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Conference Presentations

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.

Conference Presentations, Presentations, Research, Students

Amanda Lesnikowski: Rembrandt’s Two Lucretias

Amanda Lesnikowski is a senior art history major who will graduate in May 2013.  Her senior paper and presentation, on Rembrandt’s paintings of Lucretia, was presented at a research conference at Baker University in Kansas and a symposium at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  Her senior presentation will be on May 17.

When the senior paper began popping up in conversations about a year ago, everyone kept telling me not to “reinvent the wheel.”  At the end of my junior year, I knew that I wanted to elaborate on a paper I had already written, but I was not sure what that paper would be.  During the fall 2012 semester I was enrolled in Robert Ferguson’s Baroque and Rococo course. We were required to choose a work from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and use it as the basis for all of our research.  Portraits having a special place in my heart, I claimed Rembrandt’s 1666 Lucretia. The semester went quickly, and my final paper only left me with more questions and bigger ideas than answers.

It was at this point that both Robert and I knew this paper had more potential than just a final classroom essay.  After asking him to be my advisor, we began brainstorming what new questions we wanted to answer. This process left us with two areas of study: theatricality and family in Rembrandt’s two Lucretias (see images below). Rembrandt is known by scholars as having included great amounts of theater into his paintings, whether it be live gestures, the implication of speech, or even his application of lighting. When it came to family, Rembrandt had a very colored history. He saw his family as one of the most important parts of his life, and it was often seen in his art.


Rembrandt, Lucretia, 1664. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


Rembrandt, Lucretia, 1666.  Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Rembrandt, Lucretia, 1666. Minneapolis Institute of Arts.













Through further research, we discovered another important part of Rembrandt’s art: the tronie. A tronie, a Dutch word for face, is used as a term to describe a combination of portraiture and history painting. Here is an excerpt of my paper detailing Rembrandt’s invention:

Rembrandt “combined theory and practice” and invented the “tronie,” a combination of portraiture and history painting.(1)   Martha Hollander spoke highly of the seventeenth-century, Dutch history painting. She explains the genre’s power and the ability to move an audience: “History painting was an opportunity to tell a story on a grand scale, combining anecdotal and archaeological details with displays of eroticism, violence, and powerful emotion. Successful compositions required strong stage-managing skills.”(2)  As seen in these two portraits of Lucretia, the background is bare, almost completely faded to black. Hollander attributes this to Rembrandt’s style: “Rembrandt’s method, demonstrated in his history paintings [. . .], is to imply, rather than describe, a space.”(3)   This pushes the actor, or subject, to the front of the stage. Rembrandt clearly saw his studio as a stage, where the model’s purpose was to perform.(4)

Rembrandt’s depiction of St. Bartholomew is a wonderful example of the tronie (see below). The painting, from 1661 and now at the J. Paul Getty Museum, is apparently a character study, but is converted into a history painting by adding a single prop: the knife. Rembrandt uses the prop to bring the audience full circle. The knife allows the audience to complete a mental image, one of a man everyone knows. Without the knife, this would just be a portrait, albeit of a particular person. The man in the painting gazes out towards his audience with a look of contemplation. Holding his head in his left hand, his emotions are hard to classify. His look of self-reflection is a feeling anyone could relate to. Like the Lucretias, Rembrandt’s lighting emphasizes the subject’s face. It is here that the viewer is drawn first, and only then, down his right arm and along the draped fabric where they observe that he is holding a knife. Now they identify that this man is St. Bartholomew, the martyr who was skinned alive.


Rembrandt, St. Bartholomew, 1661. J. Paul Getty Museum.

Writing this paper has taught me how to be a better art historian, a stronger writer, and a more eloquent speaker.  I have had the opportunity to present my paper three times: at the ACTC and Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) symposium, at the Baker University Art History Conference, and at the St. Thomas undergraduate symposium. I was honored to be asked to speak at the ACTC/MIA and represent St. Thomas. I am so grateful that the department chose me. I heard of the Baker University conference through a department e-mail. I sent in a five hundred word abstract and title, then a few weeks later heard I was chosen to speak. I traveled to Kansas at the end of April to present along with other undergraduate researchers.

