Students in this semester’s special topic art history course, Museum Object (ARHS 291), curated the exhibit The Art of Devotion, located on the first floor of Chalmers Library in Bulmash Exhibition Hall, with the help of Assistant Professor of Art History Brad Hostetler. Hostetler is a Byzantine art historian, and many of the designs used throughout the exhibit were based on artifacts used by the Byzantine Empire.
A poster explains that the exhibition “examines how religious items of diverse origins utilize a common visual language to activate a shared spirituality.” Many of the pieces “date from the sixth to the 20th century and come from Christian Orthodoxies in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.” The artifacts used in the exhibit were from the Blick-Harris study collection, which has around 1500 pieces ranging from antiquity to present day. The students, according to Hostetler, started the semester not knowing much about the pieces but completed the project in seven weeks. In an interview with the Collegian, Hostetler said, “I am proud of their teamwork and their ability to work on a variety of things at one time.” The 20 students in the class were divided into five groups, each examining four objects for the exhibit. “They had to work individually on their own object then collectively in a group,” Hostetler said. “Everything we did we revised at least five times.”
Each of the five different groups had a specific task for the exhibit. The first, called the curatorial group, was responsible for bringing all of the themes together. The second group, the digital committee, was responsible for providing digital representation of the exhibit so that viewers could visit a website version of the exhibition. Following was the accessibility committee; they were responsible for ensuring that there were audio descriptions on the website for those who are visually impaired. The fourth group was the promotion committee, which was responsible for designing posters to promote the exhibition around campus. The last group was the education committee, and they were charged with developing a lesson plan for a high school class. Their lesson plan will be implemented in Kenyon’s Academic Program (KAP). The KAP allows students at partnered local high schools to earn Kenyon credit in courses designed by Kenyon.
One piece created by Abby Foster ’23 featured a line drawing based on the Ring With Holy Rider Iconography. The ring bears a picture of a man carrying a spear on a horse and was made out of cheap material during the Byzantine time period. The website notes that the ring symbolizes strength and protection. Those who wore the ring did so in order to protect themselves against people that meant to do them harm, and it was believed to provide the wearer with prosperity and wealth. The ring was one of the many artifacts in the Blick collection that Foster chose specifically to use as inspiration for her drawing.
Many of the artifacts featured art inspired by Eastern Orthodox iconography. The pieces explore spirituality, allowing viewers to appreciate the artistic elements of the collections. Foster discussed the line drawing she created based on the ring in an email to the Collegian, “I liked that [the ring] was a small object, but one that would have been deeply ingrained in the life of the owner. In designing our cases for the exhibit, each group was instructed to find some additional images to place alongside our objects. Overall, I really enjoyed the process of making the exhibit. Learning about the ring and making the line drawings were definitely highlights, but I also really enjoyed collaborating with my classmates and Professor Hostetler.”
Hostetler explained how the Department of Art History may be able to utilize the material for other applications. “The art history department has a lot of material to work with that we want to make available to other courses as well. It was a privilege being able to work with real things.” The exhibit displayed the impressive detail each student put forth in their illustrations. Those who wish to learn more about the exhibition and the different artifacts can visit the student-created website at https://sites.google.com/kenyon.edu/theartofdevotion/.