Met fellowship exposes Tyler student to new possibilities
In the spring of 2013, Agnes Szymanska was in Philadelphia studying at Tyler School of Art. Today, the art history doctoral student is engaging in research and museum curation at Manhattan’s world-renowned Metropolitan Museum of Art—the largest museum in the Western Hemisphere—through a 12-month-long fellowship.
“What appealed to me most was the remarkable opportunity to consult the Met’s great collections of ancient, medieval and Islamic art on a daily basis and learn how large museums shape their mission and execute their vision,” she said.
“The experience has been incredible. For a long time, I had to pinch myself every time my Met badge gave me access to the building before it opened to the public.”
Hosted by the Met’s Department of Medieval Art and the Cloisters, Szymanska began her Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellowship in December 2014 to conduct research for her dissertation, Vehicles of Memory: The Early Byzantine Ensemble of Architecture, Sculpture and Painting in the Red Monastery Triconch. By studying early Byzantine art and architecture, she aims to shed light on the history of the Roman Empire and surrounding Mediterranean regions.
At the museum, Szymanska is involved in a number of projects, including artifact examination and assessment, scholarly publication advising and gallery tours. She also takes part in the vibrant cultural life of the museum, attending exhibitions, lectures, concerts, performances and social events.
“The Met’s mission to ‘study, conserve and present significant works of art across all times and cultures in order to connect people to creativity, knowledge and ideas’ has never resonated with me more than it has in recent months,” she explained.
The fellowship has also funded several travel opportunities for Szymanska. In April, she presented research at national conferences in Texas and Massachusetts. And, thanks to a travel grant, she immersed herself in the study of Arabic at the Jordan Language Academy in May to supplement her research of various late Roman, Christian and Islamic sites that she will conduct in June.
Following the fellowship’s completion in December 2015, Szymanska will continue her fieldwork overseas with a longer sojourn in Croatia, Italy and Greece. This will be part of the Andrew W. Mellon Mediterranean Regional Research Fellowship Program by the Council of American Overseas Research Centers.
Szymanska credits many of her opportunities thus far to her academic advisor, Tyler Art History Professor Elizabeth Bolman, specifically noting her encouragement and mentorship. “She has believed in me and my project since its conception by encouraging me to aim high. Her detailed feedback has also helped me to develop my own scholarly persona.”
Prior to beginning her work with the Met, Szymanska had only considered academia as a career path. However, her experience has exposed her to new possibilities.
“The Met Fellowship has revolutionized my priorities in my role as an art historian,” she said. “Now, having interacted with and built relationships with staff and fellows from other fields, and with members of the general public, I am equally invested in making my work accessible, interesting and relevant to everyone.”
- Erica Brooke Fajge