Thanks to a $2,500 grant through an endowment from the UAFS Foundation honoring Lucille Speakman, one University of Arkansas – Fort Smith professor will travel to Spain to study religious artwork and gain knowledge that will benefit both her and her students.
Dr. Mary B. Shepard, assistant professor of art history, will visit the cities of Cordoba, Grenada and Toledo to research the artistic legacy of Jewish, Christian and Muslim interaction in the Iberian Peninsula.
Shepard is the first recipient of the Lucille Speakman Legacy Endowment, an endowment established in recognition of the longtime educator at UAFS when it was Fort Smith Junior College. The endowment was established by Randy Wewers, a 1958 graduate and the first recipient of the UAFS Alumni Association’s Diligence to Victory Award.
“We are so grateful to Randy for establishing this endowment to enhance classroom teaching to better serve our students,” said Dr. Mary Lackie, vice chancellor for university advancement and executive director of the UAFS Foundation. “Randy is one of a number of people who have contributed to this endowment out of their admiration for Lucille Speakman and their desire to provide professional development opportunities to our faculty. Randy’s dream is for the endowment to reach a minimum of $100,000, and we are sure we will get there.”
The purpose of the endowment is to provide professional development opportunities for faculty members that will help them improve as educators in the classroom, and Shepard plans to bring back firsthand knowledge from the experience that will benefit her students. This exemplifies Speakman’s approach to her own professional development: Instead of pursuing her doctorate, she chose to travel to places she would be teaching about so that she could share firsthand experiences with her students.
“The fruits of this onsite study will directly impact my teaching in a whole range of art history classes,” Shepard said. “Being able to describe and lead discussion of art and architecture on the basis of firsthand observation is crucial in challenging students to analyze and contextualize works of art. One can speak to scale, to textures and surfaces, to proximities, to spatialities, and to nuances in a way that is not possible if one only knows works and sites from reproductions.”
“I am honored to the be first recipient of the Lucille Speakman Legacy Endowment and hope that the insights gleaned from my upcoming travel to Spain can inspire students to think in new ways,” Shepard added.
During her travels, Shepard plans to visit several artistic landmarks in the Iberian Peninsula, including one of the oldest standing synagogues in Europe.
“A more obscure building I am excited to study is the Santa Maria la Blanca Synagogue in Toledo – possibly the oldest standing synagogue in Europe,” Shepard said. “It was a Jewish house of worship designed by Muslim architects, and is now owned and preserved by the Roman Catholic Church.”
But while she has an itinerary mapped out of locations she’d like to see, Shepard’s most excited about discovering artworks she didn’t know existed.
“One of my students last year wrote an essay about travel in which she observed, ‘It also does not hurt to have the desire for epiphanies,’” Shepard said. “I’ve saved that inspiring line for just such an occasion such as this. I plan to follow her advice and actively go searching for epiphanies while I am in Spain.”