Classroom, Faculty, Students, Undergraduate Student

Exquisite Corpses in the Classroom

Dr. Craig Eliason,  Associate Professor of Art History, is teaching a course on Modernism in European Art this fall semester. 

Participants in the Surrealist movement, which thrived in Western Europe between the World Wars, saw the creative potential in unexpected juxtapositions and the laws of chance. A favorite activity of the Surrealists was the playful activity of building a “cadavre exquis.”* In this game, paper is folded in sections and artists take turns drawing parts of a body (or whatever their creative impulses dictate) on the resulting sections of the paper without looking at what others have drawn in the adjoining sections. Only after all have added to the drawing is it unfolded to reveal the “exquisite corpse” they’ve collectively made.

Recently in my ARTH356 Modernism in European Art course, we made our own exquisite corpses, examples of which you see here.

One thing that struck us was how motifs appeared on multiple sections of the same drawing purely by chance.

By participating in creating these monstrous creatures, the class gained new insight into the theories of creativity put forward by Surrealists almost a century ago.

* https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/max-ernst-levade-the-fugitive

Graduate Student, Research, Research Travel, Students

An Exploration of the Irish Holy Wells of St. Brigid

Clare Monardo is an art history graduate student currently completing her qualifying paper on the Irish Holy Wells of St. Brigid. She was awarded the Art History Department Graduate Research Grant to help make this project possible. Clare will present her paper at the Fall 2016 Graduate Student Forum on Dec. 16th.  

This summer I was fortunate to be able to travel around Ireland for three weeks researching the holy wells of St. Brigid in Ireland, which is the topic of my qualifying paper for this program. I have been exploring the St. Brigid’s holy wells for two years now and had hit a wall due to a lack of photographs and site-specific records, prompting this trip.

A sign marks St. Brigid’s Well, Killare, County Westmeath. In order to access the holy well, which is located in a copse of trees, visitors must walk through a field of grazing sheep. Photograph taken by author on June 4, 2016.

A sign marks St. Brigid’s Well, Killare, County Westmeath. In order to access the holy well, which is located in a copse of trees, visitors must walk through a field of grazing sheep. Photograph taken by author on June 4, 2016.

Holy wells are noteworthy settings because, in addition to being semi-man-made places of prayer and contemplation out in nature, many of them are believed to cure physical ailments in addition to spiritual ones. Almost every town in Ireland has at least one holy well, with some counties having upwards of one hundred, for a total of approximately three thousand wells in the country as a whole. The landscape in which holy wells reside shows an amalgamation of pre-Christian and Christian practice and have been enhanced by man-made additions such as signs, well-houses, paved paths, shrines, and the Stations of the Cross.

Stations of the Cross at St. Brigid’s Well in Cullion, County Westmeath. A path allows visitors to circumambulate the well while praying the Stations of the Cross. Photograph taken by author on June 4, 2016.

Stations of the Cross at St. Brigid’s Well in Cullion, County Westmeath. A path allows visitors to circumambulate the well while praying the Stations of the Cross. Photograph taken by author on June 4, 2016.

Throughout the course of my research I have come across one hundred holy wells dedicated to St. Brigid in Ireland, not all of which are still in use today. I was able to visit ten of these holy wells while in Ireland, along with local libraries, historical sites, and the Solas Bhríde center in Kildare run by Brigidine nuns. My qualifying paper focuses on four sites, located throughout the country: two wells in Tully, County Kildare; one in Ballysteen, County Clare; one in Faughart, County Louth. These four holy wells were chosen because of their popularity, the fact that they are still venerated today, and because the greatest amount of information regarding the Irish holy wells of St. Brigid focuses on these particular sites. Some of the holy wells that I visited were clearly marked and had road signs pointing the way, making them easy to find. Others, however, were not so obvious, leading to lots of extra driving around (which was already somewhat stressful as it’s on the opposite side of the road from what we’re used to!) and eventually having to ask for directions from locals. These included the St. Brigid’s Well in the Faughart graveyard and another located down the road from Raffony Graveyard.

 A stone beehive hut encloses St. Brigid’s Well in Faughart, County Louth, and there are steep steps going down to the water. To the left of the well are clootie trees. Photograph taken by author on June 12, 2016.

A stone beehive hut encloses St. Brigid’s Well in Faughart, County Louth, and there are steep steps going down to the water. To the left of the well are clootie trees. Photograph taken by author on June 12, 2016.

 

Tucked into a hillside down the road from Raffony Graveyard is St. Brigid’s Well, Raffony, County Cavan. Photograph taken by author on June 10, 2016.

Tucked into a hillside down the road from Raffony Graveyard is St. Brigid’s Well, Raffony, County Cavan. Photograph taken by author on June 10, 2016.

