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In Memory of David Raizman, 1951–2021

David Raizman

March 1, 2021

It is with great sadness that we recognize the passing of renowned Distinguished University Professor Emeritus David Raizman, PhD. Our condolences go out to his family, friends and colleagues. David Seth Raizman, a historian of medieval Spain and modern design, died on Monday, February 22, 2021 in Abington, PA. He was 69. An esteemed scholar and educator, he was also widely admired as an unusually kind and generous colleague and an all-around mensch.

Raizman earned his BA (1973), M.A. (1975), and Ph.D. (1980) in art history at the University of Pittsburgh. He wrote his dissertation “The Later Morgan Beatus (M.429) and Late Romanesque illumination in Spain” under the direction of the late medievalist John Williams. The two became lifelong friends, and Raizman made a point of visiting Williams nearly every time he traveled to Pittsburgh over the next 35 years, until Williams’s death in 2015.

Raizman married his beloved wife Lucy (Salem) in 1974. After completing his dissertation, Raizman accepted a tenure-track position at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois, in 1980. In 1989, the by-then family of four returned to their home state of Pennsylvania when Raizman accepted a position at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Raizman retired from Drexel’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design as a Distinguished University Professor in 2017.

Raizman initially specialized in medieval Spanish manuscripts, and he continued to publish occasional articles on medieval Spanish topics into the mid-2000s. However, a second and arguably more significant chapter in his scholarly career began in the 1990s, after he agreed to teach a course on the history of modern design at the request of Drexel’s design faculty. He taught the first iteration of his combined history of graphic design, industrial design, and decorative arts course in 1992. After struggling to find a suitable textbook to assign his students, he decided to write his own. Raizman published the first edition of History of Modern Design in 2003 and a second edition in 2010. It is now a standard text in design history courses around the world. Raizman was preparing the third edition at the time of his death.

Teaching design history and writing History of Modern Design proved formative events in Raizman’s career. During the last two decades of his life, he worked tirelessly to help advance the field of design history in the United States. He became a stalwart member of the College Art Association (CAA) affiliated society Design Studies Forum, he organized design history sessions at CAA conferences, and he organized and presented in sessions about design history at three consecutive NASAD annual meetings in the 2010s. He co-edited Objects, Audiences, and Literatures (2007) with Carma Gorman; he co-edited Expanding Nationalisms at World's Fairs (2017) with Ethan Robey; and most recently, he wrote Reading Graphic Design History: Image, Text, and Context (2020), a collection of essays on seven oft-misunderstood items in the graphic design history canon. He regularly published articles, book reviews, and entries in reference works on topics ranging from nineteenth-century World’s Fair presentation furniture to mid-twentieth-century aluminum chairs to twenty-first-century “DesignArt.” And he mentored many emerging scholars in the field of design history, most notably by organizing and leading a month-long National Endowment for the Humanities summer institute with Carma Gorman at Drexel University in July, 2015.

In addition to contributing to the fields of art history and design history as a scholar, Raizman shouldered major service roles at his university and in national scholarly organizations. At Drexel, he chaired two departments for a total of ten years, and served twice as associate dean and twice as interim dean of his college. At the national level, even after his shift in scholarly focus from medieval art to modern design, Raizman served as treasurer of the International Center of Medieval Art (ICMA) from 2015 to 2018. In that role, he led the organization to adopt a socially responsible investment model that realigned ICMA’s financial profile with its intellectual commitments. When CAA announced later in 2018 that it was seeking a new treasurer, Raizman once again volunteered his services. And in 2019, when CAA sought an interim executive director, Raizman agreed to take on that role, but only on the condition that CAA not pay him a salary. Commuting from Philadelphia every other week to his shared apartment in New York, he held the post of interim executive director as a full-time unpaid volunteer for nine months in 2019–2020. Those who worked with him in the CAA office and on the CAA board during that time often noted his patience, kindness, and diplomacy as he helped guide the organization through a period of transition. After the hire of executive director Meme Omogbai in March 2020, Raizman continued on as treasurer, conscientiously presenting his last report to the board just two weeks before he died.

Outside of academe, Raizman was an avid tennis player, a talented bluegrass and blues guitar player, and a passionate sports fan, especially of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Phillies. He also loved classical music and opera. He doted on his young grandson, enjoyed refinishing furniture, and collected Arts and Crafts ceramics, Art Deco posters, and modern furnishings.

Raizman was preceded in death by his parents, Albert and Adele, and his brother, Richard. He is survived by his wife of 46 years, Lucy Raizman, of 205 Fernbrook Ave., Wyncote, PA 19095; daughter Rebecca Newman, son-in-law David Newman, and grandson Jacob Orion Newman of Los Angeles; and son Joshua Raizman and daughter-in-law Sommer Mateer, of Havertown, PA.

Contributions in David Raizman’s honor and memory may be directed to the College Art Association (CAA) or the Westphal College of Media Arts and Design at Drexel University.

Westphal College is planning a virtual memorial honoring David Raizman this spring. More information to come. To make a donation to Westphal in memory of David Raizman, click here and scroll down and select “I want to dedicate my gift to someone.”