Ed.D., Columbia) succeeded Aiken as head of the art department, and she worked alongside the only other two art teachers at the time: associate professor Glada Walker and assistant professor Frances Grove.  

In 1958, the art department still occupied parts of the third and fourth floors of Wilson Hall, at a time when there was no elevator. Faculty "offices" were screened-off corners of lecture rooms.  

Theodore hired several new faculty and began a major curriculum overhaul, which included eliminating the practice of carving soap bars as sculpture. With the addition of Dr. David Diller, a ceramist, in 1958 and Ken Beer, a sculptor, in 1959, a serious departmental revision began. They eliminated many old courses and added new graphic arts, ceramics, aesthetics and art history classes.

aerial view, ca. 1950s
Aerial view, 1950's

Completed in 1965, the Duke Fine Arts Center (now Duke Hall) originally housed the art, music and theater departments until the School of Music left for new facilities in 1989.

A separate master's degree in art education came in 1966. 

On completion of the Duke Fine Arts Center, Theodore took a semester's leave and then stepped down as department head. At the end of her tenure, the department had grown to nine full-time faculty that included Jerry Coulter, Dr. Martha Caldwell and Ken Szmagaj. Theodore retired as a professor emerita of art in 1983.


Dr. David Diller Years - 1968-1980

Dr. John David Diller (M.F.A., Ph.D., Ohio State) became department head in 1968, when art program employed nine faculty teaching 34 classes; by the end the program it employed 24 faculty, two professional staff and an expanded range of professional specialized courses in graphic design, interior design, printmaking, metals and fiber arts. 

Wilson and the Quad, 1960s
Wilson Hall and the Quad, 1960's

During the 1970s, faculty and staff additions included Rebecca Humphrey, Barbara Lewis, Ron Wyancko, Steve Zapton, Gary Chatelain, Jim Crable, Alan Tschudi, Dr. Kathleen Arthur, Dr. Phil James, Jack McCaslin, Masako Miyata and Christina Updike. 

In the early 1980's, Diller brought gallery director Stuart Downs and art historian Dr. Linda Halpern to JMU and hired the first African American faculty member employed at Madison College. At the end of Diller's tenure, visual arts at JMU had grown into a full-scale professional program, including B.F.A. and M.F.A. degrees, and efforts were underway to seek professional accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. 

The growth of the art program, however, had created a pressing need for more space. Occupying less than one-third of the available square footage in Duke Hall, the art department was desperate for office and classroom space of any kind. Classes had to move into portable trailers, former residential homes and the basements of residential or academic buildings throughout campus. Printmaking moved to the basement of Converse Hall, painting and drawing moved into the original women's gymnasium located in Ashby Hall, and sculpture and three-dimensional design took the basement garages at the rear of Harrison Hall. 

As a reflection of the school's growth and expanded mission, the name of the institution changed to James Madison University in 1977. 

Diller stepped down from his post as department head in 1980 and rejoined the faculty. During his 12-year tenure as department head, the program graduated 359 art majors. He retired as a professor emeritus of art in 1992.

Dr. Jay Kain Years - 1980-1989

Dr. Jay D. Kain (Ph.D., Minnesota), a well-known art educator, became department head in fall 1980 after a national search. At the beginning of Kain's tenure, the program was one of five departments in the College of Communication and the Arts. 

Reflecting the continuing growth of the university, several new positions were soon added to the department, including Dr. Robert Bersson in 1981; Stuart Downs' as full-time instructional staff and director of the Sawhill Gallery in 1984; a part-time secretary in 1985; and the slide curator role (held by Christina Updike) received a major reclassification of job description and title. 

Kain oversaw final steps in the program’s professional accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design in 1981 and implemented the M.F.A. in Studio Art degree, JMU's first "terminal degree." The newly approved program enrolled its first students in 1980-81 and officially "hooded" the first graduates in the commencement ceremonies of 1984. 

the Quad, 1984
The Quad, 1984

The department continued to evolve as a professional program with an emerging regional and national reputation. JMU sponsored the 1981 Southeast College Art Conference, initiated the Orkney Springs (VA) Summer Art Workshop in 1982 and held the statewide Virginia Art Teachers Summer Workshop on campus in 1983.

Along with JMU's growing academic reputation and an increase in the number of applications, JMU began to use increasingly stringent academic standards in its admission's process. Kain responded by establishing an art portfolio review process to advise the admissions office about students wishing to major in art at JMU.  The portfolio review increased the number and quality of art majors, and today it provides the school with a stable enrollment of talented students.  