Two holy wells associated with St. Brigid, known as St. Brigid’s Well and St. Brigid’s Wayside Well are located in Tully, County Kildare. Both of these sites are still visited today, but the popularity of the Wayside Well has diminished in recent decades with the renovations of the nearby St. Brigid’s Well.

St. Brigid’s Wayside Well in Tully, County Kildare. Stone steps lead down to the murky and stagnant water, and a small amount of clooties and other items point to this well still being a place of veneration. Photograph taken by author on May 30, 2016.

St. Brigid’s Wayside Well in Tully, County Kildare. Stone steps lead down to the murky and stagnant water, and a small amount of clooties and other items point to this well still being a place of veneration. Photograph taken by author on May 30, 2016.

Ritual is an integral part of the holy well experience and it can involve not just the holy well, but also sacred trees and stones. Oftentimes trees nearby holy wells have pieces of cloth, called clooties, tied to their branches, marking them as being venerated. When visiting a holy well the afflicted takes a piece of his or her clothing and ties it to the tree with the belief that the disease which is plaguing them will be transferred from their body to the tree.

Located at the back of the axial site is St. Brigid’s Well. To the left of the well is a clootie tree with colorful ribbons and pieces of cloth tied to its branches. Tully, County Kildare. Photograph taken by author on June 1, 2016.

Located at the back of the axial site is St. Brigid’s Well. To the left of the well is a clootie tree with colorful ribbons and pieces of cloth tied to its branches. Tully, County Kildare. Photograph taken by author on June 1, 2016.

 

A small bridge passes over the stream at St. Brigid’s Well in Tully, allowing visitors to access the clootie bush on the right and the statue of St. Brigid on the left. Photograph taken by author on May 30, 2016.

A small bridge passes over the stream at St. Brigid’s Well in Tully, allowing visitors to access the clootie bush on the right and the statue of St. Brigid on the left. Photograph taken by author on May 30, 2016.

In addition to clooties, it has become quite common for visitors to leave a variety of other objects at holy wells. St. Bridget’s Well in Ballysteen, County Clare had the largest accumulation and assortment of items that I came across during my trip. Not only were there prayer and memorial cards, but also religious statues and images, rosaries, photographs, flowers, religious medals, an empty vodka bottle, a pair of children’s shoes, and a sparkly hula-hoop.

At St. Bridget’s Well, Ballysteen, County Clare, access to the holy water is gained by entering a whitewashed well-house that surrounds the well and proceeding down a dark and narrow passage. Multiple layers of votive offerings have built up inside the well-house. Photograph taken by author on June 8, 2016.

At St. Bridget’s Well, Ballysteen, County Clare, access to the holy water is gained by entering a whitewashed well-house that surrounds the well and proceeding down a dark and narrow passage. Multiple layers of votive offerings have built up inside the well-house. Photograph taken by author on June 8, 2016.

By going on this research trip I not only was able to access local sources that had been unavailable to me previously, but I also gained a better sense of how one is supposed to move through and use the space of holy well sites. Information from both types of visits will help me understand how ritual and space affect and inform one another at the holy wells of St. Brigid in Ireland as I continue to move forward with my qualifying paper.

Graduate Student, Research, Research Travel

Pictish Stones

Sandy Tomney is an art history graduate student completing her qualifying paper research on the Pictish Stones found within Scotland. She was awarded the Art History Department Graduate Research Grant to help make this project possible. 

Hundreds of carved stones and stone fragments have been found within Scotland’s landscape.  Many of these sculptures are attributed to the peoples known as the Picts who lived in northern Britain during the early historic period.  Art historians and archeologists have been studying these monuments for several hundred years and are still working towards better understanding Pictish art and society.  Recently, on a trip to Scotland, I had the opportunity to examine some of the monuments and their find sites first hand.

St Orland’s Stone is an example of an early historic Pictish monument. (photos by author, 2016)

St Orland’s Stone is an example of an early historic Pictish monument. (photos by author, 2016)

Due to the large number of Pictish stones that have been found, I decided to use iconographical similarities to limit my investigation of the stones.  The ten monuments that were to be examined are carved with quadrupeds that have clawed feet, long legs, long tails, long duck-like noses, large eyes, and profiled bodies.  It just so happened that each of these monuments was originally found near Scotland’s east coast.  Each was discovered south of the Cairngorms and slightly inland from the coastline among agricultural land.  With the exception of the Forteviot Church Stone, each of the other monuments was originally found north of the River Tay.

