Gudmund Vigtel: 1925-2012, Distinguished Alumnus

On October 20, 2012 the University of Georgia and the Lamar Dodd School of Art lost one of its most distinguished alumni.
Gudmund Vigtel: 1925-2012, Distinguished Alumnus

On October 20, 2012 the University of Georgia and the Lamar Dodd School of Art lost one of its most distinguished alumni.  Gudmund Vigtel (BFA '52, MFA '53), Director Emeritus of the High Museum, was recognized by the art world as "the defining director of the High Museum." He raised the museum from its provincial shadows to global recognition during his tenure as Director (1963-1991). 

Vigtel came to UGA on a scholarship and studied under Lamar Dodd.  In recent years Vigtel renewed his ties to his alma mater and generously gave his expertise.  He curated the Lamar Dodd Show at MOCA in 2009, an event which galvanized the alumni of the LDSOA and served as a gala alumni reunion.  In May of that year, Vigtel honored the School again by giving the keynote address at its first Commencement.

On behalf of the faculty, students, and staff, Gene Wright, Interim Director of the LDSOA, expresses condolences to the Vigtel family and his extended family at the High Museum.  "We appreciate Gudmund Vigtel's loyalty to the School of Art and his enthusiastic participation in our mission.  We are inspired by his leadership and remain in his debt for his service to art."

If you wish, you may join Ibby Mills, Chair of the LDSOA Board of Visitors and her husband Jimmy, in making a gift to the School of Art Fund in memory of Gudmund Vigtel.  The Mills have purchased a seat in the LDSOA auditorium to honor our beloved alumnus.

Gudmund Vigtel: 1925-2012, Distinguished Alumnus

Gudmund Vigtel was born July 9, 1925 in Jerusalem where his father, a Lutheran minister, was continuing his studies after receiving a doctorate in Semitic culture from the University of Wurzburg. Two years later, his family moved to Vienna and in 1936 to his father's homeland of Norway. After the German invasion in 1940, Gudmund moved near the Norwegian border and escaped to Sweden on Christmas Day 1942. The following year he studied art in Stockholm.

In 1944 he joined the Royal Norwegian Air Force in Exile training near Ontario, Canada. His regiment shipped to Canada guarding one thousand German POW's captured during the Normandy invasion. After the war, Gudmund met a Rotarian who told him of Atlanta Rotary Club scholarships for European students to study in Georgia. In 1948 he enrolled in the High Museum School of Art. Later he was offered a scholarship to the University of Georgia School of Art and studied under Lamar Dodd. He received his BFA and MFA at the University.

After college, he moved to Washington D.C. where he eventually became Assistant Director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. With the devastating loss of 106 Atlanta Art Association members aboard an Air France plane which crashed in Paris in 1962, corporate and city leaders coalesced to build a major art center in their memory. Gudmund was offered the directorship of the High Museum and arrived in Atlanta in May 1963. Beyond a small collection highlighted by thirty Italian Renaissance works from the Kress Foundation, the museum needed a major upgrade. Gudmund was given a staff of four people and an annual budget of $60,000 including salaries. However, he increased funding and the corps of supporters expanded to over four thousand volunteers.

The Memorial Arts Center opened in October 1968. With additional space, recognition and funding, more curators and professional staff members were hired. Collections were expanded and major works of contemporary artists, 19th century American art and sculpture, African and African-American art, Photography and Decorative Arts were acquired. In 1979 Robert W. Woodruff offered $7.5 million to build a separate building for the museum, if an equal amount could be raised within three years. The challenge was met one year early. Richard Meier was chosen to be the architect and Beers Construction Company the contractor. The building was completed October 5, 1983 on time and within the budget of $21 million and generated 400 pages of highly favorable press coverage.

Major exhibitions followed with outstanding works of art from museums around the world. One of the most popular of these exhibitions was Art in Berlin, 1815 - 1989 which opened at the High three days after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In recognition of this event, Gudmund was awarded The Cross of Merit, 1st Class from the German government. When he retired in 1991, the High Museum had a staff of 150 people, an annual budget of $9 million, and an endowment over $15 million. This success was made possible by a countless number of generous and determined people. In retirement, Gudmund contributed to catalogs, organized several exhibitions, became an art consultant and collaborated with the museum.

Gudmund Vigtel died on October 20, 2012. He is survived by his wife, Carolyn Smith Vigtel; his daughter, Elisabeth Wallentin, son-in-law, Inge and grandsons, Joachim and Peder of Oslo, Norway; daughter, Catherine Vigtel and granddaughters, Lily and Grace of Atlanta. A private burial was held at St. John's Church near Franklin, North Carolina. A memorial service will be held at the Cathedral of St. Philip on Monday, October 29 at 2:00 P.M. followed by a reception at the High Museum of Art. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Gudmund Vigtel Memorial Fund, High Museum of Art or Hospice Atlanta.

Gudmund Vigtel, 1925-2012. (legacy.com)