All Posts By

Marria Thompson

Faculty, Research

THE ART HISTORY PROFESSOR IS IN: Dr. Jayme Yahr

Get to know our faculty through this ongoing series. This month, we interviewed Dr. Jayme Yahr, Assistant Professor of Art History and Director of the Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies.

Dr. Yahr at Mount Rushmore in Keystone, South Dakota

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

I have two graduate alma maters: The University of California, Davis, where I completed my MA in Art History with a focus on gender and identity in collecting and the formation of American museums, and the University of Washington in Seattle, my Art History PhD institution, where I focused on artistic social networks in 19th-century America. My general exams for my PhD were in Native American Photography, American Art, and British Art.

And what research area do you focus on now?

I research and teach in the areas of Museum Studies and American Art. There are so many great factoids in the world of museums, but two that I think are essential to museum studies include the well-researched fact that visitors are in control of the museum experience and that visitors typically want reinforcement of things that they already know a little bit about, not knowledge about something completely new.

ArtLens Gallery visitors at the Cleveland Museum of Art

Best advice you have ever received?

The best advice I have from experience, rather than a singular person, is to use school to your advantage. Attend events, get to know your professors, be active in your field, go to museums, ask questions, say yes to opportunities, and don’t burn bridges. Most people would call this networking. I think of it as building your base.

My best life advice is from my mom: Sit your butt in the chair and get the project done, write thank you notes, and eat green things.

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

I would be working at a museum or an arts non-profit, which would be a return for me. I worked in museums prior to being a professor.

My plan B has always been to own a snow cone stand on a beach in San Diego. I highly recommend having a plan B.

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.

Graduate 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.