After 23 Years, This Sweet Briar Girl Is Still Studying Art History

Sweet Briar College was the perfect place for this shy, studious girl to continue her education. Going to school on a former 3,300-acre Virginia plantation, enjoying the company of a special circle of friends and learning from several professors who were also campus residents made for a much different college experience than others I’ve heard about. When I put on my coveted class ring every morning, wear my pearls, or acquire something pink and green, I think about how spending those four years in Virginia was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

In January 1988, Sweet Briar introduced me to art history. Things haven’t been the same since. When I saw how much careful study of a work of art can tell you about the time period in which it was created, I knew I had found the perfect complement to my history major.

I haven’t been able to get enough of art history. Both in the classroom and on my own, I’ve studied Italian Renaissance art, northern European art, Medieval art, Gothic art, Baroque art, British architecture and decorative arts, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Arts and Crafts movement, American art and architecture, and the history of the domestic interior. One of my teachers from my junior year at Washington and Lee introduced me to the “cereal architecture” of corn palaces, striking Midwestern buildings covered by murals and designs made from corn. The director of Sweet Briar’s galleries helped me get a better idea of arts management, including taking us on a fun field trip to Richmond. I gratefully struck a deal with her successor so I could attend a special symposium about Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest and other nearby plantation homes. And, when I’ve been back on campus in recent years, a Sweet Briar professor has let me sit in on art history classes and take an up-close look at examples of 19th century decorative art in Sweet Briar House and in the Sweet Briar Museum.

My friend EGAC, a fellow history major, caught the art history bug too. When we weren’t visiting historic Virginia homes like Monticello on Saturdays, we were going on day trips to Washington, D.C. so we could see the latest exhibits at the National Gallery of Art. We stocked up on postcards, posters and exhibit catalogues in the gallery shop and treated ourselves to lunch in the East Building’s Cascade Café, where we raved about what we had just seen. During the week, we commiserated over our needlepoint in the evenings, planning the destination of our next field trip. (Does that sound like the typical college experience?)

I thought about my art history classes, EGAC and our trips to the National Gallery last Sunday, when my cousin asked me to take her to the Columbus Museum of Art to complete an art history assignment. It also reminded me about how lucky I am to have been given such a wonderful education.  Thank you, Nails and CLF!

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One Response to After 23 Years, This Sweet Briar Girl Is Still Studying Art History

  1. Ginia Zenke says:

    In spite of our President’s objection to our existence and misplaced energy, I still think my Art History degree has served me well throughout my lifetime.

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