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FSU student falls in love with the mystery of art history

By Julia Sarcinelli

In high school, Heather Walker knew she loved history and enjoyed reading about Greek and Roman mythologies. She thought about becoming a teacher.

Her mother owned a craft shop, and Walker said that was the beginning of her interest in watercolor and creating her own jewelry.

“I consider myself crafty, not really an artist, because as an artist, you really have to think beyond the box, and I don’t think of myself that way,” Walker said.

From 2000 to 2002, Walker interned at the Higgins Armory Museum as a docent. While she was working there, she was an English and history major at Worcester State.

“Then, like everything else, life gets in the way, you know?” she said. Soon after, she “just fell into” working in customer service at a homecare company before working at her current position as an office manager at a doctor’s office in Framingham. She got married and had kids.

“Finally, I decided I just needed to come back,” she said. “I wish I could stay forever and just keep learning.”

Now a part-time senior art history major, Walker will be one of eight students chosen out of all of New England’s universities to present at the Museum of Fine Arts 9th Annual Undergraduate Art History Symposium. The other students presenting are from Massachusetts College of Art, Brandeis University, UMass Boston, Emmanuel College, Northeastern University, Wellesley College and the University of Kentucky.

Walker wrote the paper she will be presenting on Dutch artists Rachel Ruysch and Otto Marceus Von Shreick in now-retired Professor Elizabeth Perry’s class on Renaissance and Baroque women.

She said this event will be similar to an art historian seminar in that she will present her paper and talk about the work she analyzed.

“I’ve always liked Rachel Ruysch, so I kind of had her picked from the beginning, but then Professor Perry sent me an article to read about Von Shreick ... and I just fell in love with it,” she said.

Walker said artists “talk about the process, but it’s after the process that I like to look at to maybe find out what the artist was thinking when he or she came up with that concept. So, it’s a really interesting field if you like history and you like art. It’s a good combination of both.”

The period Walker likes to focus on is between 1850 and 1910 because “so much in art was changing at that time, so it’s really, really interesting.”

She added she enjoys British art and the genre of Symbolism in art history, which includes artists such as Gustave Moreau, Vincent Van Gogh, Edvard Munch and Paul Gauguin.

In May, Walker is going on the art department’s tour of Paris and Amsterdam, where she will visit the Rijksmusem in Amsterdam and present on the artist Johannes Vermeer in front of one of his works.

“I love Vermeer – he’s one of my favorites. He’s a Dutch Baroque artist. ... The symbolism that’s in these works and the meaning behind them and the reason why they were so popular is just an amazing thing,” Walker said.

She added, “The more I work on a piece of art – the more I learn – the more I want to delve into things and I think that’s part of being an art historian, in that you always have that question about why the art is created the way it is.”

Walker said her interest in art history began with her internship at the Higgins Armory Museum, adding her experience as a docent “really opened my eyes to what I could do with this love of history.”

She said they would take the armor into elementary schools in costume and present on them in character as medieval people, while also hosting overnight events and giving tours.

“It was really a love, and I’ve always loved everything medieval, anyways. It’s just so romantic – which it really wasn’t, but in novels and in books it’s always portrayed as a romantic time. So that was my initial draw to it,” Walker said.

In 2015, after she joined the Framingham State art history program, Walker became Worcester Art Museum’s (WAM) first intern. She cataloged and integrated all the Higgins Armory Museum files into WAM’s system after Higgins shut down.

She said the man who hired her for the internship was the same curator she worked for at the Higgins Armory Museum.

“My husband’s so funny, because he says, ‘Since you started doing this, all you talk about is art!’ because I just fell in love with it,” Walker said.

What draws her to art history is figuring out the “mystery” behind the paintings.

Walker said going forward, she wants to get her Ph.D. and would like to work as a curator, but she is also interested in teaching at the college level and may do both.

She added, “At any stage in life, you can remake yourself and I think that’s really important, and to not let your initial career be your deciding factor in life. You can really change what you want to be.”


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