Former professor dies at 81
MADDIE HANNA | Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Robert A. Leader, a professor emeritus of art, art history and design who taught thousands of students during his 30 years at Notre Dame, died April 11. He was 81.
Leader suffered from an “extended illness” during the last year of his life, said sculpture professor Father James Flanigan, who took Leader’s classes as an undergraduate.
After joining the faculty, Flanigan grew to know Leader on another level – as a colleague and friend.
“He was a man filled with faith and a passion for teaching,” Flanigan said. “A lover of students [of] which he had many, many, many.”
Leader taught at Notre Dame from 1955 to 1985 – a career that spanned four decades and several generations of students, said Dennis Doordan, chair of the art, art history and design department.
“His career at Notre Dame demonstrates the importance of the visual arts to complete a liberal arts education,” Doordan said. “Robert Leader is an excellent example of how a particular area [of study] like the arts contributes to the larger goal or mission of the University.”
While Leader taught various art studio classes at the University, Flanigan said his most memorable course was Art Traditions, an introduction to world art that enrolled more than 300 students in each section.
And Leader taught not one, but two sections per semester.
“It was his charisma and abilities as a lecturer that drove that course,” art history professor Charles Rosenberg said. “He took on an enormous amount of work. He had no graduate assistants, he graded every exam himself …
“He touched the lives of thousands, literally thousands, of Notre Dame students.”
Rosenberg came to teach at Notre Dame in 1981, when Leader was a senior faculty member.
At his core, Leader was an artist, Rosenberg said.
“He wasn’t really an art historian,” Rosenberg said. “He was a painter who had this profound knowledge of the history of art and … had a wonderful way of communicating that.”
Skilled at stained glass art, Leader created works for churches across the Midwest, including the Sorin, Alumni and Keenan/Stanford chapels at Notre Dame.
“He used to say he’d done enough stain[ed] glass for churches to reach from South Bend to Minneapolis,” Flanigan said.
But while stained glass was Leader’s “livelihood,” painting was his true passion, Flanigan said.
One of his works, “The Fall of Icarus,” is featured on the 14th floor of the Hesburgh Library.
His works may be scattered around campus, but the impact Leader left on the University community extends far beyond art. Doordan, who came to Notre Dame shortly after Leader retired, said he grew to understand Leader’s influence through the testimony of former students.
“When alumni come back … they will often tell me the professor they remember was Robert Leader,” Doordan said.
Leader was born May 26, 1924, in Cambridge, Mass. He left the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to serve in the Marines during World War II, but later received degrees in art from Yale University and the University of Illinois, according to a statement released by the University.
After marrying Dorothy Riehl on Sept. 1, 1949, Leader had four sons and a daughter. He taught for two years at Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa before coming to Notre Dame.
A Mass was held for Leader in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart Tuesday morning.
“That, in a way, is evidence of what a contribution he made to Notre Dame,” Doordan said.
Mary Kate Malone
contributed to this report.