Vassar Today

Art as Education

By Debbie Swartz

Elizabeth Nogrady ’99, an expert in Old Master paintings, was doing research in 2009 when she saw “Portrait of a Musician Playing a Bagpipe,” a 1632 oil painting by an unknown Dutch artist, listed on a New York City art gallery website. But something wasn’t right. A memory from her time as a research assistant at the Holocaust Claims Processing Office bubbled to the surface. Nazis had forced the sale of the painting by Düsseldorf gallery owner Max Stern during WWII. She knew she had to act. Nogrady contacted the claims office, setting in motion a series of events that would see the painting restored to the estate of its rightful owner.

Now, Nogrady, who has had stints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; and Christie’s auction house, is bringing her breadth of expertise and passion to Vassar as the new Andrew W. Mellon Coordinator of Academic Programs at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center (FLLAC). Her mission—and one she is eager to fulfill—is to strengthen the link between Vassar’s academic departments and the Art Center’s collection.

With more than 19,000 objects in its collection, FLLAC has myriad works that would make wonderful teaching references for art history classes and even for non-art subjects, Nogrady says. She sees the Art Center as a fundamental tool for the basic skills of observation, analysis, and critical thinking.

“We are a really special place, a special resource, and this is such an incredible collection for a college this size. It’s an opportunity for faculty and students to approach material in a new way and maybe make connections that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Nogrady says.

To help spread the word, Nogrady is reaching out to various departments and faculty members, educating herself on the courses offered, and considering which works of art might be useful for different syllabi. Whether it’s a specific historical time period on which a professor focuses or a theme, there are ways for the Art Center to be useful, Nogrady says.

“We’ve had classes using works of art for foreign language study or as inspiration for writing music or prose,” Nogrady says by way of example.
One of her tasks will be to reintroduce the Artful Dodger series, featuring informal presentations in which Vassar faculty members who are not art historians share a personal perspective on an artwork in the collection.

The series, Nogrady says, allows for conversations that expand students’ perceptions of art.

Her hope is that all incoming students, regardless of their interests and potential majors, will have some experience with the Art Center during their first year. “Just so that they know it’s here for them. Whether it’s a place they come to study art, or just relax, show their parents, or come to an event, they’ll have that familiarity and comfort with it,” Nogrady says.

Nogrady’s own art education started quite early. Even as a preteen she was taking the trolley from her home in Boston’s suburbs to visit the city’s museums.

“It was one of the first things I did on my own. I don’t even know if 12- and 13-year-olds can do that now. I was pretty young and it was a form of independence for me,” Nogrady says.

She now stands poised for her next adventure, back at her alma mater. She says she was a bit concerned, at first, that returning to Vassar would feel too strange. “I have definitely had some moments. Taking the passage from Taylor through to the library—the smell, the prints—it was all the same,” Nogrady says with a laugh.

—Debbie Swartz