ROGER MANDLE: Truly, A Man for all Seasons

NEW BEDFORD, MA – Roger Mandle, the co-founder of DATMA in the City of New Bedford and for all of South Coast, Massachusetts and the wider world, died this past weekend, aged 79. 

The official announcement from DATMA (Design, Art, Technology Massachusetts), and an overview of his remarkable life, is below: 

Roger Mandle was a gardener, a passion tethered to his core belief in optimism. He loved sowing seeds and nurturing them into their full glory. Gardening is a fine metaphor for his life’s philosophy of lovingly nurturing and mentoring all of those around him to reach for their highest potential.

 This weekend he passed-on peacefully surrounded by his adoring wife, two children, and his favorite plant, after surviving 7 years with cancer.

Beyond gardening, Roger was an academic leader, educator, art historian, painter, founder and head of major museums, a member of the National Committee for Education Standards in the Arts, and the National Council on the Arts.   

Roger had devoted his life of 79 years to arts, culture, and humanities education and helped steer the art and design agenda in this country and internationally over many decades.

A graduate of Williams College in 1963, Roger began his expansive career in the arts as a Teaching Fellow at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, before moving to Minneapolis, MN, to become the Associate Director of the Minneapolis Institute of Art. His curation of an important Dutch 18th century art exhibition influenced his becoming Director of the Toledo Museum of Art for nearly 15 years. Again, his curation of a major international exhibition of El Greco led to his next role as Deputy Director and Chief Curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC under J. Carter Brown from 1988 to 1993.

Roger’s love of arts education led to his becoming President of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, RI in 1993. As a painter himself, Roger thrived in this community of artists.

During his 15 years as President, RISD grew in stature and impact. Roger oversaw completion of a $115 million capital campaign in 2007 that brought new technology, scholarships, and other financial assets to RISD. 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, as well as the Roger Mandle Center for Living and Learning that provides residence for 500 students. Roger also assisted with the establishment of the Brown University-RISD Dual Degree Program and new departments of Furniture Design and Digital + Media.

His presidency is credited with evolving RISD from a highly-regarded but largely regional school into an internationally acclaimed institution of art and design with a world-class museum. 

After his presidency at RISD, Roger became Executive Director and Chief Officer of Museums at Qatar Museums Authority in Doha, Qatar. He worked on complex projects for four years before returning to the Rhode Island area to serve on numerous boards of non-profit cultural organizations and for-profit companies, including the American Association of Museums, the Newport Restoration Foundation, the Art Acquisition Committee of the Toledo Museum of Art, Maine Media Workshop, Alliance of Artists Communities, Williams College Museum of Art, Clark Art Museum, and Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road. 

In 2016, Roger co-founded with his wife Gayle the Massachusetts Design Art & Technology Institute where he was Chairman of the Board. DATMA, located in New Bedford, MA and inspired by the region’s innovations in wind energy, presents freely accessible international contemporary art through exhibitions, performances, and educational programs for all ages and cultural backgrounds. 

Roger 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; his daughter, artist and arts educator, Julia Mandle; his son, architect Luke Mandle and daughter-in-law Lorna Ross; his five beloved grandchildren Sasha, Coco, Lulu, Osgar, and Boaz; and his sister Julia Kiechel.

The Mandle family has requested that in lieu of flowers, gifts be made to DATMA through or mailing a donation, or to make a contribution to RISD in support of the Roger and Gayle Mandle Fellowship, made online at or by mailing a donation to RISD and adding “in Memory of Roger Mandle” in the notes section.