Example of quadrupeds with clawed feet, long legs, long tails, long duck-like noses, large eyes, and profiled bodies found on Meigle No. 4. (Photo by author, 2016)

Example of quadrupeds with clawed feet, long legs, long tails, long duck-like noses, large eyes, and profiled bodies found on Meigle No. 4. (Photo by author, 2016)

Aberlemno No. 2 still stands in the local kirkyard. During the winter months it is covered with a protective box. (Photos by author, 2016)

Aberlemno No. 2 still stands in the local kirkyard. During the winter months it is covered with a protective box. (Photos by author, 2016)

The monuments have similar iconography, but visiting their find sites revealed a topographical connection between the stones as well. Seven of the find sites visited were near rolling fields of barley and other grains.  This landscape differs greatly from the more mountainous regions to the west and north. The eighth and most northerly Dunfallandy Stone’s find spot was near Killiecrankie along the floodplain of the River Gary.  The River Gary cuts through the southwestern tip of Cairngorm National Park.  Although the area’s landscape is in transition from rolling hills to mountains, similar to the other find spots, much of the land is dedicated to agriculture. Of the stones that were visited, only St. Orland’s Stone found in a field near Forfar and the Aberlemno stones situated along the local road and in the local kirkyard potentially remain in their original find spots.  Most of the monuments have been moved into museums or churches to avoid further deterioration that may be caused by the elements.

The village of Meigle is surrounded by productive agricultural land such as this barley field. (Photo by author, 2016)

The village of Meigle is surrounded by productive agricultural land such as this barley field. (Photo by author, 2016)

The River Gary near the Dunfallandy Stone’s find site. (Photo by author, 2016)

The River Gary near the Dunfallandy Stone’s find site. (Photo by author, 2016)

The trail to the remote St. Orland’s Stone in Angus. ((Photo by author, 2016)

The trail to the remote St. Orland’s Stone in Angus. ((Photo by author, 2016)

Visiting the small museums not only allowed me to view the stones in the study, but also provided a chance to see other Pictish stones. Seeing Strathmartine No. 3 on display at The Meffan Museum and Gallery in Forfar allowed me to better discern details on the stone that photographs just could not capture.  In addition to Strathmartine No. 3, the museum was exhibiting the stones found nearby at Kirriemuir.  About twelve miles from Forfar is the Meigle collection of twenty-six monuments that is housed in an old school house.  The Meigle Museum had on exhibit three of the monuments that were on the list of those to see.   Viewing the monuments allowed for a better understanding of the scale of the stones and how they might function within their original cultural landscape.  Although their collections did not include any of the monuments on my list, I also visited the St. Vigeans Stones and Museum as well as the Museum of Perth.  Both museums are located within the region and the monuments they exhibit may be useful as comparisons.

Strathmartine No. 3 on display at the Meffan Museum and Gallery in Forfar. (Phots by author, 2016)

Strathmartine No. 3 on display at the Meffan Museum and Gallery in Forfar. (Photo by author, 2016)

Originally found just outside of Aberlemno, the Woodrae Castle Stone was one of the stones on the list that was a “must see.”  It is now on display at the National Museum of Scotland, and a trip to the Edinburgh museum provided an opportunity to personally observe the details on the amazing stone.  The museum trip also permitted me to view an array of other Pictish stones, as well as, Celts a major joint exhibition between the National Museums of Britain and Scotland.  Although the museum in the busy city felt like another world after exploring the country side, it was well worth the detour.

The Woodrae Castle Stone at the Scottish National Museum, Edinburgh. (Photo by Robin Tomney, 2016)

The Woodrae Castle Stone at the Scottish National Museum, Edinburgh. (Photo by Robin Tomney, 2016)

Overall the trip allowed me to visit the find sites of all ten monuments and actually see eight of the ten stones.  In addition, it was helpful to see other Pictish stones that did not have the same iconography as those in the study.  The field information that was collected was helpful and greatly added to the research I am currently conducting.

Students, Undergraduate Student

Interning at Mia

Annie Vitale is an undergraduate Art History major who had the opportunity to intern at the Minneapolis Institute of Art  this past summer.

This past summer I had the wonderful opportunity to intern at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in the Learning Innovation department. I worked specifically with the Art Adventure program, a program that encourages children in grades K-6 to think critically and express creativity through the in depth exploration of artworks in Mia’s impressive collection.

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Some of the highlights of my internship included meeting Kaywin Feldman the director and president of Mia, planning Art Adventure events such as the Coordinators coffee, making and designing props for the Art Adventure program, touring the Purcell-Cuts house, and just being in the museum environment in general.

During my internship the special exhibition “Seeing Nature” was on display at Mia. These 39 stunning landscapes proved to be my favorite museum exhibition of all time. I thoroughly enjoyed meandering through the galleries on my lunch breaks and admiring the captivating depictions of nature.

