Jonathan L. Fairbanks, a decorative arts and sculpture expert who over the past six decades has worked as a curator, historian, writer, administrator, and artist, announced Friday that he is stepping down as director of the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton.
Known for his generous intellect and deep social connections, Fairbanks, 84, was an unlikely candidate when he took over as a first-time director at Fuller Craft in 2012. Then 79, Fairbanks had spent the bulk of his career at the Museum of Fine Arts, where in 1971 he founded the American decorative arts and sculpture department, which he led for more than 25 years. His tenure at the MFA came to an abrupt end in 1999, when former director Malcolm Rogers dismissed Fairbanks and others as part of a museum-wide reorganization — a controversial shakeup that became known as “The Boston Massacre.”
When he arrived at Fuller Craft more than a decade later, the small museum was running a deficit in excess of $1 million and had recently laid off several staff members.
“If you take on a job where there’s no risk, there’s no creative urgency to it,” Fairbanks told the Globe at the time. “I’ve always liked challenges, and this is a challenge.”
In the years since, Fairbanks has significantly shrunk the museum’s deficit, while also expanding its programming and collection.
In honor of his contributions, the Fuller Craft board has named Fairbanks senior research associate and director emeritus for the museum. Deputy director Denise Lebica will act as interim director as the board conducts a national search for Fairbanks’s replacement — a position that will be known formally as the Jonathan Leo Fairbanks Executive Director.
“[N]ow’s the time for me to step back — let some other talent come aboard and lift us to a new plateau of achievement,” Fairbanks said in a statement. “Fuller Craft Museum is at the moment of emergence. The chrysalis has broken; we are going to fly.”