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Alumna Appointed National Portrait Gallery Historian

Lemay says Syracuse inspired her to follow her passion

Aug 5, 2015 | Article by: Sarah Scalese


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Kate Lemay '01

Kate Lemay ’01, a graduate of Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences (A&S), has been appointed historian of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery (NPG), part of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture in Washington, D.C. 

In this role, Lemay is charged with telling the story of the United States by researching and writing about the people who have helped shaped its history, development, and culture. She also curates exhibitions, evaluates new acquisitions, collaborates with the fundraising team, and is helping launch the NPG’s Center for Visual Biography.

Museum director Kim Sajet says Lemay is an ideal fit for the position. “Her background in American art and American history fits perfectly with the museum’s mission of telling the story of America through portraits of people who have made or [are] making this country,” Sajet says.

Lemay previously held faculty positions at Auburn University at Montgomery and Brigham Young University. She credits A&S for positioning her for success. 

“Syracuse University allowed me to explore lots of options,” Lemay says. “Part of the reason I have succeeded in my career is because I have not been afraid to try new things and to live in new places. That hunger for experience was fostered by Syracuse, where my classmates were from a variety of social and economic backgrounds, and were both extraordinary and interesting. Today, some of my most successful friends are people I met at Syracuse.”

A Delaware native, Lemay double-majored in French and art history at Syracuse and then earned a dual doctorate in American art history and American studies from Indiana University. Lemay says she is reminded daily of the value of a liberal arts education, given her passion for teaching art history.

“What is important about a liberal arts education is that it reinforces the idea that there isn’t one strict way to address a problem—that, often, there is no right answer,” she says. “Life is so much more exciting and illuminating, when approached with creative energy.”


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Contact Information

Sarah Scalese
315-443-8085
sescales@syr.edu