Emily Sano to Retire from the San Antonio Museum of Art

by Jessica Fuentes February 17, 2024

The San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) has announced the upcoming retirement of Emily Sano, the Coates-Cowden-Brown Senior Advisor for Asian Art. 

A photograph of curator Emily Sano standing in a gallery with Japanese vases behind her.

Emily Sano. Photo: Josh Huskin.

Ms. Sano joined SAMA in January 2016. During her time at the museum, she organized several important exhibitions, including Heaven and Hell: Salvation and Retribution in Pure Land Buddhism (2017), which was the first U.S. exhibition to explore in detail one of the most popular forms of Buddhism throughout Asia. Some notable focus exhibitions that she curated are The Magic of Clay and Fire: Japanese Contemporary Ceramics (2018); Harry Bertoia: Sculptor and Modernist Designer (2018); Creative Splendor: Japanese Bamboo Baskets from the Thoma Foundation (2022); and Samurai Spirit: Swords, Accessories, and Paintings (2024). 

A photograph of a pair of silk scrolls created by Gyokuichi Nagahara in 1870.

Gyokuichi Nagahara, “Bathing Arhats,” ca. 1870, Yūzen dyeing on silk, each: 84 × 32 9/16 inches. San Antonio Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by the Lillie and Roy Cullen Endowment Fund, 2019.10.a-b

Beyond the shows she curated, Ms. Sano helped shape the museum’s Japanese painting collection by facilitating significant acquisitions, such as a pair of Unkoku School cherry blossom screens, a pair of Meiji period yūzen–dyed silk scrolls showing bathing arhats, a Standing Fudō Myō-ō sculpture, a pair of Japanese carved wood foxes, and a selection of contemporary Japanese ceramics. Additionally, following the 2019 departure of SAMA’s director, Katie Luber, Ms. Sano served as Co-Interim Director of the museum from 2020 to 2022. 

In a press release, Emily Ballew Neff, the Kelso Director at SAMA, remarked, “Sano’s impact on the San Antonio Museum of Art has been immeasurable. Her expertise, passion, and commitment to Asian art have enriched our institution and the broader cultural community. We extend our deepest gratitude for her years of dedicated service.”

Prior to joining SAMA, Ms. Sano worked at institutions in North Texas and California. In 1979 she began her career in museums as the Assistant Curator of Asian Art at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. Then, from 1989 to 1993, she was the Deputy Director and Chief Curator of Non-Western Art at the Dallas Museum of Art. She then held several positions at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, including Deputy Director, Chief Curator, Chief Administrative Officer, and ultimately, Director. 

Of her time at SAMA, Ms. Sano stated, “It has been a privilege to work at the San Antonio Museum of Art with its excellent collections and certainly the best Asian Art collection in Texas. I was surprised to find an excellent museum in this city when I moved here, and I am grateful for the support of this diverse community in its endeavors.”

Ms. Sano’s retirement will be effective March 1, 2024, at which time she will be appointed Senior Advisor for Asian Art, Emeritus. Ms. Sano will be in conversation with James Lawson, a San Antonio-based collector and sword aficionado, for a talk at the John L. Santikos Auditorium on the artistry of Japanese swords on Tuesday, February 20, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Learn more and register for the event via the SAMA website.

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