The undergraduate symposium at St. Thomas is also a celebration as well as a presentation. It is a wonderful opportunity to show your peers and professors what you have been working on the past year, and to hear your friends speak and to get their opinion on your own work.

Research always brings more questions than it does answers, but, hopefully, your own paper is able to answer someone else’s question. Attending these symposiums has been inspiring, humbling, and exciting, but they have prepared me for my next steps as an art historian.


(1) Simon Schama, Rembrandt’s Eyes (New York, 1999), 660-663.

(2) Martha Hollander, An Entrance for the Eyes: Space and Meaning in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art (Berkley, 2002), 16.

(3) Hollander, 67.

(4) Svetlana Alpers, Rembrandt’s Enterprise (Chicago, 1988), 58.


Conference Presentations, Graduate Student, Presentations, Research

Olga Ivanova: The Pictorial Photography of Alfred Stieglitz: Validating Photography through Painting.

Olga Ivanova presented her paper on Alfred Stieglitz at a conference in Gzhel, Russia in November 2012.  The paper was delivered in Russian and based on research in a graduate seminar taught by Craig Eliason.

My first presentation of a research paper at an academic conference was in Russia, and I found this experience both rewarding and challenging.  I came across the listing for the Conference in Gzhel, Russia in early October 2012 and I was quite surprised to see that they were still accepting submissions.  The Conference was to take place on November 22-23.   The organizing committee accepted my paper and proved to be very resourceful about getting me into the program and answering all my questions in a timely manner.  My main concern was about the presentation style and their technical capabilities.  I was assured that most presenters use PowerPoint and stick to a script, which was a relief to me for presenting a paper in Russian.

Slide from Presentation

Slide from Presentation


I presented research that I had started in Craig Eliason’s graduate seminar, American Painters of the Gilded Age.  Though the conference mentioned it was “international,” they requested that I present in Russian.  I was eager to take on the challenge of translating my paper.  While I speak Russian fluently, I don’t have a strong technical vocabulary in art history, and I had to consult dictionaries and various art publications in Russian in order to make appropriate translations of terms.  Another limitation was that I could not practice my presentation and get feedback on it since no one in the program spoke Russian (I would strongly encourage everyone to present to faculty and colleagues before a conference).

Gzhel is located about 60 kilometers outside of Moscow and I took an early morning train to get there on time. I was given very detailed instructions and had no problem finding the university.  Gzhel University is famous for it unique style of ceramics that is painted solid white with distinctive blue designs, all made by hand.  Together with other guests, I was given a tour of the University’s art gallery and the studio where the ceramics are produced.  After a welcoming speech, the conference broke into sections.  There were fifteen presenters in my section, fourteen on Russian art. I was scheduled to be tenth, but the Dean unexpectedly gave me the honor of presenting first.  I was the only international student who had travelled from far away, and it was their way of showing their appreciation for my interest.  Believe it or not, but I was really thankful for this gesture, after my initial shock.  Since I did not expect to be presenting right away, I was somewhat relaxed.  Though I am genuinely terrified of public speaking, I felt calm and confident during the presentation and I was asked a number of questions, mostly about the logistics of conducting the research in the USA.  I think it was a combination of various factors that made my presentation successful: I put a lot of effort and time into the research and translation, which added to my confidence during the presentation, and I was frankly excited to share it with other art historians and to hear their opinions.    I was thrilled to see that my presentation was received so well, and more thrilled that I was awarded a second place prize in my section.

One difficulty was that during my presentation, I couldn’t control my PowerPoint from a remote at the presenter’s stand and had to ask the tech guy to switch the slides for me as I was presenting.  I found that distracting, especially because I tend use transitional slides in the middle of sentence.  Other presenters, however, were used to present in this manner of calling for the next slide rather than using a remote control.

The scope of topics at the conference was broad, but they were mostly concentrated on the art of the 20th century, so my photography research fit nicely.  I found that the Russian presentation style was more casual and many presenters didn’t follow their script.  This did make some presentations rather longer than scheduled, unfortunately.  Overall I found that Russian art historians conduct brilliant research, and I was happy to make some contacts.

Photo courtesy Gzhel University

Photo courtesy Gzhel University


After the presentations, I socialized with other presenters and the organizing committee during the reception hour.  I met many fascinating people who were interested to learn about UST and its art history program.  One day, I hope to see some of them at our own annual Graduate Art History Symposium.

