Christopher Damon Roy
Christopher Damon Roy, of Iowa City, passed away on Feb. 10, 2019, surrounded by his immediate family. Chris was born Sept. 30, 1947, in Ogdensburg, N.Y., to Margaret Adam Snow and George Robert Roy. He grew up in New York City and graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1965. In 1965 to 1966, he traveled to Paris, France, to study French and art. When his student visa expired, he took a ferry to North Africa and hitchhiked from Algeria east to Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and then back to Europe. Chris returned to the U.S. to study art and art history at St. Lawrence University, where he met his future wife, Nora White Leonard. After graduation in 1970, he and Nora began their service as Peace Corps volunteers in Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta), West Africa, where Chris worked as the director of the Centre Voltaïque Des Artes. He married Nora at the Hôtel de Ville, Ouagadougou, Upper Volta, on Sept. 26, 1970. Chris received his Ph.D. in art history from Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind., in 1979, and began teaching African art history in 1978 at the University of Iowa.
He leaves his beloved wife, Nora, Iowa City; his son, Nicholas Roy (Jill Scott), Centennial, Colo.; his daughter, Megan Roy (John Dolci), and granddaughter, Sylvia Dolci, Chicago; his sister, Robin Roy Katz (Michael Katz), New York, N.Y., and nephew Edward Katz; his brother, Matthew Roy (Caroline Roy), Lake Placid, N.Y., nieces, Katelin and Emily, and nephews, Robert and Christopher. Those close to him will remember him well for his sincere warmth, delightful wit and bold sense of humor. His robust energy and fascination with the world was contagious. For more than 40 years at the University of Iowa, his love for teaching art history and working with the Stanley Museum of Art was unquestionable.
Chris' love of history extended far beyond his professional interests in art. He always had a book open on subjects ranging from the French and American revolutions to the journeys of Captain Cook and Admiral Nelson. He was a frequent patron of Iowa City's treasured bookstore, Prairie Lights, and was an avid storyteller both in his classrooms and one-on-one with the many people he counted as friends. He was a truly excellent photographer, videographer, potter, painter and writer, and leaves behind a collection of hundreds of thousands of photographs of his subjects in the field, and of his beloved family. In addition to his intellectual pursuits, Chris was an accomplished skier, canoeist and outdoor enthusiast. He enjoyed gardening, garden-scale trains and building and flying model airplanes with the Iowa City Aerohawks.
The depth and scope of his contributions to the field of African art history are impressive. His careerlong focus on the arts of Burkina Faso is matched by the nearly encyclopedic power of "Art & Life in Africa" (ALA), which he published as a CD-ROM in 1997 and redeveloped as a website in 2014. His impact as a teacher, as the Elizabeth M. Stanley Faculty Fellow of African Art History at the University of Iowa, was no less remarkable. He oversaw the completion of 15 Ph.D. candidates' work, and every fall semester nearly 300 students packed the largest lecture hall at UI's Art Building West to attend his lectures on African art. High enrollment was common for his all courses, including those on Native American, oceanic and pre-Columbian art. His long history of work with the Stanley Museum supported an object-oriented approach complemented by a social history of art that captivated and inspired students for decades. Scholars reviewed his exhibitions for the museum positively for the way in which artistic quality drove his motivations for selection and display, and for the way in which he treated attribution carefully.
As a leader in his field, Chris founded the Project for Advanced Study of Art and Life in Africa (PASALA), which provided scholarships for graduate coursework and research in Africa, as well as conferences and publications on African art. In addition to publications on the Stanley Collection and the Bareiss Family Collection, Chris will be remembered equally in relation to the Thomas G.B. Wheelock Collection of art from Burkina Faso, for which he devoted specific scholarship in 2007. "Mossi," which he published for the "Visions of Africa" series in 2015, will remain a standard art historical text on the subject along with his "Art of the Upper Volta Rivers" (1987).
Beyond his courses, scholarship, guest lectures, ALA website, 19 films and numerous exhibitions, Chris' YouTube videos on art and life in Africa have reached perhaps the widest audience, with more than 10,000 subscribers and more than 4 million viewers worldwide. It is encouraging to think that the world is a better place because of Chris and all of those touched by his warmth and brilliance.
A celebration of Chris' life will be held in Iowa City in the spring. The family request that gifts in memory of Chris be made to the Christopher D. Roy Memorial Fund at the UI Center for Advancement: www.givetoiowa.org/2019la98. The fund has been created to provide support to undergraduate art history students for internships at the UI Stanley Museum of Art.