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My experience interning at Mia was nothing less than amazing. The people I had the privilege of working with were wonderful: always willing to lend a helping hand, a listening ear, or sit down and talk about their careers over a great cup of coffee at Agriculture, the museum’s café. The environment was professional and productive yet fun and exciting. Each and every employee’s passion for their job was evident in their work and overall demeanor, which inspired me to always complete my work to the best of my abilities.

Working at a museum has made me fall in love with art even more and has solidified my decision to major in Art History. I would highly recommend a museum internship to anyone considering an art major, appreciates art, or has an interest in learning more about art and the inner workings of museums. Trust me, this is an experience you don’t want to miss.

Students, Undergraduate Student

Archaeological Field School 2016

Justine Lloyd is an undergraduate Art History major who had the opportunity to take part in an Archaeological Field School this past summer in Spain.

At the base of the Pyrenees in Santa Linya, Spain, a rock shelter known as Cova Gran has been the focus of researchers at the Autonomous University of Barcelona since its discovery in 2002.  The fascination with the site is due to the extensive evidence of both Neanderthal and human occupation as early as 50,000 years ago and into the Neolithic and Bronze Ages.  Each summer, a team of researchers, accompanied by undergraduate students from the United States, travel to rural Catalonia to excavate the site.  As a visiting student from the University of St. Thomas, I had the opportunity to contribute to the 2016 excavation season.

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The foremost goal at Cova Gran was to learn about the behavior of Neanderthals and humans.  Past years of the excavation have focused on mapping the transition between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens by identifying the differing sedimentary levels of the Mesolithic and Neolithic ages.  Our job was to attempt to understand the histories of populations on the site in the last 150,000 years, and the trends in cultural change by uncovering and analyzing the materials found.  The majority of our findings were either animal bone fragments or small tools knapped from flint or quartzite.  Each action we took in the excavation was aimed at being as careful and efficient as possible.  Fortunately, we had the help of some pretty cool instruments, like the Total Station, which uses a virtual grid for spatial reconstruction, and the Personal Digital Assistants, which interpret contextual information about the artifacts on site.  Fancy names aside, the work mostly consisted of digging, brushing, and picking through layer after layer of dirt.

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Each morning was spent working in a lab cleaning, analyzing, and recording the artifacts on a database.  We used a computer program that combined the information we gathered from the Total Station and Personal Digital Assistants on site with information about the specific artifacts offsite to illustrate trends and patterns within the sedimentary layers.  Essentially, we were finding out what different areas of the cave were used for and the years in which they were or were not inhabited.  It was so rewarding to be able to combine physical labor and research to yield such fascinating results in the insight we gained into the differences in evolutionary behavior among the cave’s past residents.

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As the only art history major among nine anthropology students, I was very suddenly and completely immersed in a field I had little experience in.  However, any feelings of stress were overpowered by my fascination with our findings.  I learned so much in such a short period of time—being able to work hands-on at the cave and take part in lab work gave me an understanding of the material that I could never have attained elsewhere.  I benefited so much from my peers and their knowledge in the subject, and by the second week I had the confidence that they learned from me as well.  The concept of understanding the past to improve the future is important regardless of scholastic discipline, especially with the current state of the environment.  Working at Cova Gran has given me a larger landscape of understanding the world at large—both past, present, and future.  I am also grateful to have had the opportunity to be so immersed in the culture of Catalonia. The academic and personal skills I have learned on this trip are invaluable.

 

 

 

 

Conference Presentations, Faculty, Graduate Student

Presenting at the 2016 SESAH Annual Meeting

Last week Dr. Victoria Young and graduate student Clare Monardo both headed down to New Orleans to present at the 2016 Southeast Chapter Society of Architectural Historians (SESAH) Annual Conference at Tulane University.

Based on her latest manuscript project, Dr. Victoria Young discussed the National World War II Museum designed by Voorsanger Architects. In 2000, founders and historians Stephen Ambrose and Nick Mueller opened the National D-Day Museum in the warehouse district of New Orleans. Within a few years they realized that the D-Day concept paid tribute to only a small portion of the war effort, and with Congressional support in 2003, they led the charge to become our nation’s World War II Museum. Dr. Young’s paper presented the process of creating the campus of the National World War II Museum. From a list of more than forty designers emerged the New York City firm of Voorsanger Architects PC, led by principal and founder Bartholomew Voorsanger. In addition to a discussion on how the firm was selected and their design proposal and how it has evolved over the last decade, Dr. Young spoke about the significance of how the memory of war is displayed through architecture and innovative exhibitions and how, for many, this is a powerful tool for engagement with the life changing events of the wartime experience. This talk further suggested that an architecture of peace is at the core of Voorsanger’s design philosophy, a viewpoint that supports the museum’s missions of education, remembrance and inspiration.