In addition to participating in this conference, I conducted research at the Russian State Documentary Film and Photo Archive at Krasnogorsk (outside of Moscow) and at the State Archive of Documentary Films, Photographs, and Sound Recordings (St. Petersburg). I collected some important resources that will serve as a foundation for my Qualifying Paper this spring.  I look forward presenting my research at the UST Graduate symposium in May.

Since my Powerpoint presentation was in Russian, I doubt this information will be practical.   Nevertheless I am attaching a PDF below of my presentation for your review.  I am happy to discuss it further if anyone is interested!

Ivanova Presentation Slides

Conference Presentations, Graduate Student, Research

Lauren Greer: Charles Darwin, Fairies & Cambridge University

Graduate student Lauren Greer presented a paper entitled “Glamour: A Dissection of John Anster Fitzgerald’s Fairland” at Cambridge University’s Graduate Conference in December 2012.  This entry describes the research process that led to the presentation and her experience at Cambridge.

As last summer slowly trickled to an end with the fall semester rapidly approaching I began to once again get into the academic frame of mind. In doing, so I came across the perfect call for papers, it seemed too good to be true, a conference specifically on magic and the occult in art history! As I read further it only got better, Charming Intentions: Occultism, Magic and the History of Art was the theme for the 2012/13 Graduate Conference at Cambridge University. At this point I knew I had to face my fears of presenting at a conference and apply. I figured even if my paper did not get accepted it was still good practice since I had to write a CV and an abstract. As October 15th, the day the conference would be notifying the selected presenters, rolled around I realized how much I wanted my paper to be accepted. So, you can imagine my excitement (and panic) when I received a congratulatory email from the conference organizers informing me that my paper had indeed been chosen. In the subsequent weeks, as the details of the conference were finalized I learned there would be twenty presenters spanning two intense days. I would be presenting on the second day in the first session, giving me time to settle in and get a feel for the conference.

Graduate Conference Poster


John Anster Fitzgerald, The Chase of the White Mouse, early 1860s.  Formerly Nicolette Wernick Collection.

John Anster Fitzgerald, The Chase of the White Mouse, early 1860s. Formerly Nicolette Wernick Collection.

Before I got on a plane for the eight-hour flight I had a lot of work to get done. First, I needed to submit a bio and abstract for the conference brochure. Here is the abstract I submitted:

Glamour: A Dissection of John Anster Fitzgerald’s Fairland

Fairy paintings captured the imagination of artists for approximately thirty years during the mid-19th century. Specifically the painter, John Anster Fitzgerald found his calling in the depiction of the miniature, jewel-toned fairy realm. During this time fairy painters, such as Fitzgerald, began to move away from Shakespearian references to create a fairyland entirely of their own imagination. The rise of fairy subject matter in popular Victorian culture can be attributed to the emergence of common fairy knowledge. The classification and discovery of origins was not limited to the biological sciences, but seeped into the social sciences. As scientists were collecting specimens, folklorists were attempting to discover the origins of fairies. This led to an increasing awareness of fairytales and fairies in Victorian culture. Coinciding with this growing fascination was the spread of Darwinism. Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859. On the Origin of Species, along with subsequent publications, presented to Victorian society a radical new way to comprehend man’s role in the world. Man was now part of the violent and cruel world of natural selection and the human consciousness was no longer exempt, but subject to the forces of nature.

This paper will seek to understand how, as the theory of evolution stripped away the mystical aura surrounding the natural world, the fantastical world of fairyland began to reflect the growing social uncertainty. My research explores the visualization of Darwinism in order to better grasp the relationship between the theory of evolution and the magical world of fairyland. Specifically, my paper investigates the role of the fairy through a dissection of John Anster ‘Fairy’ Fitzgerald’s complex fairyland in his painting The Chase of the White Mice (c. 1864). Woven into Fitzgerald’s magical realm are references to scientific imagery. Through an analysis of the imagery in The Chase of the White Mice a better understanding of the effects of Darwinism on the Victorian psyche can be reached.

