The DePauw community remembers Catherine Fruhan


Catherine Fruhan, professor of art and art history at DePauw for 31 years, passed away on Nov. 20th. She was 67-years-old.

A graduate of the Connecticut College for Women with a B.A. in art and art history, Fruhan studied in Italy at the University of Florence and received her master's degree and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.

“Catherine Fruhan built the art department that you know today,” said vice president of academic affairs and former professor of art history Anne Harris. Harris was hired by Fruhan in 1997.

“She was my mentor every step of the way,” said Harris.

Fruhan started working at DePauw in 1984. At the time she was the first tenure track art historian and the only art historian on campus. In her time at DePauw she has transformed the art and art history department, acting as a matriarch for the program. She even helped guide the construction of Peeler Art Center.

Fruhan would bring a speaker to campus every semester, along with showing an array of documentary films she had a passion for. She showed films that had to do with race, class and society. She would reach out to other departments on campus to come attend. Harris said that whenever Fruhan conducted a film screening the room would be packed.

Fruhan was known as being a hard teacher who had a great passion for her work, “She’s tough in the best way,” said alumna and current Peeler Art History intern, Taylor Zartman. “She asked some of the most important questions I’ve ever been asked.”

She was dedicated and passionate about her work and over the years has been repeatedly recognized for her work in academia. In 2004 she was presented the Mr. and Mrs. Fred C. Tucker, Jr. Distinguished Career award and in 2011 she was received the Exemplary Teacher Award, which is given jointly by DePauw and the General Board of Higher Education of the United Methodist Church.

“She was the art history version of professor Sununu,” said senior art history major Leigh Plummer. “She really cared about everyone, she was a great advisor too.”

Fruhan was known for taking great detail and time into everything that she committed herself to. Every year before leaving to conduct research in Rome, Fruhan would already have her course work for the coming semester completed.

“She thought about every single session as a separate moment,” said Harris.

The loss of Fruhan has impacted the DePauw community outside of the art and art history department.

“The thing that stuck with me was how friendly and gracious she was,” said director of the media fellows program and communications professor Jonathan Nichols-Pethick. Fruhan and Nichols-Pethick became friends when she signed up for one of his film theory courses almost eight years ago.

“I was terrified to have a senior colleague sitting in my class,” he said. “She couldn’t have been more gracious and more generous.”

Aside from film, Fruhan’s other passion was travel. Every summer and sometimes in January, she would travel to Rome to conduct research. She also embarked on well-planned trips around the world, including visits to Madagascar and and parts of Asia.

Fruhan’s research centered around female patrons of public art in Baroque Rome. She had been collecting her research on the topic for close to 20 years, making it her life’s work and composing her findings in a book she hoped to publish one day.

Harris recalled Fruhan telling her “I like this book. I think it will be an important book.” Harris hopes that the book will one day be published.

Fruhan’s passing has left many members of the Peeler art community in shock.

“I couldn’t believe it, I still don’t,” said Zartman. “You can feel it in the building.”

“I’m sad for students that won’t get her classes,” said an emotional Harris. “I can’t believe she’s gone.”

Even though the department, and the university, is still reacting to her loss, many friends say that Fruhan would not want them to mourn her for long.

“Catherine would be so upset with us,” said Zartman. “We need to get back to work.”

On Saturday, Dec. 12th from 1:30-3:30 p.m. at the Prindle Institute of Ethics there will be a remembrance ceremony for Fruhan which has been organized by her close friends and family.