Dr. Young, along with architect Bartholomew Voorsanger, also gave a tour of the museum, providing the group with a comprehensive view of the design process from architectural competition, to the various building phases, to detailing the next stages of construction that will take place before final completion expected in 2019. The various plans, models, etc. from the project will become part of the Voorsanger Architects Digital Archive, to be housed on the University of St. Thomas Department of Art History website.

Group gathers before entering Campaigns of Courage (B. Voorsanger in white shirt)

Group gathers before entering Campaigns of Courage

Site of next phase of construction, including the Canopy

Site of next phase of construction, including the Canopy

US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center

US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center

Clare Monardo presented on the sacred landscape and ritual at the Irish Holy Wells of St. Brigid, also the focus of her qualifying paper that she will present during the December 2016 Graduate Student Forum. For her SESAH paper, Clare discussed how ritual and space affect and inform one another at the holy wells of St. Brigid, with particular focus on the site of Faughart, County Louth. Such wells are a unique worship space and remnants from a long ago culture, the pre-Christian Celts. These sites still maintain a place in Irish religion and spirituality today, although in some areas their use is diminished. Ritual is an integral part of any holy well experience and it can involve not just the holy well, but also sacred trees and stones. Traditionally, Christian worship takes place within some type of architectural building, but these holy well sites allow for worship within a sacred landscape; a landscape that has been enhanced by man-made additions such as structures around wells, paved paths, and shrines. The set movements that one performs while moving through the landscape, not unlike ritual movement through a church, are a blend of native and ecclesiastical traditions and recall the elaborate pre-Christian ritual of rounding, or making prescribed circuits around a holy well and other important features of the site. Faughart’s holy well of St. Brigid is a uniquely created space where ritual and worship are informed by, and intertwined with, the surrounding sacred landscape.

Clare will also be presenting another aspect of her research this Saturday, Oct. 8th at the Sacred Space: Art History Graduate Student Research Symposium at St. Thomas.

St. Brigid's Well, Tully, County Kildare. Behind the well is a clootie tree, where pieces of cloth and other offerings have been attached to the tree. Traditionally, the afflicted takes a piece of his or her clothing and ties it to the tree with the belief that the disease which is plaguing them will be transferred from their body to the tree.

St. Brigid’s Well, Tully, County Kildare. Behind the well is a clootie tree, where pieces of cloth and other offerings have been attached to the tree. Traditionally, the afflicted takes a piece of his or her clothing and ties it to the tree with the belief that the disease which is plaguing them will be transferred from their body to the tree.

Today, St. Brigid is usually shown wearing a more modern nun's habit and holding a small model of St. Brigid's Cathedral in Kildare. Image from St. Brigid's Well, Drum, County Roscommon.

Today, St. Brigid is usually shown wearing a more modern nun’s habit and holding a small model of St. Brigid’s Cathedral in Kildare. Image from St. Brigid’s Well, Drum, County Roscommon.

St. Brigid's Well, Faughart, County Louth.

St. Brigid’s Well, Faughart, County Louth.

Graduate Student, Uncategorized

Rebuilding, Re-educating, Re-imagining

Dakota Hoska is an art history graduate student and took our summer course, “What is Native American Art,” taught by Dr. Jill Ahlberg Yohe, Assistant Curator of Native American Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Dakota was also a recipient of our Native American Art History Fellowship, made possible with support from the University of St. Thomas College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office. 

 

What drew you to the study of Native American art through a graduate art history course—both personally and professionally?

As a Native person, the image that comes to mind when I reflect upon my cultural existence is that of a large Jenga tower, with many structural components missing. I feel the voids, the emptiness left by those missing pieces. One by one I’m trying to recreate those pieces and slide them back into my tower, knowing I’ll stand stronger if I can reclaim them.

All of my studies, my artwork, my job and my personal energy go into rebuilding what was lost and what was taken.  Courses like the Native American Art History class offered by St. Thomas are building blocks, helping to replace those same missing pieces.

Unfortunately, my story is not unique.  Many Native Americans are missing large parts of their cultural history—including information related to their artistic heritage, because many of their artistic endeavors were closely tied to their traditions and practices. Those traditions and life ways were attacked on multiple fronts.  The stated goal was to obliterate a Native person’s cultural identity and to assimilate them into the culture of the conqueror.

This class and others like it are important on a personal and professional level for Native students like myself, but also for Non-native students.  They help to build appreciation and equanimity for the beautifully rich cultural and artistic histories of Native Americans, while schooling Euro-Americans on alternative modalities and motivations for making. Additionally, they bring awareness to beautiful works of historic art that were almost lost, while showcasing progressive Native artists who rely on a broad array of influences—traditional, European, political, familial—to produce works unlike others known in the Western canon.

