As an instructor, it is such a treat to hear back from longtime students who are pursuing degrees in the arts. Such is the case with my longtime former art student, Miss Isabella Rosner. After earning her Bachelor of Arts in art history at Columbia University and Masters of Philosophy in History of Art and Architecture from Newnham College, University of Cambridge, she is excited to announce that she will be heading to King’s College London in September to start her four year PhD, in History with an emphasis on Quaker Women’s Art (approximately 1660 – 1790) before the founding of Ackworth and Westtown. She also earned a King’s PGR International Scholarship for this.
What better way to honor her achievements than with an interview on the school’s blog! I hope you find it inspiring.
Q1. I remember your love for acrylic painting back in the day. Do you remember when art history and history of women’s art became of interest to you? Was there a moment where you knew this would be your course of study?
A1. My love of art history and women’s art specifically started with classic literature, weirdly enough. When I was in seventh grade, my English teacher required us to read one classic novel a month. I started getting really into novels by women (Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Louisa May Alcott, and others) and at the same time came across Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation of The Age of Innocence on TV. Reading classic literature and being introduced to the world of period dramas opened up a world of historic costume to me. I had always been interested in fashion, but never thought about what clothing looked like in the past. I went through the rest of middle school and high school loving historic costume and the paintings that depicted those beautiful clothes. At some point early in my high school career, my mom suggested that I should study art history in college. I had not even heard of art history as a discipline before. Once I started researching it, though, it made so much sense for me. I went to college knowing I wanted to study art history. During college, I held summer internships at museums and that’s when I started loving textiles as well as costumes. From there, I delved deep into the world of women’s needlework and I’ve never left it.
Q2. That’s fascinating. What college stories would you like to share with my readers? Any favorite professors, challenging projects, roommate stories, etc.?
A2. I do have many fond memories from undergraduate, but the most memorable ones are memorable because they’re not so awesome (read: terrible). My first two years were completely consumed by student theatre, which ended up taking over my life and affecting my health in a really negative way. I’d definitely recommend that those going in to college remember that balance is key! Make sure you have time to do your classwork, of course, but also make sure you have time to unwind, relax, hang out with friends, and do any extracurriculars you love. I was lucky to have great roommates who were some of my closest friends. Together, we dealt with the inevitable grossness that comes with living in cheap dorms and apartments in New York City.
Q3. Good advice! What internship or work experiences would you like to share with my readers? How was the work environment? What life lessons were your take away?
A3. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had a number of really great museum internships and jobs, all of which have guided me to what I want to do in the future. My internship after my freshman year of college at the Nantucket Historical Association introduced me to needlework samplers (my first needlework-related love), and my internships at The Met, Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, and LACMA allowed me to explore samplers and other textiles further. I really love the museum work environment – it’s actually that environment that convinced me to pursue museum curation over costume design. I wanted a steady job with normal hours and I wanted a job that would blend creativity with scholarly research. Curation does that perfectly. I’ve learned that the world of decorative arts and material culture curation and scholarship is very small and everyone knows everyone else. It’s important to do good work and not make any bad impressions – not that I’d want to do that anyway!
Q4. Indeed! What was involved in earning your King’s PGR International Scholarship? May I ask what PGR means? How did you find out about it?
A4. I believe PGR stands for “Postgraduate Research.” I have to be honest and say I’m not sure what was involved in earning the scholarship. I had read about it, as it was one of the only available scholarships for students outside the UK and EU. I knew the chance of getting any sort of funding was really slim, as there is very little funding for Americans at UK universities. I basically just checked a box that said something like, “I would like to apply for any relevant funding” at the end of my application. I am one of nine students in the entire university to receive the scholarship and I’m honestly blown away. I’m not sure why my application was chosen, but I think perhaps it is partially because my supervisor advocated for me and my project and the individuals on the selection committee saw my proposed PhD project as significant and groundbreaking.
Q5. Sounds like it was meant to be. What are your future career plans?
A5. I hope to become a textile curator at a major art museum like the Victoria and Albert Museum in London or The Met in New York City. I want to work part-time at a museum while doing my PhD, so I can keep a foot in the door of the museum world. I hope that once I’m done with the PhD I can work at a museum that has a diverse array of textiles and a desire to put those objects on display. I want to curate exhibits that help widen the art historical canon and celebrate voices little heard within typical museum settings.
Q6. Excellent strategy. I hope to view your curated exhibits in the future. Thank you for allowing those artists’ voices to be heard! Speaking of artists, you had completed the basic drawing with graphite course followed by oil pastel, watercolor and acrylic painting at my studio. Which is your favorite medium to this day? Do you still draw and paint when time permits? What styles of art speak to you the most? Any favorite artists you’d like to share with our readers?
A6. My favorite medium to use is graphite, mostly because it is readily available anywhere and I can use it anytime. When it comes to painting, I prefer acrylic paints. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to paint much, but I do enjoy drawing. I really enjoy making birthday cards for people, so most of my drawing and painting skills are used on that. I have shifted toward a lot of needlecrafts because of what I study and because I like doing something with my hands as I watch Netflix or listen to podcasts. I hand sew, knit and crochet (very occasionally!), and embroider, and have recently taken up 17th-century beadwork. My favorite artists tend to be the anonymous women whose embroidery, quilts, and other domestic arts I study most. It’s hard to answer the question of favorite artists when it comes to women’s needlework, but I do love Martha Edlin, whose entire suite of amateur needlework survives and is the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. In terms of painters, who are of course much more well known, my favorites are Edouard Manet, J. M. W. Turner, Sandro Botticello, Berthe Morisot, and John Singer Sargent.
Q7. What impact did your art classes at Pastimes for a Lifetime make?
A7. I think the classes at Pastimes gave me an awareness of and appreciation for art and artmaking really early in my life. Those classes also gave me exposure to a wide variety of media. Even all these years later, I still feel comfortable picking up a piece of charcoal, oil pastel, tube of acrylic paint, and a palette of watercolors.
Q8. As your former art teacher, I’m very pleased to know that. Art can touch people’s lives, bringing happiness and hope. For example, my school partners with CoachArt to provide free art classes for families impacted by childhood chronic illness. Is there a charity you are fond of or support, that you might like my readers to learn more about?
A8. I am sadly ill-informed when it comes to art-related charities (I’ve got to explore those!) but I have always loved Heifer International. Heifer works to curb poverty by providing livestock and training to people in struggling communities. Instead of just giving those in poverty money, the charity gives them the tools to create their own means of self-sufficiency and even business.
Thanks for sharing. I’ve heard of that wonderful charity. In closing, do you have a favorite quote, mantra or process that you find inspiring or helpful when faced with a creative block or frustration, that you would like to share with my readers?
I really don’t have a favorite quote or mantra that I find inspiring. In times of great frustration, I try to remind myself that this, too, shall pass and that things that seem to be huge inconveniences or problems will likely look very small and insignificant when I look back at them in the future.
Isabela, it has been an honor to interview such a kind spirit and fine mind. Our culture is richer because of you and what you will accomplish.
If you would like to learn more about Isabella Rosner’s passion for art history and textiles, you may reach her at
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