Long-time art history professor killed in bicycling accident

Peter Hales, Professor Emeritus, Department of Art History at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Peter Hales received a Silver Circle teaching award from students in 2003. “I think of learning as a grand adventure,” he said. Photo: UIC Photo Services

Peter Hales, 63, professor emeritus of art history, was killed Aug. 26 when the bicycle he was riding was struck by a car outside his home town of Stone Ridge in upstate New York.

Hales was hit from behind after sun glare impaired the driver’s vision, state police said.

Hales combined his talents in photography with studies of contemporary cultural history. He had recently returned from photographing freeways in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

His most recent book, Outside the Gates of Eden, published in April by University of Chicago Press, was a history of American culture from the Cold War to today.

His other six books included Silver Cities: The Photography of American Urbanization, 1839-1915, and Atomic Spaces: Living on the Manhattan Project.

Hales was a UIC faculty member for 32 years, including four years as chair of his department. He retired in 2012.

“Having served on several university and college committees with Peter, I found him to be a brilliant scholar with wide-ranging interests,” said Elliott Dudnik, professor emeritus of architecture. “He was charming and witty and I will remember him most for the many times he entertained us with his stories.”

Dudnik said Hales was a “fanatical cyclist,” bicycling to UIC from his home in Evanston and later, the North Side.

Robert Munman, professor emeritus of art history, remembered “his unfailing perception and his unfailing friendship.”

Peter Hales portrait

Peter Hales at 2012 commencement. Photo: UIC Photo Services

“Peter was a mensch, and he will not be forgotten,” Munman said.

Hales received a Silver Circle Award for Teaching Excellence in 2003.

“I think of learning as a grand adventure and I try to recognize that same enthusiasm in my subject and in the students,” he told a UIC News reporter then.

“As a teacher, my primary motivation is my love of the material I teach and my belief that the messages carried in works of art and culture are powerful and liberating.”

He added, “Today I might teach contemporary painting, and tomorrow be looking at site plans for nuclear waste facilities. How did I get to be so lucky?”

While at UIC he was director of the American Studies Institute, which brings international scholars and teachers to the university each summer for intensive graduate-level training in American culture and life.

He earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in English and writing from Haverford College, a master’s in photography and American studies and a Ph.D. in American civilization, both from the University of Texas at Austin.

He is survived by his wife, Maureen Pskowski, and two children from a previous marriage — a son, Taylor, and a daughter, Molly.

The School of Art and Art History is planning a memorial in the fall “to honor Peter’s verbal felicity, his wit and his passion for ideas and music,” said school director Lisa Lee.

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