In an effort to attract and enroll top students, Kain instituted an annual art auction to raise money for art scholarships. Professor Jack McCaslin managed the auction and raised about $9,000 over a three-year period. In 1987 the JMU Foundation helped to create a larger, more publicly visible "JMU Art Auction" in April 1987 at the JMU Convocation Center. The black-tie exhibit and dinner later moved to the Homestead Resort. As of 2019, the art auction endowment for art scholarships, along with two endowments added in later years, totals nearly $2 million. 

Kain stepped down in 1987 to rejoin the faculty as a full-time teacher, coordinating the art education area. The art program now offered three undergraduate degrees, two graduate degrees, and had graduated more than 340 students. Kain retired in May 2000 as a professor emeritus of art.

Dr. Phillip James Years - 1989-1995

Dr. Phillip James (Ed. D., Northern Illinois), an art educator with an expertise in art therapy, became head of the art department after serving as acting head from August 1987.

in 1992, reflecting the growth and diversification of the program, the department’s name changed to the School of Art and Art History, and James’ title changed to director.

Enrollment in the visual arts continued to grow at JMU, especially in graphic design. Between 1988-1993 six new and/or replacement positions were added to the school’s faculty: Sang Yoon (graphic design), Corinne Martin Diop (photography), Peter Ratner (computer animation, graphic design and advertising), Trudy Cole (graphic design) and William Tate (interior design) joined the faculty, and former department head David Diller’s position moved to the graphic design area.

students play in floodwater, JMU 1996
Members of JMU Wrestling team & friends play in Hanson Field floodwater caused by Hurricane Fran. Published in Breeze Sept. 9, 1996 (Melissa Palladino, Breeze staff).

When the Music Department moved out of Duke Hall in 1989, the school gained permission to take over spaces formerly occupied by the music department. Art faculty who had previously shared offices across campus moved into former music faculty spaces, though there was no funding for office renovation or furniture. Because graphic and interior design students comprised most of the school’s majors, most of the space went to these two areas.

A planned renovation of Duke Hall was canceled due to a slump in state revenue. Painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture studios remained outside Duke Hall due to a lack of space, and planned photo darkrooms were not made fully operational, though gifts to the school’s foundation accounts and money raised through James’ Summer Children’s Art Workshop helped support the school.

Two of the many bright spots during James’ tenure were the establishment of the Wampler/Liskey Endowed Professorship in 1992 and the Encore Artists Series in 1988. These programs allow the school to schedule an annual series of visiting distinguished professors, artists and workshops for undergraduate and graduate students. Prominent artists and scholars who have visited JMU through these two programs include Philip Pearlestein, Mariam Shaperio, Faith Ringold, Elizabeth Murray, Robert Arnason, Bill Viola, Donald Kuspit, Lucy Lippard, Suzi Gablik and Arthur Danto.

In January 1995, JMU President Carrier restructured the university: the College of Arts and Letters replaced the College of Communication and the Arts, and graphic and interior design were reassigned to the newly formed School of Media Arts and Design. Despite this upheaval, the interior design faculty successfully gained accreditation by the Foundation for Interior Design Educational Research.

James stepped down from the director’s position in 1995 and returned to the faculty in the art education area. At the end of James’ tenure, the program enrolled approximately 325 undergraduate majors and 12 graduate students, and 544 students graduated during his tenure. James retired as a professor emeritus of art in 1997.

Dr. Cole Welter Years - 1995-2004

Dr. Cole H. Welter (M.F.A., Ph.D., Texas) joined the JMU faculty as director in August 1995 after a national search. Welter, a well-known painter and arts administrator, inherited a program employing 18 full-time faculty and three staff.

Soon after Welter's arrival, JMU committed itself to a five-year plan to increase enrollment from 11,500 to 15,000. This plan had a dramatic impact on the school, which saw its enrollment grow from 325 to more than 520 majors by the beginning of the Fall 2000 semester. 

The JMU administration renewed its commitment to the art auction, holding the school's seventh auction in April 1997 at the Homestead Resort and raising a record $65,000 for art scholarships. This success spurred JMU to commit to a permanent three-year cycle for the auction; the next auction in April 2000 raised another $50,000 for art scholarships. 

This rapid growth posed three major problems for the school: maintaining a sufficient number of faculty, finding space for more students and teachers, and planning for long-term facility requirements. 

Many of the art faculty were reaching retirement age, so the first years of Welter's tenure focused on recruiting faculty.  Welter hired Sean Mercer (sculpture) to replace Ken Beer, who had retired after 36 years at JMU, and 18 additional faculty.

Welter succeeded in having the graphic and interior design faculty assigned to SMAD returned to the art school in 1997. 

The school’s facilities were over capacity, in serious need of renovation and scattered across campus.

* In 1996, the school refurbished the lobby and corridors of Duke Hall and added new display space for two and three-dimensional student artwork, and relocated or refurbished several studios.

