Jean Makin retires from ASU Art Museum, leaves legacy of excellence

After 28 years of nurturing a print collection dear to her own heart, Jean Makin retired from her role as Curator of Prints at the ASU Art Museum May 31.

“That’s the one thing that’s hard to let go — hoping that the print collection stays alive and is considered an important part of the curriculum,” Makin said.

When Makin was hired at ASU in 1989, the museum was home to under 1,500 prints. Today, she said the museum’s print collection approaches 7,000.

Still, Makin said the most fulfilling part of her job came from the work she did with students, both through teaching the classes that came into the museum and mentoring student interns.

“I like reaching out to the kids, trying to talk to them and slowly they all become aware, they become alert. I talk to them about the prints that are out, pointing out a little bit about this artist or that artist and all of a sudden it becomes real to them," Makin said.

She often co-taught more than 20 classes per academic year, and enjoyed helping these students connect to the artwork in the museum, she said.

“I try to relate even the artwork to the fact that artists don’t work in a vacuum, that they’re reflecting what’s going on in their society. And that’s where art has its strength. You have to understand more about everything that’s going on," Makin said.

Although Makin is commonly known for significantly growing the print collection and highlighting its importance among the museum's other collections, her contributions to ASU and the museum are plentiful.

As Curator of Prints, Makin was responsible for identifying, archiving and storing pieces, as well as filling holes in the collection by purchasing art with raised funds or through donations.

Makin said the museum was lucky to receive a donation of over 150 photographs and 6 screen prints from the Andy Warhol Foundation.

“It’s such a great resource for students to have this body of Andy Warhol materials available. And that just reflects the museum’s visibility within the art world too," Makin said.

Keeping to the museum’s high standard of excellence and continuously planning for new collections was a full-time job, she said.

“It’s been a series of ongoing, continual work," Makin said. "Expectations are always high, and so it’s always meeting those expectations continually. There’s never really a down and quiet time."

Throughout her time at the museum, Makin handled much of the its graphic design work as well, she said.

“In a way, that’s been an impact too. Setting a sort of graphic look,” Makin said.

Makin's reputation of excellence was experienced by her colleagues as well.

Mary Hood, an associate professor of art at ASU, said Makin has done an incredible job managing the collection, bringing it up to date and working with the students in a number of capacities.

“For the students, it kind of blew them away when they saw the actual prints. There’s so much to learn from seeing firsthand and physically observing a print,” Hood said.

Hood credits Makin’s background in printmaking for her ability to convey the artistic process to students, as her hands-on knowledge transcended theoretical models.

“I’d like to say officially that we’re going to miss her,” Hood said, explaining that Makin was invaluable.

ASU Professor of Printmaking, Kathryn Maxwell, agrees.

“Her gift to all of us was this preservation and growth of the collection,” she said.

Maxwell said she often took her students to work with Makin in the museum, and its print collection grew exponentially during Makin’s tenure.

“She was trained as a printmaker herself so she understood the process and the mentality of printmakers, and our interest in them. She is a very welcoming person in terms of wanting to educate people,” Maxwell said.

Makin said she is not sure what her next adventure will be.

“It’s been an amazing 28 years working here. It’s been delightful working with the professors, with the community. I’m just very grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had through the years,” Makin said.

Reach the reporter at or follow her on Twitter @emikamezaki

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