The UW–Madison Department of Art History, founded in 1925, announces the creation of an endowed faculty fellowship that signals the department’s strong commitment to faculty excellence as it sets the stage for the next century. The Howard and Ellen Louise Schwartz Faculty Fellowship in Islamic Art and Architecture, awarded to professor Jennifer Pruitt, was created through a generous gift from Ellen Louise Schwartz, as well as a gift from the Art History Board of Visitors, and doubled through a “Morgridge Match” made possible by John and Tashia Morgridge. The funding of positions through endowments allows the department to not only sustain itself in times of crisis, like budget cuts due to financial collapse and pandemics, but to thrive for many years to come.
“With this generous gift, Ellen Louise Schwartz has opened the door to expanding a fascinating field of inquiry in the Department of Art History. The study of Islamic art and architecture shines light on civilizations both ancient and contemporary, strengthening UW’s reputation as a powerhouse of intellectual and cultural history,” says Associate Dean for Arts and Humanities Susan Zaeske.
Ellen Louise Schwartz has been an enthusiastic supporter of the department for years, establishing the Howard S. Schwartz Memorial Annual Lecture Series in honor of her late husband. An avid traveler throughout the Middle East, Schwartz was a frequent auditor of Pruitt’s courses on Islamic art. Unable to travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Schwartz found herself in a position to contribute further to the department. Her generous lead gift was inspired, in part, by the courses she took and the conversations she enjoyed with Pruitt about their mutual love of medieval Cairo.
“I was delighted and humbled to learn that Ellen Louise Schwartz will be endowing a position in Islamic Art and Architecture,” Pruitt says. “I cannot emphasize how transformational this funding will be for my research. It will allow me to develop my new projects on contemporary architecture in the Arabian Gulf and continue my research in medieval Cairo.”
In addition, Pruitt says, she is looking forward to continuing many conversations about Islamic architecture with Schwartz.
A history major herself, Schwartz has said she feels strongly about the ability of art and history to connect us to the past.
“History has the ability to let us know what people thought of life,” she says.
The faculty fellowship would not have been possible without the support of Board of Visitors members Joe Ruzicka, Joan Mirviss, Dan Erdman, and emerita professor Suzy Buenger. The Board of Visitors works to raise money for the department and as advocates to university administration. Ruzicka has said that the Board of Visitors was founded to “continue the value system of service and humility” that he learned while an undergraduate at UW–Madison. The members of the Board of Visitors also volunteer their time to the department and one of their main goals, post-Covid travel restrictions, is to engage current art history students in professional development workshops.
“Endowed professorships help take some pressure off professors, who have to write grants for travel and publishing for projects, and takes pressure off of the department,” says Buenger.
In addition, endowed positions provide departments more freedom to support their students, who in turn can give back after graduation, supporting more topic areas in the department and strengthening research programs for years to come.