Faculty, Research

THE ART HISTORY PROFESSOR IS IN: Dr. Victoria Young

Get to know our faculty through this ongoing series. This month, we interviewed Dr. Victoria Young, Professor of Architectural History and Chair of the Department of Art History.

What area of art history/architectural history did you focus on in graduate school? And where did you go?

I attended the University of Virginia and have a Master’s and Ph.D. in Architectural History which is unusual, as most programs offer Art History titled degrees. I focused on sacred space in the 19th and 20th centuries during my time at Virginia, writing a Master’s thesis on a 19th-century Trappist Monastery in England and my dissertation on the Abbey Church of Saint John’s here in Minnesota.

And what research area do you focus on now? 

My current research considers the design of World War II museums internationally, with a special focus on the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, the subject of my book manuscript. Did you know that in the last decade that several war museums have opened around the world (Canada, Poland, Germany, England, etc.) and that the National World War II Museum in New Orleans ranks 2nd in the nation and world according to the 2017 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice awards?  (The award highlights the world’s most popular museums based on quality and quantity of consumer ratings). There are wonderfully powerful stories in these places, in both exhibits and architecture.

Best advice you have ever received?

The best advice came from my Methods professor at Virginia, Camille Wells. Dr. Wells told me that the best thesis/dissertation is a COMPLETED thesis/dissertation. This means that at some point you have to let your work go forward, and I realized with the publication of my book on Saint John’s Abbey Church, that a book, thesis, etc., is just the start of something – it opens up a dialogue about the object that is wonderful to be a part of!

If you weren’t a professor, what would you do and why?

I’d either be an architect or meteorologist! Someday I’ll take my son on a storm chasing vacation in the summer and look at the built environment along the way.

Students, Study Abroad, Undergraduate Student

A Month in London: ARTH110, January 2017

Every J-term, we offer a study abroad ARTH 110 Intro to Art History Course in London. This past January, Margaret Conley and Ben Kraemer were two of the undergraduate students who took part in the course. 

The London Skyline as seen from St. Paul’s Cathedral, featuring skyscrapers called the Gherkin, the Shard, and 20 Fenchurch. All photos by the authors.

This past January we were given the amazing opportunity to study art history in one of the most historic cities in the world – London, England. Personally, this was, and still is, the most incredible and life-changing learning experience we have ever had. Our days were spent traveling around to historic sites, museums, and learning what living in the city of London feels like. Our class focused on five topics: architecture, museums and collecting, British painting, Amerindian Art, and World War II in London. London was an amazing city to study art history because modern skyscrapers stand next to buildings that have stood since the time of William the Conqueror. The city has a thriving culture where people from all over the world convene and collaborate. London has one of the best modes of transportation – The Tube. This underground metro system makes traveling across the city extremely convenient and there is no better feeling than getting off the Tube and seeing one of the amazing landmarks London has to offer, like Big Ben, when you walk up the stairs and onto the street.

Hampton Court Palace, favorite palace of King Henry VII I who split from the Roman Catholic Church and changed the face of England forever.

The first week of our time in London led us to explore the history of England and delve deeper into the architecture of the historic city. The first day began exploring the Tower of London, the earliest Norman structure built in England. The structure was like a small town because it was so expansive. You could feel the history in the buildings walls as you walked through the buildings. Impressive armor, tapestries, and carvings decorated the buildings. One of the biggest highlights was seeing the Crown Jewels. The crowns that adorned the heads of the kings and queens of England were just a few feet in front of us. Diamonds and jewels the size of your fist helped decorate the priceless objects. We toured Hampton Court Palace, the favored palace of King Henry VIII and saw the impressive architecture that dominated the Tudor era. The bricks of the building formed intricate designs on the exterior of the building and even the chimneys had extremely ornate decorations. This edifice left no doubt about the power that the royalty contained. Westminster Abbey displayed the importance of wealth in the sacred realm through its magnificent Gothic architecture and decorative arts. This incredible building contained some amazing stained glass windows and contained the tombs of England’s royalty, including Elizabeth I and her sister, Mary I.

The Virgin and Child with the Infant St. John is the only Michelangelo sculpture in Great Britain and can be found at the Royal Academy. Unfinished with chisel marks visible, it is one of the many breathtaking pieces of art we saw in London.

