Newsletter 2022: Back in Person! On the Road and on Campus
Wednesday, July 27, 2022
Wednesday, July 27, 2022
The semester got off to a start in the backyard of Professor and chair Monika Schmitter with a socially distanced faculty meeting, followed by the first Department party for graduate students in quite some time. While the challenges of the pandemic were not exactly behind us this academic year, we all relished renewed opportunities for in person interaction–between us and with works of art and architecture. We also incorporated lessons learned from remote learning to expand the possibilities of intellectual and artistic engagement.
All classes at the University were taught in person both Fall and Spring semesters (with the exception of a new experimental course), although we all wore masks into March. Of course there were student, and sometimes faculty, absences due to Covid, but we accommodated by recording lectures in classrooms and resorting to Zoom as necessary. Perhaps the greatest pleasure, for an art history department, of being back at school together was the opportunity for field trips, especially excursions to view special exhibitions. Here are some of the highlights:
Trip to Morgan Library
Prof. Sonja Drimmer took students from her fall course in “Early Medieval Art” to see the sumptuous Carolingian and Ottonian manuscripts in the exhibition, “Imperial Splendor: The Art of the Book in the Holy Roman Empire, ca. 800–1500” at the Morgan Library and Museum. On the overnight trip to New York students received a “backstage pass” from curator Dr. Joshua O’Driscoll who met them before opening hours to give an insider’s look at the exhibition. Cecily Hughes, a second-year MA student, remarked “seeing the Lindau Gospels at the Morgan Library's Imperial Splendor exhibition was like spotting a celebrity. The chance to occupy the same physical space as the object brought it to life in a way all of my time spent squinting at a computer screen never could. Indeed, as the material potency of medieval objects was so important in their own times, it is all the more important to be with them in our times. This trip was, in a word, illuminating.”
High Renaissance and Mannerist Art in Italy Field Trips
Prof. Monika Schmitter started the semester with an evening field trip with students in her course “High Renaissance and Mannerist Art in Italy” to see the film “The Lost Leonardo” downtown at the Amherst Cinema. The movie explores the ins and outs of the art market through the discovery, restoration, attribution, and marketing of the Salvator Mundi, the most expensive painting ever sold–for $450 million. Students in the class learned that scholars nonetheless continue to debate if the work is indeed a long-lost masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci.
Later in the semester in November, Prof. Schmitter took the same class by hired bus to the once-in-a-lifetime exhibition “Titian: Women, Myth and Power” at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The show brought together for the first time since their creation six gigantic mythological paintings that Titian executed for Philip II, King of Spain. These works that Titian referred to as his poesie were brought together from the Wallace and the Wellington Collections (London), the Prado Museum (Madrid), the National Gallery (London) and National Galleries of Scotland (Edinburgh) to join the Gardner’s own Rape of Europa. Students relished the opportunity to see all those vivid Titian brushstrokes up close and personal! For the final project in the class, students wrote research papers on a painting in the cycle based on their first hand experience.
Field Trips with Walter Denny
In the Spring semester, Professor Walter Denny took his course in the History of Decorative Arts for a Saturday visit to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, visiting European Decorative Arts galleries as well as the American Wing. Walter also took his Museum Studies Seminar on an overnight, all expenses paid, trip to the Met, where they visited the Islamic Galleries and the American Wing on the first day. The morning of the second they got a very intense behind-the-scenes look at current projects and scientific research in the Department of Textile Conservation, followed in the afternoon by an exploration of the problems and nuances of museum storage at the Antonio Ratti Center.
The overnight field trips for graduate students were all made possible through a generous private donation to the Graduate Program.
Museum Visits with Professors Cakmak, Kurczynski, and La Follette
A museum visit close to home was organized by Professor Gülru Çakmak, who took the “Graduate Methods Seminar” to the idyllic setting of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. A highlight was a stimulating discussion of the 19th-century French painter, Jean-Léon Gérôme’s famous Snake Charmer. Professor Karen Kurczynski’s students in her graduate seminar “Drawing in Color” viewed the exhibition "Shazia Sikander: Extraordinary Realities" at Rhode Island School of Design Art Museum in Providence. Walking through the show with exhibition curator Jan Howard, they studied Sikander's approach to drawing and painting practices as well as her critiques of traditional ideas of beauty in historical miniatures and identity politics in contemporary art. Finally Professor Laetitia LaFollette accompanied her course on “Vexed Antiquities” to the Smith College Museum of Art.
There they met with UMass Art History MA alum Henriette Ket de Vries, who shared with students the complex issues of provenance research that museums are required to undertake.
Sheep at UMass
Instead of taking her students away for a field trip, Professor Meg Vickery, brought the field trip–a literal field trip–to UMass! For the past year, Professor Vickery collaborated with professors in the College of Natural Sciences and the School of Earth and Sustainability to bring a group of sheep to campus to test out the possibility of transferring some of the University’s lawn-mowing duties to the UMass sheep flock. Called “Sustainable EWEMass” this remarkable collaboration with the Stockbridge School of Agriculture and Hadley Farm had its first run April 26 and 27 on the patch of grass between the Isenberg School of Management and the Fine Arts Center. Students stopped by to learn about and explore the role sheep have played in art, landscape design, and painting, and their potential uses in a low/no carbon future. This event was a student-led, participatory reimagining of our campus land, how it's used & valued, and toward what ends.
Prof. Vickery has long been interested in the intersections of sustainable architecture and landscape with history and aesthetics as taught through the history of art. She remarked that “Part of what makes studying cultural history, including the history of art and architecture, so interesting is that it helps show us that there is a precedent for doing things differently. We know that having sheep maintain lawns works because it has worked so well in the past. Throughout history, societies valued sheep for their many products and environmental benefits. The visual record of these animals in art highlights their immense cultural and societal importance.”
She led a remarkable group of art history students to produce research projects concerning the intersections of sheep with art. The student projects, listed below, were highlighted in person at the event in April and are posted online for perpetuity.
- Meredith Boyle: Sheep and the Democratic Park: How English Landscape Parks Inspired Olmsted’s Park for the People
- Amelia Ceballos: Sustainable EweMass: Robert Moses and the Flock of Central Park
- Owen Embury: Thomas Cole, Transcendentalism, and the Climate Crisis
- Maia Medina: A Centuries-Old Technique: Bringing Sheep Mowing to UMass
- Andersson J. Perry: The Legacy of Sheep in Persian Manuscripts and Beyond: A Case Study of the Mongols, Ilkhanids, and their influences on the Timurids and Safavids
- Maria Pitel: Michelangelo’s David: Marble or Wool?