Now, I had to nail down my presentation. Luckily, I was working with Dr. Shelly Nordtorp-Madson on the same topic for an independent study on the visual culture of Darwinism in the 19th century during the fall semester of 2012.  Thus, I felt I had a solid body of research by the time I left for Cambridge.  During the weeks leading up to the December deadline, members of the art history faculty and staff were incredibly supportive and helpful, listening to my presentation, critiquing and perfecting my PowerPoint, and making sure the images were of the best quality. By the time I got on the plane for London, I was confident in both my knowledge on the subject and the quality of my presentation.

Once I arrived in Cambridge, with my parents who were kind enough to accompany me in my confident but anxious state, it was magical. The conference took place in the upstairs one of the small row houses that make up Cambridge. The room was intimate, about half the size of our classroom with a projection screen and podium at the front. Before the conference got underway I wondered: Would other people be reading a script? What would their PowerPoint look like? Would I be able to answer the questions people would ask? Yes, every person read his/her presentation from a script. The other presenters’ PowerPoints were well done, but it was well worth the extra time I put in to make sure I was not on one slide for too long and that my images were of the highest quality. The five minutes of questions was a huge concern for me, but everyone was supportive, gave me positive feedback and ideas for additional research. After I presented, the coffee breaks and lunch were a great time for meeting people and answering additional questions. I met people from all over the world, England, Germany, Hungary, Scotland, France… with a range of interests from alchemy, Islamic imagery, Roman magical gems, to surrealist magicians… it was amazing. I did it, I faced my fears and the overall experience and the opportunity to share a topic I am fascinated with were well worth the stress and hard work.

View of Cambridge, Photo: Lauren Greer

View of Cambridge, Photo: Lauren Greer

Asmat, Conference Presentations, Exhibitions, Graduate Student

Rachel Simmons: Curating Wowipitsj: Creating your own Opportunities

Rachel Simmons is the Curator for the exhibition “Wowipitsj: Man, Myth, Legend,” on view in the Gallery of the Anderson Student Center from Feb. 4 to Aug. 4, 2013.  Ms. Simmons is the second graduate student to develop an exhibition for the American Museum of Asmat Art at the University of St. Thomas.


The experience I gained through developing this exhibition has been invaluable. Having been an assistant to Julie Risser, Director of the AMAA@UST, for two years and a student in two of her classes prepared me for the challenges it takes to curate an exhibition.  Some of the challenges included picking objects and writing their labels, developing material for the brochure, deciding on just the right piece for the marketing materials and then the correct angle to photograph the piece so that it will catch peoples’ attention.  All of this might sound minor or tedious, but it demonstrates how much thought literally goes into every aspect of an exhibition.  While I knew going into this project that I would face those challenges, there are really two things I learned that I think others in the program will also find helpful.

1) Co-writing is hard, so it helps to have someone you know well.  Luckily I have worked side by side with Julie for so long that as we were developing the text for the brochure we could literally finish each other’s sentences.  When one of us was stuck and just could not find the right words and we were left to resort to odd hand gestures to get our point across, the other would take over the keyboard and finish.  Others around us as we were writing frequently heard, “Yes! That’s it, that’s exactly what I wanted it to say!”

2) Opportunity doesn’t always knock and sometimes you have to chase it down and tackle it.  For example, this exhibition is a part of an internship I did over the fall semester.  While it is not uncommon for students in our program to take internships, this was the first time there was an internship within the department.  Even though the path was somewhat unconventional, I knew this was something I really wanted to do since I did not think I would get this kind of curatorial experience at a larger museum.  Thankfully, Julie was on board and the department was able to award me a Patricia Jaffray Scholarship to help pay for the internship credits.

Dr. Risser had wanted to have an exhibition about myth.  Fortunately, I had already completed a paper about myth in one of her classes the year before.  I combined that paper with one I presented at the Midwest Art History Society Conference annual meeting last year about contemporary Asmat carving.  This exhibition came out of both of those papers.  “Wowipitsj: Man, Myth, Legend” not only explores myth and carvings, but also how carvers are preserving the oral traditions in their art forms.  Doing this exhibition allowed me to really explore this topic both in words and in objects.

My final word of advice for my peers is DO NOT be afraid to ask for something you want, because there are a lot of really great people here that can help you accomplish it, even if the task sounds daunting and even if it has never been done before.