Interview with an Auditor Series

The Department of Art History would like to introduce our new series: Interview with an Auditor! The department will be sharing interviews with various auditors during the course of the upcoming 2019–2020 academic year. Everyone has interesting stories to tell and we hope to shed light on our auditor’s stories and experiences within our classrooms.

Our final Interview with an Auditor for the 2019–2020 academic year is with Ellen Louise Schwartz, a lifetime lover of art and its history, docent at the Chazen Museum of Art, and gracious donor of the Howard S. Schwartz Memorial Annual Lecture Series.

Growing up in suburban Philadelphia Ellen Louise’s classes would take trips to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania. At the Penn Museum she was entranced by a Crystal Ball displayed in the Chinese rotunda. In addition to contributing to her fascination with art, this also sparked an interest in China. This interest went so far as to having her sixth-grade class study China instead of the prior curriculum.

As a lifetime learner, Ellen Louise has traveled extensively, even embarking on a trip with her late husband to follow the path of the Silk Road. In following the Silk Road, they experienced the art, architecture, and culture of China, India, Iran, and Syria. However, even with this interest in the Far East, one of her favorite artworks is Francesco di Giorgio Martini’s Studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio, ca. 1478–82, on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. After learning more about the Studiolo and its historical context in one of Emeritus Professor Gail Geiger’s Italian Renaissance courses enhanced her ability to appreciate it. Her experience of this piece was also driven home by being able to be inside the room itself, due to its display at the Met.

This past January, Ellen Louise was on a cruise to the Arabian Gulf that included stops in the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Her trip to the Middle East was further enriched by the several courses and conversations with Professor Jennifer Pruitt, whose recent research project has focused on the architecture of the Arabian Gulf. Barring complications from COVID-19, Ellen Louise will be going to South Africa for the “What is the Future of African Art?” trip that will explore the art scenes of Johannesburg and Cape Town. She hopes to eventually embark on a tour of Algeria, a place she’s never been and is curious to learn more about. Throughout all of her past and future trips, Ellen Louise has taken what she has learned at UW-Madison and been able to find deeper connections to the cultural heritages of the different communities she visits.

The endowment of the Howard S. Schwartz Memorial Annual Lecture Series is in honor of her late husband, Howard. When they first met, Ellen Louise would take him to art museums, which she credits for their blossoming relationship. Through the senior auditors program they both enrolled into classes offered by the Department of Art History and other departments around campus, such as History. Howard was really interested in poetry, enjoyed taking Japanese art classes with Professor Gene Phillips, and asking provoking questions of faculty, such as the Schwartz Lecture’s first speaker Professor Shira Brisman (University of Pennsylvania).

During the Spring 2020 semester, Ellen Louise is once again expanding her knowledge about art history by taking Professor Carolina Alarcon’s course “Frida Kahlo to LA Chicano,” a refreshingly new topic. She also is continuing to learn about China by retaking Professor Yuhang Li’s “Later Chinese Art: From the Tenth Century to the Present” (she first took this course several years ago, when it was taught by now Emeritus Professor Julia Murray).

We look forward to hearing about Ellen Louise Schwartz’s upcoming new adventures!

By Tania Kolarik

In our third installment of Interview with an Auditor we interviewed Larry Wells, a former mathematics teacher at international schools where he taught high school math, in particular, AP Calculus. For the last twenty-five years Larry lived and taught in Moscow, Tokyo, and Seoul.

Before embarking on his teaching career abroad, Larry lived in San Francisco for about seventeen years where he regularly went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and even audited his first art history class. During his time in San Francisco, he paid attention to the changes occurring in modern art in real time.

After retiring in Madison from his time teaching abroad, Larry realized that he had missed twenty-five years of art history and knew almost nothing of the movements past Pop Art. This desire to fill in the gaps led him to audit his first art history course at UW-Madison, “Art Since 1945.” Since that first UW art history class, he has audited three other courses.

For the Spring 2019 semester, Larry enrolled in “Art and Architecture in the Fascist State” with Dr. Sophia Farmer (Ph.D., 2019). He connected to Dr. Farmer’s lived experience of doing research in Italy, as he had lived in Italy, west of Lake Como, during high school. While in Italy, he had spent time in Milan and occasionally saw monolithic buildings that he realized were from the Fascist era but didn’t know the driving aesthetic or political motivations.

Dr. Farmer’s course also changed the way that Larry looked at twentieth century architecture in Ethiopia, where he lived in his twenties. During that time, he recognized the architecture as very Mediterranean, which was surprising for Africa and his conception for Africa. For example, the city of Asmara (modern day capital of Eritrea) was planned by the Italians in the 1930s and intended to be a great modern Italian city in Africa. It was only after taking Dr. Farmer’s class and visiting thirty years later that Larry was able to better understand the art historical context of Asmara and Ethiopia.

In addition to taking art history courses, Larry regularly wanders through the Chazen Museum of Art. The museum brings about a certain feeling of childhood nostalgia, especially of going to see an Alexander Calder exhibition at the Milwaukee Museum of Art. The Chazen has several of his pieces that are currently on-view in their galleries.

