A Force of Life: Remembering Linn Underhill

Summer 2019
Black and white portrait of Linn Underhill in tuxedo holding cigarette

Photo by Linn Underhill

Aug. 8, 1936—May 3, 2019

A black-and-white photograph of a woman with her arms crossed, her gaze piercing. A montage of family snapshots arranged like pages in a book of hours.  A scene, reminiscent of a Michelangelo fresco, depicting a leather-clad goddess floating on a cloud.

These are all works by prolific artist Linn Underhill, whose photography explored issues of gender, aging, and domesticity while working against cultural conventions and distilling the world down to its essence. As an associate professor of art and art history emerita at Colgate, Underhill inspired her colleagues and students alike.

“She was such a force of life,” Catherine Morley ’09 recalled. “Studying with her in London profoundly altered the course of my life — it was Linn who inspired and fortified me with the courage and encouragement my timid 19-year-old self needed to become an artist. As I’ve worked across different mediums and cities, I’ve always carried her with me.”

The recipient of numerous fellowships and grants, including two NEA Visual Artist Fellowships and an NYCA Publishing Grant, Underhill held an MFA degree in photographic studies from SUNY Buffalo and the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, N.Y. Joining Colgate as an art and art history faculty member in 1992, she taught courses in photography, studio art, photojournalism, practice and theory of art, and criticism of contemporary art. She served as interim director of the Picker Art Gallery, where — along with the Clifford Gallery — her solo exhibitions and curatorial projects have been displayed. Underhill retired in 2017.

“[She] draws on almost a century of work by photographers who challenged societal expectations and tolerances of gender identity and sexuality,” Katherine Rushworth, former director of the Central New York Institute for the Arts in Education, told the Post-Standard. Underhill’s hope, she added, was that Colgate students would walk away “think[ing] about gender roles as being malleable.”

In addition to national museums and galleries, Underhill’s work is included in several private and institutional collections, such as Harvard University’s Fogg Museum.

She died at the age of 82 in her Lisle, N.Y., home. Underhill is survived by her partner of 30 years, Ann Carter; three children; seven grandchildren; and many friends.