NYU Steinhardt Remembers Howard Conant, Art Educator Honored by LBJ’s White House

Howard Somers Conant, who served for 22 years as chair of the School of Education’s Department of Art Education, died on February 20, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona. He was 89.

Conant was educated at the University of Wisconsin, the State University of New York at Buffalo, and the Art Students League in Manhattan. He served as chair at NYU from 1955–1977, and was head of the Department of Art at the University of Arizona until his retirement in 1987.

Conant is the author of many books on art education including a series of art discovery books by McGraw-Hill. In 1953, he hosted “Fun to Learn about Art.” a children’s television programs on art education on WBEN-TV in Buffalo, New York.

In a blog post called, ‘The Year of Living Famously,’ Kihm Winship, who was a second grader when he appeared on the show, remembered learning four principles from Conant:”Be creative! Think up your own ideas. Make a collection of your best work. Be a neat and orderly worker.”

Conant’s career took him India in 1966, where, while serving as a Department of State lecturer, he met with Indira Gandhi. The same year he was honored with the White House’s 25th Anniversary Medal for Distinguished Service to Education in Art. In her memoir, A White House Diary, Lady Bird Johnson wrote that the ceremony was “the type of program I love” because the award winners were “successful in enriching the lives of young people through an understanding of the visual arts.” The first lady singled out Conant as a teacher who “occupies an important place in the art world.”

“His life’s work was devoted to instilling a love of art and artistic expression in children,” said his wife Virginia Elizabeth Conant. “He was much beloved by his grandchildren and he loved spending time with them, making art in his studio, taking them to museums, and giving art lessons at their elementary schools when he came for visits.”

Conants paintings have been exhibited in one-man shows in the United States and abroad and are housed many public and private collections. His earliest works depicted Wisconsin landscapes, his New York works focused on geometric abstractions, and his Arizona works incorporated the textures, colors, and motifs of the desert, his wife said.

(Photos: Rilke’s Goddess (Painting by Howard Conant; Studio shot from ‘Fun to Learn,’ by Matthews. Taken at WBEN-TV on October 21, 1953.)