Most recently, over the Fall 2019 semester, Larry was enrolled into Professor Nancy Rose Marshall’s “Sex and Death in Victorian Culture: The Pre-Raphaelites.” He finds this small period within the history of art as incredibly rich and is greatly helped along by the Prof. Marshall’s ability to guide the class through this time in history. Larry feels that as a teacher one is always learning and has found with Prof. Marshall’s course that though he was previously aware of the term Pre-Raphaelite, now he knows what he is looking at.

As with all of our auditor interviewees, Larry was asked to share his favorite artwork and his choice was not one artwork, but all of Marc Chagall’s stained-glass windows. When he was an undergrad, he took a liberal arts course on modern art and as part of the research project chose Marc Chagall’s stained-glass windows in Jerusalem. As a result of this project, he has had a lifelong project to see every stained-glass window by Chagall. In his upcoming trip to France, Larry will be making a stop in Metz to see another stained-glass window by Chagall.

During the Spring 2020 semester, Larry intends to take Ph.D. Candidate Michael Feinberg’s “Concept of Contemporary Art.” After taking Dr. Farmer’s class, he is excited to take more classes with current doctoral students as they are often teaching about their own research.

By Tania Kolarik

Our second auditor interviewee, UW-Madison alumnus Dr. George Savage, shares how he became interested in art history and his experience in the Senior Auditor Program.

George made a circuitous route to Madison after being raised and schooled in Pennsylvania, moving to New Mexico for his masters program in English, and finding his way to UW-Madison for their doctoral program in English. After graduating, George was hired at UW-Whitewater where he taught American literature for many years until his retirement.

As a professor of American literature, George often found an intersection between literature and visual art movements of the nineteenth century. He incorporated the overlap into his teaching, but always wanted to know more about the artworks themselves. Upon his retirement, both George and his wife, Donna Silver, enrolled in the Senior Auditor Program where they have taken a variety of courses in the Department of Art History and other departments around campus.

One of the first classes that George enrolled in was Professor Andrzejewski’s “History of American Art,” where his interest in American art was once again sparked. Since taking his first course, he has chosen other classes based, in part, on which titles have grabbed his attention. For example, Professor Nancy Rose Marshall’s “The Body, Sex, and Health in Art,” Professor Jennifer Pruitt’s “A History of the World in 20 Buildings,” and recent Art History graduate Dr. Sophia Farmer’s (Ph.D., 2019) course “Art and Architecture in the Fascist State.”

These classes have had impacts on the way George has interacted with art and architecture. For example, George recently traveled to Mexico City where he was able to see Teotihuacan, a pre-Columbian city that was discussed in Professor Pruitt’s class. By seeing Teotihuacan after learning more about it, George felt that it came more alive than if he had not had the historical background for viewing the site.

When asked to choose a favorite artwork, George lamented that it was like choosing a favorite child. However, a couple of his choices are Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom, c. 1833 in the Worcester Art Museum and Ivan Albright’s Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida, 1920–30 at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Currently, George is enrolled into Professor Marshall’s “Sex and Death in Victorian Culture: The Pre-Raphaelites” a course that focuses on one of his favorite art movements. He enjoys the “slowing down” approach of looking at art in Professor Marshall’s class, where they examine one painting in meticulous detail.

George is extremely thankful for the Senior Auditor Program at UW-Madison and the number of auditors within the Department of Art History reinforces his belief in the power and accessibility of art to a wide audience.

By Tania Kolarik

Our first auditor interviewee, Dr. Beth Neary, is a pediatrician and graduate of the UW-Madison’s medical school who first took an art history class when she was in high school in New Jersey and then later, in college, an introductory course on architecture where she met her husband. While Beth did not pursue art history or architecture in college, she took a winding path through an anthropology, then business major before settling on nutrition. It was through her studies in nutrition that led her to medical school, where she graduated at the age of thirty-six. After retiring from her career in pediatrics, Beth began to think about what she had put on hold, which included art history. 

Art history has always been part of her life, as she traveled on vacations with her family where they inevitably ended up in art museums. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, in particular, became one of Beth’s favorite museums to visit as her daughter worked there for several years. Her daughter originally trained as a lawyer, but began painting as a form of therapy and eventually began pursuing her MFA at Boston University. These trips and interactions with art provided Beth with a sense of relief and release from the stress surrounding a career in medicine. 

Relief, release, and calm are all emotions that Beth’s favorite artwork, Claude Monet’s Water Lilies in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, France, evokes when she visits. The display of Monet’s work at the l’Orangerie provides an immersive viewing experience that allows for her to become lost in the painting and truly relax. 

Since auditing art history courses, Beth has noticed a change in the way that she looks at art within the museum setting. Learning more about the works, Beth realizes that before she didn’t fully understand certain works of art as she was unaware of the details and stories that they each have to tell. 

The first course that Beth audited was Professor Phillips-Court’s Spring 2019 class on the art of Rome and Florence. Italy is an especially meaningful place for Beth, as she traveled there often with her daughters and architect husband, who took them on “dark church tours” around the country. These memories greatly influenced her choice to audit Professor Phillips-Court’s course, especially since her husband had recently passed away. After her husband’s death, Beth has looked toward these art history courses as a form of therapy. She currently is taking Professor Pruitt’s course on the history of architecture in twenty buildings as a way to stay connected to her husband. Dr. Beth Neary has shown that art has the ability to inspire, calm, incite emotion, and even the ability to heal. 

By Tania Kolarik