What research project did you pursue and why do you think this research is important?

For my research project, I chose to delve into the career of one of the most prolific, political and popular Native American Art figures of our time—Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. I was interested in her because within the artistic world, she was hit with a double “handicap”:  She is Native and she’s a woman.

The Red Mean, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Nation, 1992, Acrylic, Newspaper collage, Shellac and Mixed Media on Canvas, 90 X 60 in., Smith College Museum of Art

The Red Mean, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Nation, 1992, Acrylic, Newspaper collage, Shellac and Mixed Media on Canvas, 90 X 60 in., Smith College Museum of Art

I was inspired by Jaune’s steady commitment to her artistic calling as well as to her Native community. I learned a great deal in my research about Jaune’s choice to continually engage her audience in important dialogues around the issues of being Native, of being a woman in a male-centric field, and of being a committed environmentalist.  I came to respect her deeply as a person of great strength and character, who continually chose her path, when others tried to tell her she had no choice.

Because of the research I completed on this artist, I was able to advocate for greater representation of her artwork in an upcoming exhibition I am assisting with. (I work as a research assistant at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.) I have also been inspired, within my own artistic process, to utilize more printmaking and collage in my work. Finally, throughout her career Jaune never forgot her ties to her community.  The struggle between the Western world and our own cultural heritage is real and Native artists deal with this struggle in a spectrum of ways, from creating work that is completely culturally embedded to striving for only Western recognition in their careers.  I respect the balance Jaune found on that spectrum.

3) How will this course continue to have an impact on you moving forward? 

For me, this course will be one of the most important I will take at St. Thomas as I strive to focus my Art History studies on Native American Art History.  I wish I had many more courses along these lines to choose from. Unfortunately, these classes can be few and far between in all institutions of higher learning, which gives me an even deeper appreciation for the importance of this class. I’m always thankful when I find something that so directly relates to my future aspirations.

The House of Little Moon, Dakota Hoska, 2015, Monoprint, 19.5 X 24 This work discusses my journey back to my birth family, the Little Moons.

The House of Little Moon, Dakota Hoska, 2015, Monoprint, 19.5 X 24
This work discusses my journey back to my birth family, the Little Moons.

Faculty

Living in China: Some FAQ 

Dr. Heather Shirey, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Art History, spent the spring semester at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Her semester is China was made possible by support from the Fulbright-Terra Foundation Award in the History of American Art.  This is the final of three blog posts from Dr. Shirey. 

Dr. Shirey responds to some FAQ about her semester in China. 

Wow, China. How is your Chinese? Fortunately for me, no one really expected me to speak any Chinese at all. Therefore, the bit I can speak made me a huge success. “I am an art history professor at Tsinghua University” flowed off my tongue easily because I said it so often. I had moderate success with casual conversations with other adults at the playground, although I occasionally had to call on my children to help me out. I can order food and get around an unfamiliar city with the help of a translation app. People in China are generally exceedingly patient with foreigners and very open to any attempts to communicate, no matter how feeble.  I’d describe my skills as “low functional” in that I could probably go about living the rest of my life in China at the survival level, but I would struggle to develop deep social relationships that didn’t rely on English. That said, I am nearly illiterate, as I can only read a few hundred characters, if that. The day before we left, reading started to kick in—I noticed that I was suddenly able to read some street signs! But then it was time to go home. I enjoyed the daily struggles and triumphs of communicating in Chinese and I aspire to continue my studies now that I am back in Minnesota.

The Brooks-Shirey family at Tiger Leaping Gorge near Lijiang

The Brooks-Shirey family at Tiger Leaping Gorge near Lijiang

Where did you live? My grant provided us with housing on the campus of Tsinghua University. The campus itself is huge and there are many beautiful natural areas.  The apartment we lived in was simple, and much larger than we expected—we even had office space in the apartment. It was a 5th floor walk-up so we got a lot of extra exercise!  The other residents of the building block we were all Chinese and we normally did not encounter other foreigners in our neighborhood. We had a lovely fruit and vegetable market nearby, making life very convenient. It was about a 15-minute walk to the nearest subway station, so although we were sheltered by the tranquility of campus, we were also well connected to the rest of Beijing.

