Northwestern art history prof claims prestigious professorship
October 19, 2012
A Northwestern art history professor has earned one of the highest awards in the art history field.
Prof. S. Hollis Clayson has been appointed the 2013-2014 Samuel H. Kress Professor with The National Gallery of Art and the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts.
Of the 34 years Clayson has taught art history, 27 have been at NU. The award makes Clayson the senior member of the center and responsible for counseling the seven predoctoral fellows while continuing her own independent research. She is the first NU professor to be appointed to this position.
“I think it’s both an enormous surprise and entirely thrilling," Clayson said. "I think I’m a very strange choice for the position, but I’m very, very happy that they chose me.”
Clayson is a historian of modern art, with expertise in 19th-century Europe and international trades between France and the United States. She is also the author of the books "Painted Love: Prostitution in French Art of the Impressionist Era" and "Paris in Despair: Art and Everyday Life under Siege (1870-71)." She also co-edited "Understanding Paintings: Themes in Art Explored and Explained," which has been translated into six languages.
At the center, Clayson will finish her current book, "Electric Paris: The Visual Cultures of the City of Light in the Era of Thomas Edison."
Clayson said she might have earned the award for her track record as a professor and her advising of graduate students. In 1987 she won the Weinberg teaching award for the art history department, and she received the Charles Deering McCormick Professorship of Teaching Excellence in the mid-1990s, which is NU's highest teaching honor.
"I guess they were looking for someone who was a functioning scholar but also had a reputation as being a successful teacher,” she said, adding that the award was also an honor for NU.
Weinberg freshman Kayley McPhee had Clayson as a guest lecturer for her Global Orients class.
“I talked to a lot of people afterward, and it was the best lecture we had so far,” she said.
McPhee was impressed by Clayson's interpretation of the artistic styles of the period.
“She picked specific paintings that were both topical to the subject of study, which is the Orient, and engaging paintings as well," she said. "She didn’t pick boring or conventional paintings. … She picked paintings of a wide variety, as well as being topical at the same time.”
McPhee has encountered Clayson previously through her job as a clerical assistant for the art history department. She said Clayson is extremely accessible and funny for a person of such high esteem.
Clayson, a transfer student, has been involved in art history since her freshman year at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass.
“Somebody told me to take an art history class when I was a freshman in college," Clayson said. "He told me it was a cool thing to do. And then I was an art history major by October of my freshman year.”