Meet Carolyn Nordengren, a junior at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, who is majoring in Art History. We would like to congratulate Ms. Nordengren on being selected as one of three recipients of our Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker Foundation Scholarships for the Spring 2018 term. You can read her essay and artist statement below.
Essay Question: “The purpose of art is to create a thing of beauty, to convey a thought or message of some kind, or to provide inspiration to someone” – by Frederic Whitaker. Please select two paintings, one by Frederic Whitaker and one by Eileen Monaghan Whitaker, then describe your choices using the above quote for guidance.
There is beauty to be found everywhere, and for as long as there has been art, artists have sought to portray this beauty through their work. The art practices of Frederic and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker portray this sentiment through their choices of subject. These artists chose to focus on different themes in their respective artistic practices. Frederic Whitaker focused on landscapes, boats on the sea, and buildings. Eileen Monaghan Whitaker, while also paying attention to buildings and some landscapes, dedicated much of her work to intimate portraits of women and animals. At first glance, these artists seem like perfect contrasts for one another. Frederic Whitaker left school at the age of fourteen and was a self taught artist. Eileen Monaghan Whitaker, on the other hand, attended the Massachusetts College of Art. Frederic Whitaker meticulously planned every detail of his works. Eileen Monaghan Whitaker felt her way through her watercolors. The Whitakers do share one important feature. These are two artists who took the time to notice the beauty of everyday life. Looking at the watercolors of Frederic Whitaker and Eileen Monaghan Whitaker shows the viewer that beauty is, in fact, everywhere. The Whitaker’s artworks are the results of people who spent their days fully aware of the beauty of everyday.
Frederic Whitaker focused on views of buildings on city streets or land and seascapes. His art practice can be represented by his 1996 work Sunset on the Plains. The painting is, as the title suggests, an image of a sun setting over the plains, a memory from his and Eileen’s drive through the Western Plains. In the distance of the painting is a small town, its buildings clustered together for a sense of security and community. The watercolor is made up of vibrant colors. Orange dominates the work. Frederic explores the way the colors of the darkening sky mix together and both reflect and contrast with the colors of the ground; vibrant greens and blues are present in the sky as well as the grass. He conveys the fading light by muting the rest of his color palette. Orange gives way to a warm brown, blues and greens fade away to gray. While the colors used in this work contribute greatly to the aesthetic value of the work, the real beauty is what the work conveys. The beauty of this painting is not in the importance of the image, in fact this could be any evening sky over any small town in the American plains. Through his sentimental portrayal of this memory, Frederic Whitaker has captured the beauty of an event that happens everywhere, everyday.
Eileen Monaghan Whitaker, while occasionally painting buildings and landscapes, chose to focus her artworks on intimate portraits of women and children, as well as animals. Her 1975 watercolor Se Venden Naranjas illustrates this. In this painting three women sit on the ground nearby the exterior of a building. Around the women are a few baskets, some overflowing with oranges, others empty. Like Frederic Whitaker, she utilizes a naturalistic color palette, dominated by shades of white, brown, and gray. The color of the oranges has been muted so as not to distract from the women, but is still bright enough to provide warmth to the painting. Also like Frederic Whitaker, she has taken a mundane moment and, in memorializing it, has drawn the viewer’s attention to the beauty in it. These women, frozen in a moment of repose, are not posing. They are not pretending to be anything other than what they are. They sell oranges. These tired women, sitting barefooted on the stone ground have a quiet dignity about them. The act of dedicating a watercolor to these women shows that Eileen Monaghan Whitaker realized beauty in them. The viewer pauses to appreciate the beauty in an image that, if encountered in real life, they may not have paid more than a moment’s attention to.
When first comparing the lives and artistic approaches of the Whitakers one may believe they could not possibly have anything in common. Of course, they do share a chosen media and a distinct style, but the most important shared characteristic of the Whitakers’ artworks is their attention and devotion to the portrayal of the beauty of everyday life. It is clear from the above paintings that the Whitakers were interested in portraying beauty through their artistic practices. In Sunset on the Plains, Frederic Whitaker chose to paint a scene familiar to and appreciated by all. Eileen Monaghan Whitaker, in contrast, portrayed a scene that surely only a few of Se Venden Naranjas‘ viewers had ever encountered in the real world. She portrays these women in their everyday lives, and in doing so shows the viewers the beauty in this. It is this appreciation of the beauty of everyday life that truly united the artistic practices of the Whitakers and what distinguishes them as artists.
There is a saying that goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears” and so it was for me and my love of Art History. When I took my first Art History class I was majoring in Psychology and had enrolled in an introductory course to fulfill my university’s general education requirements. I expected the class to be enjoyable, I expected to learn a little about art, I expected to something else. What I did not expect was to fall completely in love with the field. Now, almost two years later, I am completing my Bachelor’s degree in Art History from the University of Missouri – Kansas City and could not be happier.
During this time, I have had many opportunities to work and research in my field. I learned about museum education through the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures Education, where I learn how to make museum collections interesting to a general audience. This instilled in me a passion to make museums relevant and accessible to everyone.
Other internships and opportunities have cultivated my love of research. I was an intern and conducted independent research at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. I had the opportunity to present that research at the first annual Missouri Western State University and Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art Undergraduate Art History Symposium in April of last year. This research is also being published in my University’s undergraduate research journal. My passion for research was further supported by my University when they selected my grant proposal and funded a research project in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City where I studied ancient Greek tombstones. I also had the opportunity to present this research at my University’s Undergraduate Research Symposium earlier this year.
During my time at the University of Missouri – Kansas City I have also been involved in a variety of student service positions from Admissions to Recruitment to Residential Life. I currently work as a Resident Assistant for the university. I live with a group of thirty freshman students, helping them transition to college life by providing academic support and community development. I am also a member of Alpha Phi Omega, a national fraternity dedicated to promoting leadership through service.
After graduation I plan to continue my studies earning a Ph.D. in Art History with an emphasis in Early Modern Art. I hope to be able to use this degree to bring Art History to more people. I plan on working in a museum as a curator, focusing on creating exhibitions and gallery spaces that appeal to a wide array of people. Later in my career I would like to become a University professor in Art History so that I can instill in others the same passion for art history my professors gave me.