How did your kids like China? Our children, ages 6 and 11, enrolled in an international school where English was the primary language of instruction. They made friends from all over the world, and I think they really got the travel bug as a result. Now they are always planning trips to Malaysia, India, Micronesia, and Poland, and I know this is because of the great bonds they formed with kids from these places. Prior to the trip, my daughter spoke some Chinese as a result of having previously attended a Chinese immersion school. Her Chinese really kicked in when it came to day-to-day transactions. She loves to shop and she really mastered bargaining. She usually paid a quarter of the starting price of any given item at a market. My son was something of an international superstar. He has cute curly hair and big round eyes, and I think he looks something like an anime character come to life. Everyone wanted to take a selfie with him, much to his chagrin.  He did not speak any Chinese when we arrived, but he got to be quite competent in 5 months. He really wants to keep learning now that we are home.

What about the food? Since we lived in an apartment, we usually cooked at home. We had access to great produce at the local market. There was also a lovely stand with hand-made noodles just around the corner. There are markets that specialize in imported groceries all over Beijing. Food safety is actually a major concern for people in China, so there were some things, like milk, that we always bought imported. There are many great restaurants specializing in Western food in Beijing. We often ate Indian food and pizza. Interestingly, it took a trip to China for my kids to fall in love with the Caesar salad—who knew, but Pizza Hut in China has a fantastic Ceasar salad! As for Chinese food, our entire family absolutely loves hot pot. This is like a Chinese version of fondue, take away the cheese. Meat and vegetables are cooked in a delicious pot of boiling broth, accompanied by an amazing array of sauce options. Another favorite was dim sum in Guangdong Province and in Hong Kong. And street food in the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an. And Jianbing, a kind of savory Chinese pancake sold by street vendors. Ok, street food anywhere. And dumplings, dumplings everywhere and of every variety.

Given your busy teaching schedule, did you have a chance to travel? Yes! We actually visited 15 cities during the spring semester. Much of this travel involved university visits as part of the Guest Lecture Program (see previous blog post). However, we also did some travel just for fun. Before the trip I asked Elizabeth Kindall for her travel suggestions, and this led us to some cities that were not part of our formal lecture program. The Master of Nets Garden in Suzhou lived up to Elizabeth’s rave reviews, and the Chengdu Panda Base delivered a high dose of cuteness. I teach the terracotta warriors from Xi’an in class, so seeing the open pits and ongoing work of archaeologists was amazing. Some of the best moments while traveling are completely unplanned. Also in Xi’an, we just happened to visit the mosque at the time of the calling to prayer on the last day of Ramadan.  What an incredible moment. Just for fun, we went to Tokyo and visited the fish market and an amazing Buddhist temple. My favorite trip was to Taipei—such a green and beautiful city and amazing food!

Faculty

Lecturing in China

Dr. Heather Shirey, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Art History, spent the spring semester at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Her semester in China was made possible by support from the Fulbright-Terra Foundation Award in the History of American Art.  This is the second of three blog posts from Dr. Shirey. 

While I was based in Beijing for the spring 2016 semester, I was fortunate to have numerous opportunities to travel to many cities, including Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Chongching, and Taipei.  As part of the Fulbright Guest Lecture I visited universities and museums in order to present lectures and workshops on a variety of topics including public art, political portraiture, the ethics of art collecting, and race and representation in American art. Normally I presented lectures on topics that are the focus of my research. This was a valuable way for me to gain new perspectives into issues I have been engaged with for some time. From the teaching perspective, I also learned a great deal about art history programs in China and the job market for art history students.

Dr. Shirey with students and faculty at National Central University in Taipei, Taiwan

Dr. Shirey with students and faculty at National Central University in Taipei, Taiwan

Poster advertising Dr. Shirey’s lecture at Central Academy of Art in Beijing

Poster advertising Dr. Shirey’s lecture at Central Academy of Art in Beijing

At the Shanghai Museum, I was invited to deliver a series of lectures as part of the World Civilizations Lecture Series. The Shanghai Museum is the leading art institution in the country, so it was an honor to participate in this series. Since these talks were delivered to a general audience rather than graduate students, I chose broad topics that also allowed for connections to the museum’s collection. For example, I expanded a lecture on the museums and collecting in West Africa to also engage with collecting practices that had shaped the Shanghai Museum. These talks were fun because the audience was so broad, and this resulted in an incredible range of topics emerging in the question and answer period. I was asked to respond to questions on everything from ancient Roman archaeology to contemporary American politics. At the end people lined up for my autograph, something that does not happen every day in the life of an art history professor!

Audience questions at Central Academy of Art, Beijing

Audience questions at Central Academy of Art, Beijing

During the course of these lectures, I typically met with graduate students who had already developed an interest in American art. The students were very eager to learn and engage in discussions. Many of these institutions—such as Central Academy of Art in Hangzhou and Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts–have very strong programs that include a focus on Western art, American art specifically. The faculty have experience doing research in Europe and North America, and this is highly beneficial to the students. Some schools have strong, sustained connections with North American universities, providing great opportunities for exchanges. I think these long-term scholarly relationships are absolutely necessary as we seek to create a broader community of scholars focused on American art.

