Art history graduate wins top dissertation honor
Kristel Smentek


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8:08 a.m., Dec. 4, 2009----Kristel Smentek said that 2008 was a momentous year for her when she received her doctorate from the University of Delaware and began a tenure-track position as assistant professor of art history in the Department of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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This year has been equally momentous and exciting. Smentek has won the Council of Graduate Schools/UMI Distinguished Dissertation Award in the Humanities and Fine Arts, generally acknowledged to be the nation's most prestigious honor for doctoral dissertations.

Smentek received the award at the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) annual meeting in San Francisco on Thursday, Dec. 3.

The award is sponsored by ProQuest, a dissertation publisher, and winners are selected by CGS, whose member institutions award 94 percent of doctoral degrees in the U.S.

“I am thrilled,” Smentek said. “It is a great honor and also is a reflection of the strength of the University of Delaware and its art history department.”

“This is a fabulous honor, and we are all very proud of Kristel's national recognition, said Debra Hess Norris, vice provost for graduate and professional education, Henry Francis du Pont Chair in Fine Arts and chairperson of the Department of Art Conservation. “There were more than 50 outstanding nominations for dissertations in the humanities and fine arts from across the country; this award recognizes Kristel's exemplary scholarship and is a tribute to the careful mentoring of our art history faculty at the University of Delaware. This 2009 CGS/UMI Distinguished Dissertation Award further underscores the strength of graduate education at the University of Delaware.”

“As Kristel's master's degree and doctoral adviser, I am extremely proud and not at all surprised about her award,” Nina Athanassoglou-Kallmyer, professor and chairperson of the Department of Art History, said. “It was a real joy to work with Kristel over the years. From a gifted student, Kristel has now moved to become one of the most promising younger colleagues in our profession.”

Smentek's dissertation is entitled “Art, Commerce and Scholarship in the Age of Enlightenment: Pierre-Jean Mariette and the Making of Art History.”

Mariette was important as a well-known graphic arts collector, connoisseur, dealer and publisher in 18th century France and was a major figure in the Paris art world during his lifetime.

He was known for his skills in analyzing Old Master drawings and also was the first person to organize the Old Master drawings into several schools -- not only the Florentine and Roman schools, but also smaller, regional schools such as Sienese and Neapolitan, Smentek said. She is currently involved in rewriting her dissertation as a book.

Smentek has experience both as a teacher and as a curator. She now teaches art history to undergraduates at MIT, as well as graduate seminars on ornament, collecting and the links between Asian and European cultures.

She also was a lecturer at Parsons/Cooper-Hewitt Master's Program in the History of Decorative Arts and Design in 2008 and at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 2003-04.

An Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow at the Frick Collection in 2005-07, Smentek was curator of an exhibition on 18th-century mounted porcelains, “Rococo Exotic: French Mounted Porcelains and the Allure of the East,” and also helped curate an exhibition on 18th-century Swiss painter, Jean-Etienne Liotard, who called himself a “Turkish” painter.

She also was the Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the David E. Finley Doctoral Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art.

A Canadian who grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, Smentek is a graduate of McGill University.

Article by Sue Moncure