When she was younger, Lauryn Smith used to get into spirited debates with her grandfather over Martin Luther and other topics relating to the Protestant Reformation. It’s very fitting that she now specializes in that time period.
Smith, a Case Western Reserve University PhD candidate in art history and art, was recently selected as the inaugural Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library Digital Art History Fellow for the 2021-22 academic year; and she is also one of only 17 doctoral students worldwide selected for the Center for Curatorial Leadership/Mellon Foundation Seminar in Curatorial Practice 2021 cohort.
“These are two extremely prestigious and competitive awards in art history, and for one doctoral student to receive both is, frankly, amazing,” said her doctoral advisor, Catherine Scallen.
The Frick Collection is one of the leading art museums in New York City and its art reference library is one of the best in the U.S. As its very first Digital Art History Fellow, Smith will embark on an independent, remote digital art history project, “Beyond ‘Exceptional’ Women: Unearthing Non-Elite Women’s Agency in the Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art Market with Network Analysis.”
The project won’t be her first time taking a deep dive into Dutch art history. During the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith was in the Netherlands working on her dissertation—a “rare and marvelous” opportunity that allowed her to fully immerse herself in Dutch culture.
Almost every day, she traveled by train to world-renowned museums, libraries and royal residences to research the star of her dissertation, Amalia van Solms-Braunfels (1602-1675).
“In addition to gaining new close colleagues,” Smith said, “one of the highlights for me was getting written permission from King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands to work from the Royal Archives, which is a part of the Noordeinde Palace Complex in The Hague.”
Smith’s second recent award—the CCL/Mellon Seminar in Curatorial Practice—will provide her an in-depth introduction to working in museums. The two-week intensive seminar combines exhibition and collection tours, conversations with curators and cultural leaders, and group exercises at New York City institutions.
The experience couldn’t be more valuable to Smith, who hopes to become a curator at an art museum upon earning her PhD.
“I think sometimes people believe the past is written in stone, but new information is being uncovered constantly and it’s exciting to be involved in this process,” she explained. “I’m also really passionate about translating this research for the general public and the challenges of making historical figures and objects from around the globe relatable to people today.”
That includes children. This upcoming academic year, Smith will step back into her role as graduate coordinator for Mean Green STEAM Machine, a joint initiative between CWRU’s Leonard Gelfand STEM Center and the Cleveland Public Library that seeks to introduce Cleveland students grades two through seven to diverse STEM and humanities fields and practitioners.
“It is an incredibly rewarding opportunity to be a part of and has allowed me to become more involved in the local community through arts outreach,” Smith noted.