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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.


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.

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.


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.



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.



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.


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.





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


Students, Study Abroad, Undergraduate Student

A Semester in France

MacAulay Steenson is a junior at St. Thomas, majoring in Art History and recently returned from a semester spent studying abroad. She is also an active member of the Department of Art History, working for our Visual Resources Library.

This past fall I was lucky enough to study in Paris. I may not have seen the Sistine Chapel or waited in line to see the Mona Lisa, but my semester abroad strengthened my love of art.

Since middle school, I have wanted to study in Paris, and this past semester lived up to all my highest expectations. I left Minnesota in late September to spend the next three months living, studying, and exploring France. Traveling with a program that began with two weeks in Cannes, my time consisted of mornings filled with French grammar and afternoons taking the train to different small towns along the coast of France. I visited the Roman ruins in Nice, as well as Vintimille and Monaco, and explored the medieval village of Eze, which has become a garden full of cacti.

Paris, banks of the Seine

Paris, banks of the Seine

In mid-October, we arrived in Paris and I began my academic classes. I continued taking French language courses and started two art history classes. One of my classes was on Parisian architecture and every week we spent class outside or in museums. Many of the lectures were given on the steps of that day’s subject, whether it was the Church of Saint-Sulpice or on one of Haussmann’s boulevards. Attending class at the Louvre was one of the highlights of my semester.

While I would like to say that my time in Paris was spent with an academic focus, the more truthful answer is that the novelty of living in Europe occupied most of my time. I went to around three different museums in Paris every week and made an effort to walk to as many places as I could. I loved the exhibits I saw at the Jeu de Paume and the Musée d’Art Moderne on Garry Winogrand and Sonia Delaunay. My favorite museum was the Musée Marmottan Monet, which had an amazing exhibit on how Monet came to paint “Impression, soleil levant.” I found that my favorite area of the city was the Marais, and spent many afternoons reading in various cafés. My favorite place to study was the Swedish Institute; their almond lemon cake is delicious!

Johnnay and I at the Lennon Wall in Prague

Johnnay and I at the Lennon Wall in Prague

My weekends were spent traveling. I quickly discovered that the best part of Europe is the cheap airline tickets. I went to London, Normandy, Prague (to visit fellow art history department employee Johnnay Leenay), Copenhagen and Marrakech. All of these places surprised me by how different one was from the others, and none took longer to reach than a flight from Minneapolis to Chicago. My favorite places were Copenhagen and Marrakech and the latter was the most beautiful place I visited. Before traveling to Marrakech I didn’t know much about the history of the city. The most fascinating part of it was how old many of the buildings and structures are, and that they are still in use today, servicing the same things that they were 800 years ago. The buildings were incredibly beautiful and an aesthetic for light, color and beauty was reflected throughout the city. Bahia Palace in particular had amazing tile work and painted doorways that exemplified the Moroccan patterns and colors that I saw in other parts of the city.

Nyhavn in Copenhagen

Nyhavn in Copenhagen


Ourika Valley, just outside of Marrakech in the Atlas Mountains

Ourika Valley, just outside of Marrakech in the Atlas Mountains

I am excited to be home, but I cannot wait to continue to travel and explore new cities. I gained a fondness for being outside of my comfort-zone and discovering places that are new to me. The great thing about studying art is that it can take you all over the world, and my list of things-to-see is constantly growing. Maybe next time I will pay Michelangelo a visit.