Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Elder’s Semester at the Met

This past semester, Dr. Nika Elder has been in New York, working as the Chester Dale Postdoctoral Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here, she describes her research experience.


“If you’ve walked past my office in Katzen this semester, you may have noticed a sign that says I’m on ‘research leave’ through summer 2018 and wondered what that could possibly mean. Like students, faculty apply for—or are granted—opportunities that enable us to pursue our research interests, develop our professional profiles, and expand our horizons as scholars and individuals.

This spring and summer, I’m Chester Dale Postdoctoral Fellow in the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Though it sounds like I’m working for the museum, in actuality, it’s the exact opposite: the Museum provides approximately 50 doctoral students, professors, and curators the office space, time, resources, and community in order to pursue our own research projects (yes, it is as sweet as it sounds!).

My main focus is completing my book manuscript, which is tentatively titled William Harnett and the Afterlife of History Painting. Through the lens of Harnett’s still lifes, the book explores the ways in which the politics and visual culture of the Civil War impacted the possibilities for serious painting in the United States. At the museum, I’ve had the opportunity to research subjects as varied as photographs of Civil War soldiers, discourses around American literary realism, the European still-life tradition, and the emergence of contemporary ideas about “culture” and to analyze this material in relation to one of the most representative collections of Harnett’s work in the world. More specifically, though, I’ve done a lot of writing. When I arrived at the museum, I had drafts of three of the book’s four chapters. Over the past four months, I’ve written the fourth chapter and revised the three others so each has a concerted argument unto itself and a clear role in the project as a whole. Basically, I’ve been doing what the Art History department faculty asks our undergraduate and graduate students to do—only at a larger scale.

In addition to my research and writing on Harnett, I’ve also started a second book project on John Singleton Copley’s colonial portraits and race. With funding from AU and the Met, I’ve examined key Copley portraits in Boston and Virginia and traveled to London to speak on them at the Association for Art History conference.

I look forward to returning to AU in the fall and incorporating all these new ideas and materials into my courses and sharing them with our students.”

Elder Blog Post Photo


Art History major and graduating senior Isabella Gaitán receives Evelyn Swarthout Hayes Award

Isabella award photoCongratulations to Art History major and graduating senior Isabella Gaitán, recipient of AU’s Evelyn Swarthout Hayes Award. The award honors a student who has contributed most to the University through the arts while maintaining a high academic average. Isabella received her award in a pre-commencement ceremony officiated by President Sylvia Burwell.

Isabella at awards ceremony

A native of Colombia who declared an Art History major from the start, Isabella challenged herself by enrolling in a broad range of high-level courses that spanned geographies and temporalities, from Latin American art, to art of the Renaissance, to modern European and contemporary art. She was selected to present her paper on the Colombian painter Ana Mercedes Hoyos at CAS’s Mathias Student Research Conference in 2017. One of Isabella’s most important campus contributions to the arts on campus was in the General Education Faculty Assistant Program, for which over four semesters she assisted students in study group and review sessions, facilitated class discussions, and held electronic office hours. While abroad in Paris in 2017, she represented AU internationally by volunteering for “Les 111 Des Arts” exhibition, for which she helped to install works of art in a gallery setting. In her internship at the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies, she produced videos of AU students attesting to the importance of the arts in contemporary society.

Once again, congratulations Isabella!

Course Spotlight: Students Visit NGA to Look at Renaissance Prints

On Wednesday April 18th, Dr. Allen took students from her ‘Art of the Renaissance’ course for a private viewing of Renaissance prints at the National Gallery of Art. Dr. Ginger Hammer, Curator of Old Master Prints, presented works by Pollaiuolo, Martin Schongauer, Lucas Cranach and of course, Albrecht Dürer. Students were amazed at the scale of the works and the high level of detail achieved by the printmaking process.

Check out photos from the visit below: 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

AU Art History Student Amanda Chadbourne Wins Best Graduate Student Presentation in the Humanities at the 28th Annual Mathias Student Research Conference

Congratulations to Amanda Chadbourne, second year MA Candidate in Art History, for winning Best Oral Presentation in the Humanities by a Graduate Student at the 28th Annual Robyn Rafferty Mathias Student Research Conference!

In her paper, “Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Good Government frescoes and the influence of De rerum nature,” Amanda argues that the figure of Peace in Allegory of Good Government can be read as Venus and the dancing figures as the Muses. She further considers that these correspond with passages from Lucretius’ first century poem, De rerum natura, along with other elements in the frescoes.

Ambrogio_Lorenzetti_-_Effects_of_Good_Government_in_the_city_-_Google_Art_Project(detail of Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Good Government)

Dr. Joanne Allen Wins the 2018 Milton and Sonia Greenberg Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award

Congratulations to Dr. Joanne Allen on winning the 2018 Milton and Sonia Greenberg Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award!

This award recognizes faculty who have made a significant contribution to research-based analyses of teaching practices or of curricular design. The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning is a movement in post-secondary education that promotes systematic analysis of the practice of teaching along with application of research-based approaches to instruction and curricular design.


The award committee noted that Dr. Allen’s nomination speaks eloquently of how she blends traditional research associated with architecture and site visited that deepen students learning and critical thinking. They also emphasized the breadth of support received from colleagues and students, which speaks deeply to her impact within the Department of Art. 

