Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences Dean Gregory Kalscheur, S.J., center, presented the long-serving Norma Jean Calderwood University Professors in Islamic and Asian Art with the 2018 faculty award. (Peter Julian)
Boston College broke new ground in July 2000 with the appointment of internationally acclaimed art historians Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom to a dual professorship. United in marriage, parenthood, their field of study, and in their shared role in the University’s Art, Art History, and Film Department, the two will retire together at the end of the academic year.
At this year's Arts Festival in April, Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences Dean Gregory Kalscheur, S.J., presented the long-serving Norma Jean Calderwood University Professors in Islamic and Asian Art with the 2018 faculty award in recognition of their professional accomplishments and contributions to the arts and to the University.
The distinguished art scholars, prolific authors and professors reflect on their 18 years as inaugural holders of the Calderwood Professorship.
What does it mean to you both to receive this award on the eve of your retirement from BC?
Bloom: It’s very gratifying to be recognized by one’s colleagues for one’s contributions to furthering the study of the arts at BC.
Blair: And it’s gratifying to see that BC recognizes the value of the arts in a liberal arts education.
What's been most memorable for you during your time at BC; what will you miss most?
Bloom: When we arrived at BC we were astounded by what a warm and welcoming place it was – it had an atmosphere very different from other universities where we had worked. Wonderful students are, of course, the most memorable aspect about teaching at BC — it’s been very gratifying to see some of them go further in their studies as a result of taking a class with one of us. I will certainly miss my colleagues and the students, whose questions always make me think.
Blair: The students. They keep you young and on your toes. They pose questions that make you think. Also the collegiality of colleagues.
Talk about the opportunities provided by the Calderwood professorship.
Bloom: The Calderwood Chair has offered us unparalleled opportunities for furthering our teaching and research. We’ve been able to invite speakers from abroad, attend foreign conferences, visit museums and remote sites and expand our knowledge without having to apply for outside funding. We’ve been able to offer promising students and fellow faculty members support in their research projects.
Blair: The chair has allowed us to travel to new places and see new things. The world of Islamic art is changing rapidly, and we have been able to evolve with it. For example, we’ve been able to visit some of the new museums and exhibitions in Europe, the Gulf, and elsewhere. We’ve even developed a course introducing Islamic art to students through eight exhibitions/museums/galleries that have opened in the previous decade. Another course surveys the history of Islamic art through the lens of a dozen masterpieces, all of which we have been able to see.
As the first holders of the Calderwood Chair, what do you hope will be your BC legacy?
Bloom: I would hope that subsequent holders of the chair recognize the special opportunities it offers to combine undergraduate teaching with unlimited research possibilities. I would hope [they] continue our tradition of hosting our entire department at an annual dinner to celebrate and remember the warm and generous hospitality once offered to us as students by Norma Jean and Stan Calderwood.
Blair: The joy of introducing new places to undergraduates. We held the first permanent position teaching non-Western art, and the department has now expanded to include professors in both Asian and African art. We hope that the global coverage will continue.
What has it been like to share this dual professorship, on top of being partners in marriage and frequent book collaborators?
Bloom: We first met in 1975 while we graduate students and were married in 1980, right after we earned our PhDs in the same field. It took 20 years - until we were hired by BC - to find an institution willing to allow us to share a job. Because of the way we structured the sharing, each of us has had plenty of time for research and writing, let alone for domestic responsibilities like raising two wonderful children — or cooking dinner! In some ways, it has been like having a biennial sabbatical, keeping us mentally fresh and delighted to see our colleagues again after being away.
Blair: And the opportunity to share the position equally. Many shared positions are intended for one superstar and one acolyte. BC allows us to share this job equally. We each get star billing.
You're both prolific scholars – what's next?
Bloom: I’m in the midst of completing a book – my last! – about Islamic architecture in North Africa and Spain. I may still write the occasional article and give a talk, but I’m really looking forward to spending more time practicing the piano and working in the garden, let alone finally having some time to clean my desk.
Blair: I’m finishing up several articles on the arts of the Mongols. I also want to travel at the times convenient to me and not necessarily slotted into the academic calendar. I’m also looking forward to catch up on reading, not only the academic works of my colleagues, but also all those novels that I have not been able to get to. Just as the field of Islamic art is expanding, so too is world literature and there is a lot to read. And the garden awaits.
Rosanne Pellegrini | University Communications