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When Oletha DeVane’s powerful “Traces of the Spirit” installation opened at the Baltimore Museum of Art last year, she stated, “My life’s goal as an artist is to unlock the secrets to the oldest stories and to create new ones.” The story of Oletha’s career at McDonogh is 27 years long and, sadly, we reach its final page today. From each vivid chapter, we learned that she did indeed unlock the sometimes secret talents of her students. As we turned the pages, we realized that Oletha added beauty and justice to McDonogh’s story as well.
This gifted educator came to McDonogh in 1993 to lead the Upper School Art Department. Her mission was to share art in meaningful ways with her students. Her ultimate goal was not to teach particular methods of making art, but to inspire students to trust their instincts and use their voices. Her classroom was a creative and safe place for students to explore their own identities, examine social issues, and reflect on the role of art in human life. Oletha’s own life is one of guiding, supporting, and encouraging.
Her passion and dedication earned her the 2007 Rollins-Luetkemeyer Endowed Teaching Chair and the 2019 Distinguished Service Award. Because Oletha has vast connections in the art world, she made it possible for artists from around the globe to come to McDonogh to display their work and interact with our students. As Director of the Tuttle Gallery, Oletha organized exhibits of unique and diverse work from students, faculty, alumni, and professional artists in order to enrich our community’s experience.
Oletha has also been a courageous leader. She never shied away from complicated or difficult discussions. She encouraged all of us to lean into discomfort and stand up for our beliefs. Her leadership qualities enabled her to advance the work on the History House initiative with a focus on sharing the story of John McDonogh’s slaves. She leaves our school better than she found it.
Thank you, Oletha, for the many contributions you have made to McDonogh. You have raised great teaching to an art form.