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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.

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

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.

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!