Well done and congratulations, Dr. Allen!

Alumni Spotlight: Allison Porambo

Allison Porambo ’12 completed her undergraduate degree as an art history major at American University before going on to receive a Masters degree from the University of Texas, Austin, in Art History, Criticism, and Conservation in 2017. Now, she’s back in the D.C. area, and tells us about the ins and outs of her current job at a conservation studio.

Describe your job, and the daily ins and outs of what you do.

Allison Porambo: I work for Gold Leaf Studios, a framing fabrication and conservation studio here in Washington, D.C. My official job title is “Office Assistant,” which sounds a lot less exciting than it is in practice. Yes, I do a lot of typical office work—answering calls and emails, ordering supplies, processing payments, etc.—but I also examine antique frames brought in by clients with our master framer, William Adair, to prepare treatment proposals based upon our findings. After conservation treatment is complete, I draft treatment proposals summarizing what has been done to the frames and why, and giving recommendations on how to keep the frame in the best condition. Soon, I will be working with my co-workers to plan a gilding workshop to be held at the studio later this year. 

Every day I am in contact with clients, whether they are museum curators or private collectors, who bring in frames or show us photographs of antique mirrors and frames in their collections, and it amazes me to discover just how rich the variety of frames out there truly is. You begin to appreciate the frame as a work of craftsmanship in its own right, as well as an important component of an artwork’s original context.


Allison Porambo 1

What made you decide to pursue conservation work as a career? What other jobs have you held since graduating from AU?

AP: I decided upon conservation work as a career near the end of my senior year in high school. The daughter of a family friend, who was a chemistry major at Sarah Lawrence College at the time, talked to me about her desire to become an art conservator. I had originally intended to major in history, but this conversation confirmed my desire to work with museum collections and focus on material culture. Although my original career path as an art conservator has gone by the wayside, I still love working with artworks themselves above all other aspects of the arts and museum world.

I’ve not always been able to work with museum collections, but I’ve searched for jobs and internships relevant to that goal as best as I could. I’ve interned and volunteered in the collections care or conservation departments of institutions ranging from the Library of Congress to the Maryland State Archives, as well as private conservation practices. One internship at Historic Annapolis allowed me to gain experience in collections management, which led to a temporary position as a Registrar’s Assistant during a collections-wide inventory project. It was a busy three-week position, but I had the chance to get to know an excellent collection of American decorative arts quite well in a short period of time. When I went to graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin to get my master’s degree, I spent the first year as a grader. During the second year, however, I worked as a Student Assistant in the Digital Collections Services department at the Harry Ransom Center, a research institution for the humanities that holds excellent collections of literary manuscripts, prints and drawings, movie costumes, and one of the best photography collections in the world. I had the opportunity to digitize some truly amazing documents, including 18th-century news clippings, movie scripts with Gloria Swanson’s personal notes, Aleister Crowley’s love letters (“My Dear Ugly Fat Girl,” he begins one), and photographs of Peter O’Toole goofing around on the set of A Lion in Winter with his fellow cast members. After graduation, I worked as an intern at the National Portrait Gallery in the departments of Prints and Drawings and Photographs under the Collections Manager, cataloguing collections and taking part in a project to digitize the Gallery’s collection of glass-plate negatives.

These positions may appear all over the art museum map at first glance, but they have introduced me to numerous aspects of museum collections: their conservation, preservation, curation, handling, management, and access by both researchers and the public at large. I bring my experiences into practice here at Gold Leaf Studios in relation to both the frames conserved or fabricated, and to the artworks they frame.

Allison Porambo 3

How has your education at AU shaped your career path? What made you interested in pursuing art as a career?

AP: My experiences at AU taught me that art history can be so much more than names and dates, although those are certainly important. In nearly every class, I learned how meaning and significance can be derived from the historical, cultural, social, physical, and material contexts of artworks. I was first introduced to the idea of the artwork as an object formed by the circumstances of its creation here at AU, complimenting my previous understanding of the artwork as an aesthetic creation. Without this new perspective, I would not be able to comprehend the choices made by artists of framers in terms of design and material. I had originally chosen to major in art history to prepare for a career in conservation, but even as I follow a career in the conservation of historic frames, I value this lesson above all others. I chose a career in the arts in order to preserve and protect the cultural artifacts of our past, and my education at AU taught me how complex and vital these artifacts and their histories are.  

Art History Spring Lecture Series: Dr. Sarah Betzer

This Wednesday, March 28th, Dr. Sarah Betzer will present a lecture, titled “Moving Statues: Towards an Eighteenth-Century Ontology of the Antique,” as a part of the Art History department’s Spring Lecture Series. 

Dr. Betzer, an associate professor at University of Virginia, describes her research as such: “While masterworks of ancient sculpture had long been the focus of connoisseurial and artistic admiration, the second half of the eighteenth century witnessed a sea of change in how these objects were viewed and in how they were mobilized for thinking through questions of aesthetics. This paper probes the key elements at the heart of antique sculpture’s newly consolidated artistic and art philosophical centrality by way of interlocking circuits of objects and artists, viewers and collectors, during the golden age of the Grand Tour.”

Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 3.02.20 PM

The event is free and open to the public. Dr. Betzer’s talk will begin at 3pm, with a reception afterward. We hope to see you there!