The History of Art and the Art of Teaching

Mellon Foundation cultivates future curators, professors, and conservators
Art history student in the museum

Emory graduate student Cecily Boles researched the origins of this bust of a French aristocrat.

Courtesy Cecily Boles

Cecily Boles 18G spent half of last year with the ghost of eighteenth-century French aristocrat Marc Antoine-René de Voyer d’Argenson. She studied his likeness in such detail it required a microscope, flew to Paris to explore his private rooms, pored over his biography, and interviewed experts at the Musée du Louvre. Her task was to solve the mystery of who had created the terracotta bust of de Voyer displayed in Atlanta’s High Museum of Art.

A project she took on as an Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellow in Object-Centered Curatorial Research, her detective work also sent her to the conservation lab in the Michael C. Carlos Museum, the curatorial department at the High, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The bust is thought to be the work of Jean-Baptiste Defernex, who made models for the production lines at a French porcelain factory, but because it is unsigned, art historians are still searching for proof. Boles expanded what is known about the piece, and her research has been added to the High’s curatorial files.

“It was a great opportunity to get more exposure to my chosen career path and to work with leading curators and conservators,” she says.

During Campaign Emory, the Mellon Foundation also continued its support of the Mellon Graduate Teaching Fellowship, which helps prepare students in in the James T. Laney School of Graduate Studies for careers in higher education.

The teaching fellowship is a collaboration among the Laney Graduate School, four Atlanta colleges and universities—Agnes Scott College, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College—Dillard University in New Orleans, and the Mellon Foundation. Each year six or seven Laney Graduate School doctoral students are chosen to teach two courses at one of the partner institutions. Mellon Teaching Fellows are paired with faculty mentors, and they participate in a monthly professional development seminar that explores the job market, academic politics, institutional culture, balancing research and administrative demands, and other aspects of working in higher education.

At the Carlos Museum, the Mellon Foundation funded a project linking science teaching with art conservation. Developed by conservator Renée Stein in collaboration with Emory’s science faculty, the five-year project integrates case studies from the museum’s collections into courses in departments such as chemistry and physics. A two-year fellowship enables a conservator who recently has completed a graduate degree to gain practical and research experience in the museum’s Parsons Conservation Laboratory.

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