Campus architecture at China Academy of Art, Hangzhou

Campus architecture at China Academy of Art, Hangzhou

Library at Sichuan Fine Arts Academy, Chongqing

Library at Sichuan Fine Arts Academy, Chongqing

In China, art history programs usually exist within fine arts schools. The top fine arts programs have beautiful campuses. In the case of the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, all of the buildings on the Xiangshan campus were designed Amateur Architecture Studio under the direction of Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu. Wang Shu, the first Chinese-national architect to receive the Pritzker Prize, is also the Dean of the School of Architecture at CAA. The campus architecture is such a harmonious blend of traditional styles and materials with modern design. This beautiful campus is perhaps rivaled by the Sichuan Fine Arts Academy in Chongqing. The photograph here is of the library, designed by Tanghua Architect and Associates, which appears to float on a lotus pond. I imagine living and working on these beautiful campuses must be inspiring!

Faculty

Art History Graduate Students at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China

Dr. Heather Shirey, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Art History, spent the spring semester at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Her semester in China was made possible by support from the Fulbright-Terra Foundation Award in the History of American Art.  This is the first of three blog posts from Dr. Shirey. 

Just as classes at the University of St. Thomas were getting underway in the spring 2016 semester, I was packing up my family to move to China. With the support of the Fulbright-Terra Foundation Award in the History of American Art, I spent five months at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Tsinghua is one of China’s top universities, and entry into the art history graduate program is extremely competitive. The students at Tsinghua have worked very hard to earn a spot in the program, and they are confident, ambitious, and highly capable.

Dr. Shirey introducing material on the first day of Methods and Theories in Art History

Dr. Shirey introducing material on the first day of Methods and Theories in Art History

I was assigned to teach two graduate-level courses at Tsinghua. The first was Methods and Theories—a course I enjoy and feel comfortable with after teaching it several times here at UST. In this course we applied various theories and methods to gain an understanding of some canonical works of art from the United States, such as Grant Wood’s American Gothic, a painting the students found fascinating due to the context of the Great Depression. The second course focused on Modern and Contemporary art with an emphasis on African American art from the 20th century.

Students preparing for a discussion in Methods and Theories

Students preparing for a discussion in Methods and Theories

My ability to communicate in Chinese is limited—I can order dinner and carry on a simple conversation with other parents at the playground, but when it comes to speaking in an academic context, I am lost.  Fortunately for me, though, one of the goals of the Fulbright program is to help students improve their skills in English through academic work. For that reason, I taught entirely in English with occasional assistance from a student interpreter.

Graduate student Wei Haoyu holding one of his own published articles

Graduate student Wei Haoyu holding one of his own published articles

There was a great deal of variation amongst the students in terms of language abilities. I had some students who could read, write, and speak English with near-native fluency. Impressively, these students were very prepared to engage with the material at a sophisticated level. They wanted and deserved to be challenged to think critically and to write at a high level that would be accepted by academic audiences internationally. At the same time, there were also students in the class with more basic levels of English-language competency.  As would be expected, these students tended to focus on basic comprehension rather than on a critical analysis of the material. It was challenging to meet the needs of these diverse students in one class. Breaking into smaller groups for discussion activities, using peer-to-peer teaching, and harnessing technology like We Chat helped us overcome some of these difficulties.

Group portrait of the Methods and Theories students as well as faculty member Chen Anying

Group portrait of the Methods and Theories students as well as faculty member Chen Anying

Students were very interested in studying the art of the United States. Some of our best conversations focused on the role of public art in the United States as compared to China. Contrasting approaches to memorialization in China and the US, for example, led to some striking conversations. The topic of race and visual representation was also very productive. China is increasingly involved in economic and political relationships with African nations, and I think there is a problematic tendency in contemporary Chinese popular culture to summon a body of negative stereotypical imagery that emerged in 19th century America and apply it to the representation of contemporary African people. My students in China were often unfamiliar with the history of this imagery, and so together we developed a framework for critiquing negative stereotypes that appear in popular visual culture.

Students engaged in small group discussion

Students engaged in small group discussion

Art History graduate students in China, like their peers in the USA, sometimes feel tired, overworked, and concerned about their future job prospects. There are many highly educated, qualified job candidates entering the job market, and wages in the fields of museums and education are lower than in other careers. As in the United States, Tsinghua graduate students often seek internships and study abroad opportunities to help prepare for a competitive job market.  At the same time, contemporary Chinese art is increasingly popular in the global market, and the country is also experiencing a great deal of growth in museums and other educational and cultural institutions. Students generally feel optimistic about the future because of this.