Remembering Roger Mandle

Roger Mandle, RISD’s 15th president

President Rosanne Somerson shared the news on Monday that Roger Mandle, RISD’s 15th president, passed away during the weekend. Sources say that his passing was peaceful and that he was surrounded by his close and loving family when he died.

An academic leader, educator, art historian, head of major museums, painter and former member of the National Committee for Education Standards in the Arts and the National Council on the Arts, Mandle devoted his life to arts, culture and humanities education and helped steer the art and design agenda in this country and internationally over many decades.

Roger Mandle in conversation in a RISD studio

After his presidency at RISD, Mandle became executive director and chief officer of museums at Qatar Museums Authority. He worked on complex projects in Doha, Qatar for several years before returning to the Rhode Island area to serve on numerous boards of nonprofit cultural organizations and for-profit companies, including Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road, Maine Media Workshop, American Association of Museums, Newport Restoration Foundation and the Art Acquisition Committee of the Toledo Museum of Art, where he had formerly served as director for 14 years. Mandle was also founder and chair of the Board of Massachusetts Design Art & Technology Institute (DATMA) in New Bedford, MA, where he helped fulfill the organization’s mission of presenting free contemporary art for people of all ages and cultural backgrounds in the Southcoast region and beyond.

Mandle came to RISD after serving for five years as deputy director and chief curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. During his 15 years as president, RISD grew in stature and impact. He oversaw the completion of a $115 million capital campaign in 2007 that brought new technology, scholarships and other financial assets to RISD.

Roger Mandle at an event

The campaign included funds for extensive improvements to academic facilities, along with construction of the Chace Center, a mixed-use museum and academic space designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rafael Moneo. The acquisition and renovation of 15 West provided a new, award-winning home for the Fleet Library and residences for 500 students.

Mandle also helped to establish the Brown-RISD Dual Degree Program and the Furniture Design and Digital + Media departments at RISD. He is credited with transforming RISD from a highly regarded but largely regional school into an internationally acclaimed institution of art and design with a world-class museum.

Roger Mandle in a Furniture Department studio

Those who knew Mandle remember how much pride he took in RISD, and that he always considered the RISD community to be part of his extended family even after his tenure as president. He treasured his involvement with RISD students and continued that engagement by teaching part-time in the Division of Liberal Arts. His energy and generosity never wavered. Somerson describes him as “a mentor and a friend who continued to keep current about RISD’s activities and commitments, communicating with me frequently about his excitement in how RISD is advancing.”

Mandle is survived by his wife of 56 years, Gayle Wells Mandle, an accomplished artist who earned her MFA in Painting and Printmaking at RISD in 1997; son and daughter-in-law Luke Mandle and Lorna Ross; daughter Julia Mandle; five beloved grandchildren: Sasha, Coco, Lulu, Osgar, and Boaz; and his sister and brother-in-law Julia and Stephen Kiechel.

Roger Mandle reviewing something on paper with four individuals

Mandle’s legacy includes not just a list of achievements, but the impression he made on the countless individual lives he touched. His influence on generations of artists and others whose lives were made better through the arts will live on and his mark on RISD will remain indelible.

The Mandle family has requested that in lieu of flowers, gifts be made to RISD in support of the Roger and Gayle Mandle Fellowship or to RISD gifts may be made online or by mailing a donation to RISD, Institutional Engagement, Two College Street, Providence, RI 02903.

December 1, 2020