The numerous museums of London were also explored during our month abroad, including the British Museum, Sir John Soane Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, and National Gallery. Beautiful paintings, sculptures, and other artwork filled our days. Medieval artwork with amazing tapestries, Renaissance art, including the only Michelangelo sculpture in Great Britain, and modern artists were displayed. Seeing the brushstrokes on the works of art was incomparable to seeing images projected in a classroom.

Oxford is the world’s second oldest university.

The group took a day trip to Oxford as well. We got to see one of the oldest libraries in Europe along with the oldest building at the college. Not to mention, we got to see the library from Harry Potter along with the setting for the Yule Ball! Oxford was an amazing city and filled with rich historical figures. At every street corner, we could see something that inspired Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat, J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, or C. S. Lewis’s many theological writings. Oxford is a truly inspirational city.

2017 J-Term ARTH 110 Intro to Art History students pictured in front of the Tower of London.

The trip was not only about memorizing facts and dates. It was also about experiencing a new, vibrant culture across the Atlantic. We lived in the city of London and made connections that will last a lifetime, while learning from two great Art History professors, Dr. William Barnes and Dr. Victoria Young.

 

Research Travel, Senior Paper, Students, Undergraduate Student

Cultural Heritage Protection at the Aga Khan Museum

Justine Lloyd is an undergraduate Art History major and is currently working on her senior paper. She was awarded the Art History Department Undergraduate Research Grant to help make travel for this project possible.

This January, I had the opportunity to travel to Toronto with the Art History Department Undergraduate Research Grant.  The focus of my trip was to gather information for my senior research paper—a testament to all that I have learned as an Art History student here at the University of St. Thomas.  The focus of my project is on the widespread, systematic destruction and looting of the ancient Syrian city, Dura-Europos.  Because the protection of the artifacts within the city is important for both the art history field and the millions of people that have called Syria a home, I am also investigating possible solutions to the existing damage and ways to prevent further destruction.  Certain information about Dura-Europos has been difficult to find, as the site is located in a conflict-stricken area and the destruction and looting has been a fairly recent occurrence.  As so, the Art History Department Undergraduate Research Grant allowed me to gather material in a way that was otherwise inaccessible to me.

Tomb Relief
Palmyra, Syria, 123 CE
Limestone, carved
With permission of the Royal Ontario Museum © ROM.

I spent two nights in Toronto, giving me a full day to explore the Aga Khan Museum, which is dedicated to Islamic art and Muslim culture.  Its current exhibit, Syria: A Living History, contains several works of art and cultural artifacts that are similar to those being destroyed in Dura-Europos, including floor mosaics, temple reliefs, eye idol figurines, and stele.  For the first time, I was able to see Syrian art outside of a textbook or journal article.  I took part in a guided tour of the exhibit and spent some time browsing on my own, and can say without a doubt that it was one of the most striking exhibition layouts I have ever seen.  The high ceilings, dim lighting and dark-colored walls were both dramatic and intriguing.  This exhibit has been so popular that the Aga Khan decided to extend its showing from February to March.

Stele with Depiction of a Prayer
Tell Halaf, Syria, 10th–9th centuries BCE
Basalt, carved
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Vorderasiatisches Museum,
Photo: Olaf M. Teßmer.

Eye Idol
Syria, ca. 3200 BCE
Gypsum, carved
With permission of the Royal Ontario Museum © ROM.

The most valuable part of my time in Toronto was meeting with a curator of the Aga Khan, ‪Dr. Filiz Cakir Phillip.  As someone who was involved closely with the exhibition, Dr. Phillip was able to further my knowledge in Syrian art and aid in forming my case study of Dura-Europos.  We discussed the transitional process of artifacts from archaeological sites to museums, which is relevant in discourse related to cultural preservation of at-risk sites.   Dr. Phillip was also well versed in Syrian Antiquity Law, which was information I was having difficulty finding in English.

I am confidant that the information and resources I gained in Toronto will contribute to my development of a strong senior paper.  I am so grateful to have received the Art History Department Undergraduate Research Grant which made this entire experience possible.

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 Qualifying Paper, 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.