Guipure (chemical lace) galloon produced on a Schiffli embroidery machine, ca. 1900. Cotton. Textilmuseum St. Gallen, Inv.-Nr. 31189.

In 1997, Susan Weber created the Iris Foundation Awards to recognize scholars, patrons, and professionals who have made outstanding contributions to the fields of decorative arts, design history, and material culture. This year’s honorees included Deborah and Philip English, Dr. Helen C. Evans, Dr. Anne Lafont, and Barbara Israel.

On Wednesday, Bard Graduate Center celebrated the 25th anniversary of this annual tradition at the Colony Club with 140 people in attendance. With final numbers still being tallied, the event raised more than ever before, over $250,000 to benefit the Bard Graduate Center Scholarship Fund. Thanks to the BGC Board of Trustees and its chair, Nancy Druckman; event chair Deborah Miller Zabel, and the event sponsors and host committee, it was a great success.

Deborah and Philip English were this year’s Outstanding Patrons. They have been devoted to supporting the arts for many years, both through philanthropy and the development of significant collections. Their impact is felt most strongly in their hometown of Baltimore, where they have each served on the boards of major cultural institutions, including the Walters Art Museum, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and Baltimore Ballet. As an extension of their passion for majolica, both are also active on the board of the Majolica International Society, and Deborah has established the Marilyn Karmason Majolica Library, which houses an images database of nearly sixteen thousand entries featuring Victorian majolica and related materials. Recently, the couple made a $2.5 million gift to establish the Deborah and Philip English Curator of Decorative Arts, Design, and Material Culture and committed to donating more than 500 objects of majolica to the Walters Art Museum. They have played a major role as sponsors, lenders, and promoters of the Majolica Mania exhibition organized by Bard Graduate Center and the Walters Art Museum.

Dr. Helen C. Evans was honored for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement. She recently retired from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she served as Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator of Byzantine Art. Her exhibitions include The Glory of Byzantium; Byzantium: Faith and Power (named best exhibition of the year by the College Art Association); Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition (its catalogue was named best new book in Islamic studies by Iran’s Ministry of Culture); and Armenia! She also conceived the installation of the Sacristy Museum at the Monastery of St. Catherine at Sinai, Egypt, and organized Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Collecting. Evans is a fellow of the Medieval Academy of America and serves on the boards of the Mary and Michael Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture (chair), the American Associates of the St. Catherine Foundation, and Images: A Journal of Jewish Art and Culture. In 2020, the Armenian General Benevolent Union established a scholarship in her honor for students of Armenian art, art history, and the early church. She holds a PhD from the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, and a BA with honors from Tulane University.

Anne Lafont received the award for Outstanding Mid-Career Scholar and delivered this year’s Iris Foundation Awards Lecture. entitled “Making Ornamental Africa: An Enlightenment Process.” Lafont is an art historian and professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales. She is interested in the art, images, and material culture of France and its colonial empire in the modern era, as well as in historiographical questions related to the notion of African art. She has published on art and knowledge in an imperial context, on gender issues in the discourse on art in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and her most recent book is entitled Art and Race: The African against the Eye of the Enlightenment. It was awarded the 2019 Fetkann Maryse Condé Literary Prize and the 2020 Vitale and Arnold Blokh Prize. Lafont participated, as a member of the scientific committee, in the Musée d’Orsay exhibition The Black Model (2019). In 2021, she was awarded a residential fellowship from the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States, the Villa Albertine, and she serves, for the current academic year, as the Robert Sterling Clark Visiting Professor of Art History at Williams College (Massachusetts).

Barbara Israel was honored as this year’s Outstanding Dealer. She founded Barbara Israel Garden Antiques in 1985. More than 20 years and hundreds of exquisite objects later, Israel is recognized as an authority on the subject. Her book, Antique Garden Ornament: Two Centuries of American Taste (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1999), is the definitive work in the field. She has served as a consultant to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for its collection of nineteenth-century cast iron and sold pieces to the Winterthur Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Baltimore Museum of Art, as well as to many important private collectors. As an active board member of Historic Hudson Valley, Israel is helping to preserve landmark properties and their antique garden ornaments. Barbara Israel Garden Antiques has been featured in the New York Times, House and Garden, the Robb Report, the Baltimore Sun, and Martha Stewart Living, among others, and has appeared on Good Morning America, Sunday Morning Today, A and E’s The Incurable Collector, and Antiques Roadshow FYI.