Art history professor emerita Irene Bierman-McKinney, lauded by a colleague as “one of the unsung intellectual forces of our field of Islamic art and architecture,” died on March 8. She was 71.
Bierman-McKinney was born on Nov. 1, 1942, to Henry J. and Irene Lehman Abernathy and grew up in Connecticut and New Jersey. She attended Western College for Women (now Miami University in Ohio) and went on to earn an M.A. in Middle East studies at Harvard, followed by a certificate in Arabic from American University in Cairo, Egypt.
During the 1970’s, she lived in Portland, Oregon, where she taught courses on Islamic art and architecture at Portland State University and the University of Washington. With colleague Jere Bacharach, she received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for interpretive exhibitions of “oriental” carpets, which became the traveling exhibition, “Warp and Weft of Islam.” That was followed by a 12-part TV series on Islamic art shown in the Pacific Northwest.
Bierman-McKinney earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1980. The following year, she was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study of the Visual Arts, part of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. In 1982, she joined UCLA with a tenure track position and continued to serve on the faculty until her retirement in 2012.
Her publication record includes seven authored or edited books, 25 articles and numerous exhibition pamphlets, catalogues and project reports. A colleague wrote, “Her scholarship was both historical and interpretive, solidly rooted in research and knowingly conversant with theory. Her work on the role of public writing in Islamic iconography was path-breaking; her study of the Ottomanization of cities was extremely inventive, and her understanding of the function of conservation in our cities today constructively critical.”
Bierman-McKinney served as chair of the art history department and director of the Middle East Center for eight years, among other leadership roles. Outside of UCLA, she served as president of the Middle East Medievalists and interim director of the American Research Center in Cairo. A gathering in celebration of her life was held at the center on May 27.
She is survived by her husband, Carlton McKinney of Los Angeles, and her brother, Frederick Henry Abernathy. The family asked that donations in her memory be made to a dog or cat rescue society of one's choice.
This obituary was adapted from one originally published in the Los Angeles Times. Learn more about Bierman-McKinney at this memorial page on the department of history website.