* The printmaking studio moved out of its basement location in Converse Hall into a renovated space in Duke Hall.

* Duke's computer lab and interior design studios upgraded with new computers and furniture; the Duke Hall seminar room and three multimedia classrooms got new furniture and advanced digital projection technology.

* In 1999, the drawing and painting studios moved out of the basement of Ashby Hall into new off-campus space.

With an eye to the future, Welter secured a larger studio space close to Duke Hall named the Studio Center, which currently houses many studio and design programs. Working with the directors of Music and Theater and Dance, Welter helped developed plans for a comprehensive "Center for the Arts" that was presented to JMU President Carrier in January 1996, and adopted by JMU President Rose as a centerpiece for JMU's future development.

Welter also established the Duke Sculpture Garden and the Harrisonburg Museum and Gallery Walk and was key in supporting the development of the Madison Digital Image Database, now used internationally for digital art curation.

Welter focused on reinvigorating the M.A. in Art History degree, creating a new sequence of computer animation classes, revising the graphic design program and developing a degree option for industrial design students. The M.A. in Art History graduated its first two students in the spring of 1998. The computer animation sequence was started in the fall of 1997, and its alumni have gone on to prominent animation and special effects studios in the film, television and entertainment industries.

Welter's tenure grew the school to a faculty of more than 50 teaching 155 courses, graduating an average of 100 students each year from 520 undergraduate and 25 graduate students.

In 2004 Welter stepped down to rejoin the faculty.

Dr. Marilou Johnson, associate dean of the College of Arts and Letters and eventually the interim dean of the new College of Visual and Performing Arts, served as interim director of the School of Art and Art History for the 2004 – 2005 academic year. During this year the school and the college developed goals and a mission statement through faculty focus group discussions. In the summer of 2005 the board of visitors officially approved the new College of Visual and Performing Arts. As planning continued for the new Forbes Center for the Performing Arts, JMU President Linwood Rose proclaimed that it was the decade of the arts.

Leslie Bellavance Years - 2005-2010

In the fall of 2005 Leslie Bellavance (M.F.A., University of Chicago) became director after a national search. During Bellavance’s tenure, safety in the art and design studios came to the forefront, and the school’s operating, supplies, adjunct faculty and faculty development budgets were all increased.

The school created a new staff position, woodshop supervisor and safety officer, to oversee safe practices in the studios, and remodeling improved ventilation and safety in most facilities.

More than 2,800 students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of JMU packed the Quad to form a human 100 in celebration of the university's centennial. (Steve Emerson, aerial photographer)

 In 2008 funds for planning a complete renovation to Duke Hall were approved.

The school’s student-run gallery, ArtWorks, and professional photo gallery, New Image, and graduate research spaces all moved into remodeled facilities 131 West Grace Street.

The school participated in the East Coast Sculpture Exchange, a collaboration with George Mason University and the University of Georgia, and established a collaborative relationship with the Madison Art Collection and the Institute for Visual Studies, both non-academic programs of the new College of Visual and Performing Arts.

Numerous faculty members were hired, including Aderonke Adesanya, Sarah Brooks and Laura Katzman in art history, Sukjin Choi in ceramics, Aaron McIntosh in fibers, Rebecca Silberman in photography, Allyson Mellburg Taylor in general education and foundations, Karin Tollefson-Hall in art education and Lisa Tubach in foundations. Gary Freeburg served as a professor of art and the school’s gallery director. Faculty members retiring during this period were Dr. Kathleen Arthur, James Crable, Stuart Downs and Barbara Lewis. 

Long-time senior administrative assistant, Francis Dovel, retired in 2007 after working at the school since 1968, and Karen Gerard took over the position. Eric Morris started as the woodshop supervisor and safety officer. 

Bellavance’s experience and insight for diversity initiatives were integral to the success of the Cultural Connections Artist-In-Residence program, which resulted in two artists who greatly impacted our school’s programming during their extended visits to our campus. 

In 2007, the art auction held at the Homestead in Warm Springs, Va. on March 31 raised more than $160,000 to support the endowment for art scholarships. 

As JMU celebrated the Madison Century in 2008, the school took the opportunity to reflect on a century of growth with a centennial art exhibition, “Duration, Generation, Exploration,” tracing a wide range of diverse art forms and scholarly research by the 45 participating faculty and faculty emeriti. In addition, 11 alumni exhibited work in a separate exhibition, and a combined forum for art history and art education alumni showcased many outstanding accomplishments of our graduates. 

In 2010, Bellavance left the school to become dean at Alfred University. In the summer of 2010, Dr. William Wightman was selected as interim director for the school.

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