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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.

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.

Research, Research Travel, Senior Paper, Students, Undergraduate Student

Hanover, MA: A Little Portion of Saint Francis

Solena Cavalli-Singer is an undergraduate Art History major and recently presented her senior paper,  ‘Intent vs. Function: Portiuncula Replications and their Departure from Assisi.’  She was awarded the Art History Department Undergraduate Research Grant to help make this project possible.

I had no idea what to expect as I headed to Hanover, Massachusetts. All I knew was that I was there to see a chapel, one that had been carefully constructed to match its original counterpart in Assisi, Italy. The chapel, called the Portiuncula (Latin for “portion of land,”) was inspired by the Portiuncula restored by Saint Francis in 1209, which currently resides inside the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. Saint Francis’ chapel has also become the inspiration for several other replications throughout the United States. I was fortunate enough to receive a grant so that I would be able to visit the replica in Hanover and use my research to aid in my Senior Paper.

The Portiuncula in Hanover resides on the Cardinal Cushing Centers campus, a school for individuals with intellectual disabilities. It is a prominent fixture on the campus, and in the town, because it is also the site of Cardinal Cushing’s resting place. The building is small, yet impressive, and one cannot help but be in awe when looking at it. In fact, the day I visited the sun was shining so brilliantly, illuminating the fresco above the entrance, that it was as if Saint Francis himself was overjoyed that I had come to see this piece of him.

After viewing the chapel, I was given free rein of the archives, located in an ­old dorm room that was in desperate need of organization. Newspaper clippings, photo albums, and old brochures filled up more than half of the room, but there was no true order to anything. Of several things I was sure: first, although I have never been in an archive before, I was certain that most people are not able to mill about and view what they please as I was able to do. Second, given the disorder of the room, I had no clue where to begin, and third, the most important thing was that I needed to leave with a floor plan of the Portiuncula. I spent well over an hour digging through various filing cabinets. The things I came across! Financial plans, newspapers detailing crimes associated with the Center, even a drawer full of relics with their original certificates – I felt as if I were reading someone’s diary, digging into their dark and complicated past.

Letter from architect, Frank Tarzia, during construction

Letter from architect, Frank Tarzia, during construction

I gathered all the information I could, but still had no luck with the floor plan. This was particularly concerning because I did not know how else I would obtain the dimensions of the chapel. After giving up and deciding that I would have to just contact various sources associated with the building to get the measurements, I began to pack up and head out. Then something happened that could only be considered a miracle. Three steps from the exit, I felt the urge to turn around. As I turned, I noticed a paper bag full of rolled up pieces of paper in the back corner of the room. I don’t know if it was pure coincidence, or perhaps Cardinal Cushing and Saint Francis really want me to write this paper, because those rolls of paper ended up being the original blue prints of the chapel – a gold mine! I almost cried tears of joy. Thirty minutes later, with all of the necessary information in my possession, I left Hanover with a smile on my face and excitement to piece together all of my research.

Original blueprint of the Portiuncula

Original blueprint of the Portiuncula

 

Graduate Student, Presentations, Research, Students

Art and Contemplation Graduate Student Research Symposium

By Sam Wisneski, graduate student

After months of planning and preparation, the sixth annual University of St. Thomas graduate student research symposium went off without a hitch. Wearing the hat of both presenter and symposium co-chair, I had some jitters and excitement about both my paper and the symposium overall, and how it would reflect on the Department of Art History. I’ve always been impressed with the collegiality and the warm, welcoming atmosphere of our department, and I truly think we showcase those qualities best in settings like the annual symposium – and this year was no different.

The symposium kicked off with a keynote lecture about Pieter Bruegel’s Resurrection from Dr. Walter Melion of the Emory University Department of Art History. In the words of Dr. Craig Eliason, the lecture was a “thrill ride.” Who said art history can’t be an adrenaline rush? If you missed the keynote or you enjoyed it as much as Craig, you can (re-)watch it here.

The evening continued with a reception where graduate student presenters, professors and UST graduate students got a chance to mingle and enjoy a spread of some of the very best offerings – I quite enjoy those little caprese kabobs, though they are a little awkward to eat and the dessert bars, oh my!

Saturday started bright and early, with the presenters arriving at 7:45 a.m. and the first paper presented at 8:30 a.m. to a full house. The rest of the day went very smoothly. From the morning sessions, to the gallery talk in the American Museum of Asmat Art gallery, to the afternoon sessions, I think we showed off the very best of the Department of Art History at St. Thomas. The student presenters were incredibly professional and gave some wonderful presentations. As symposium co-chair, this wasn’t all that surprising based on the many excellent abstracts we received following the Call for Papers – but a strong abstract doesn’t guarantee a great presentation. This time around, it was the case that both the abstracts and the presentations were quite strong. Not only that, the range and breadth of topics was impressive too. This year’s paper titles can be found here.

2015 Symposium Presenters with Dr. Walter Melion

2015 Symposium Presenters with Dr. Walter Melion

Following each presentation, our audience, packed into Room 341, offered some insightful questions to our presenters. As usual, it was a warm atmosphere for collegial banter – both literally and figuratively; the room was smaller than past symposium locations so it was a little toasty at times. My fellow graduate student presenters handled their questions graciously and with enthusiasm.

The absolute highlight and nightmare scenario for me though, was the feedback offered by our keynote lecturer. Dr. Melion carefully read the presenters’ papers and crafted several incisive questions for each of us – some even down to the granular level of semantics. He then called upon us to respond to each question. Easier said than done. We all furiously scribbled and captured mere portions of each of his questions.

Sam presenting her paper

Sam presenting her paper, ‘Soul Food as Sacrament: Social Practice Artist Meditations on Nourishment’

I felt a bit like I was on an episode of the Food Network series Chopped. I had served up my paper to the judges, and now I was ready to be grilled. Publicly defending your work is a delicate task – especially when scholarship can be so personal. You’ve spent lots of time with your topic, and even the slightest criticism can sting. You have to achieve a balance somewhere between defensiveness and concession – standing up for your paper but acknowledging that your scholarship is never really done.

Though difficult, opportunities to present and defend your work are formative. As scholars, we aren’t producing work in a vacuum, so outside insights are critical and I very much valued the thoughtful responses Dr. Melion provided for each of us. I think my fellow graduate student presenters, overall, felt the same way. In hearing feedback from presenters, I think we achieved both a welcoming and critical environment to consider this year’s symposium theme, Art and Contemplation.

I’d like to offer a special thanks to everyone who made this year’s symposium a success – while it didn’t quite take a village, it certainly took lots of support from our department as a whole: graduate student volunteers, the faculty co-chairs, Dr. Heather Shirey and Dr. Craig Eliason, and my co-chair Dakota Passariello, as well as the generous support of those in attendance. Thank you!