Section: News

Kristen Van Ausdall, beloved art history professor, passes away at 68

On Saturday Oct. 26, Professor of Art History Kristen Van Ausdall, 68, passed away. She died at the Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, California. While Van Ausdall had been on medical leave at the time of her death, her passing came as a shock to those who were close to her. She is survived by her husband, Scott Pringle.

Until recently, Van Ausdall had been a resident of Mount Vernon. After completing her B.A. at Humboldt State University in 1976, she went on to attain an M.A. from the University of Oregon in 1981 and a Ph.D. from Rutgers University in 1994. She joined the College’s Department of Art History in 1988, where she spent three years as a visiting instructor before moving on to share her gifts with students at the University of Louisville and John Carroll University. At the turn of the millennium, Van Ausdall returned to Kenyon as a visiting assistant professor. The following year, she was granted a tenure-track position and, in 2014, promoted to full professor.

Affectionately referred to as “KVA” by her students, Van Ausdall shared her love of Renaissance art and architecture both in the wide array of courses she taught on the subjects and in her involvement in the Kenyon-Rome program, which she helped found and participated in several times over the years. She was particularly interested in sacred art and images that portrayed the tradition of the Eucharist. “I remember driving to different museums with her in England to look at the tabernacles that they had in their collection,” Professor of Art History Emeritus Eugene Dwyer said. “She was really interested in that.” 

As a scholar, writer and artist, Van Ausdall saw what many others struggle to perceive: a point of contact between the different subjects of the liberal arts. This interdisciplinary approach translated into both her teaching and scholarship. She worked closely with the Department of Religious Studies department in her research, co-taught a class on the art and music of Renaissance and Baroque Italy and challenged her students to examine the way art has been written about throughout the ages.

For all her contributions as a scholar, what truly set Van Ausdall apart was the dedication she poured into her teaching and the boundless generosity she showed to her students. Those who knew her recalled how she would spend hours talking with students outside of class, offering life advice or simply sharing a laugh with them. Whatever it was, she never took herself too seriously,  according to Jess Lane ’20, who has known Van Ausdall since she was a first year and had planned to do an honors thesis with her. Aside from her good humor, Lane also recounted the professor’s willingness to help her students.

“One time I came to her office and I had broken my wrist, and I don’t have a car so I couldn’t drive myself, and she was like ‘Okay, put your stuff down, I’m driving you to Columbus right now to go to the hospital,’” she said. “She was always doing stuff like that.” 

Van Ausdall was just as thoughtful and warm with her colleagues as she was with her students.

Brad Hostetler, assistant professor of Art History, described the bond they formed as office neighbors.

“She would come over here on a Thursday afternoon after we get done teaching and she would sit down, and we would talk for like two hours. It was everything — it was work, it was life, it was friendship —  it was kind of everything mixed into one,” Hostetler said. “I think that’s the takeaway I have from her: the generosity she had for the people around her.”

In a tribute to Van Ausdall, Professor Emerita of Art History Melissa Dabakis asked former students of hers to share memories of her via a shared Google Document. Whether they recounted pushing through tourists to see Caravaggio paintings in Rome, or singing all the words to “Alice’s Restaurant” on Thanksgiving, the students’ stories of Van Ausdall demonstrate her indelible impact on them.

“During our class field trips in Rome, I often found myself sitting next to Kristen looking up at a work of art,” Mary Sawyer ’18 wrote. “I would follow her gaze across the piece as she guided me through the history of the art and its maker. Just as she carried me into a work of art I never thought I could relate to, she carried me out of life’s tougher days, reminding me that she was always there for me.”


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