“Art history is an interdisciplinary area that draws on a number of social sciences and partners well with them.”
Nancy Wolsk wants to take students away from campus. Far away.
In 2012 she and French professor Simonetta Cochis traveled with students to Paris, Carcassonne, and Arles to explore the connections between medieval and modern France. In 2011 she and art professor Wei Lin introduced students to tradition and modernity in emerging China. And in 2010, she joined students in their investigation of Catalonia and the Basque region with Spanish professor Veronica Dean-Thacker.
Similar May term classes are popular with Transylvania students, who see study abroad as a valuable part of their liberal arts education. Wolsk prefers that her students spend an entire term abroad, perhaps at the University of Edinburgh or at the Sorbonne.
When not traveling to far-flung places, Wolsk likes to take her students on day trips. Cincinnati is a favorite destination. There they can revel in Zaha Hadid’s design of the Contemporary Arts Center or wander among the University of Cincinnati’s modern architecture, imagined by such renowned architects as Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman, and Michael Graves. Says Wolsk, “The University of Cincinnati is like an architectural lab.”
But it’s the campus atmosphere and genuinely interested students that keep her tightly tethered to Transylvania. The art faculty are close, and the faculty all across campus work together. “It’s collegial and it’s also fun. I think there’s a sense of play here. We don’t have a lot of free time, but there’s opportunity to chat with a friend or have a cup of coffee. On a social level as well as on an academic level, things work very well.”
The students respond to the close-knit, interdisciplinary environment. They not only learn to think critically and to express themselves in writing—skills that transcend all disciplines—but they also develop visual literacy, which allows them to see meaning in images and design.
Many art history students complete a second major, perhaps in history, philosophy, music, political science, or a foreign language. They go on to medical school or law school, or they pursue advanced degrees in art history, business, or architecture.
Despite her love for travel, Wolsk’s next project may focus on artwork right here on Transylvania’s campus. The university’s special collections includes a sketchbook of nearly 200 drawings by French artist Rosa Bonheur, an enormously successful artist of the nineteenth century.
Some of the sketches relate to “The Horse Fair,” one of her most famous paintings, currently hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Bonheur sketched the pictures in the early 1850s during weekly visits to the Paris horse market. In some circles, she is known more for daring to dress as a man, to avoid attracting attention from the horse dealers and buyers while she worked, than she is for the art she created.
What will Wolsk focus on when she begins her work with the Bonheur sketches? Very possibly, how “The Horse Fair” ties to the travel industry in France. Quelle surprise!
Areas of research
- Ph.D., History, University of Kentucky, 1998
- M.A., Art History, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 1966
- B.A., Mount Holyoke College, 1961
- Art History: Ancient to Gothic
- Art History: Renaissance to Modern
- Art 1850 to the Present
- History of Architecture: Classic to Contemporary
- Women in Art
- Architecture 1850 to the Present
- Art 1970 to the Present
- Senior Seminar
- Medieval Meets Modern in France
- China’s Cities: Legacy of the Past, Incursions in the Present
- Legacies: Cities and Towns of Catalonia and the Basque Country
- The Two Spains: Madrid/Leon/Barcelona
- Golden Ages of Spain in Art and Literature, central Spain
- Representations of Women: Renaissance and Present, Florence
- Discovering Paris in Art and Literature, Paris
- “Pierre Bonnard: Family and Friends.” BARk Magazine, April/May, 2009
- "From Thought to Form,"
essay for the exhibition catalogue Bonnard: Early and Late, The Phillips Collection, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., September 2002
Areas of research
- Rosa Bonheur
- Pierre Bonnard
- The Nabis (late 19th-century/early 20th-century French avant-garde artists)
- Representations of women and domestic interiors from 1900 to 1914
- Representations of Parisian gardens
- French art from 1890 to 1914
- History of the city of Paris
- Bingham Award for Excellence in Teaching, Transylvania University
- Jones and Kenan Fund grants for sabbatical research, 2012, 2003
- David and Betty Jones Faculty Development Grants, 2010, 2007, 2005, 2002, 2000