Visiting prof trades San Fran for Billsville

Whitney Chadwick, a visiting professor of art history this semester, will never forget the advice given to her by art historian Linda Nochlin: “Always question the assumptions that underlie the writing of history and art history by asking new questions.” In keeping with Nochlin’s maxim, Chadwick will present “Amazons and Warriors: New Images of Femininity in Early Twentieth-Century France” at 5 p.m. at the Clark Art Institute today. According to Chadwick, the lecture will address “how and why artists and writers in Paris in the first decades of the 20th century chose to base their images on those of the mythic or legendary figures of the Amazonian woman.”

As an undergraduate at Middlebury, Chadwick ’65 studied art history, studio art and African and Middle Eastern history. After graduating, she moved to San Francisco to work and study at the city’s Art Institute, where she discovered that the life of an artist was not her true calling. She returned to grad school, receiving an M.A. and Ph.D. from Penn State University. With a few degrees under her belt, Chadwick decided it was time to switch roles, from student to teacher.

Chadwick has researched, written and been involved with exhibitions around the world, most recently in Northern Ireland and Sweden. She calls California home and is a professor of art at San Francisco State University. This fall Chadwick is teaching two classes at Williams, working in both the undergraduate and graduate art history departments. Undergrads are taking “American Art: the 1960s and 1970s,” while graduate students have the opportunity to examine one of Picasso’s most famous works in “Reading/Re-reading Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.”

Chadwick, who also has taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford and the University of California-Berkeley, especially enjoys teaching at Williams due to the smaller class sizes. “Teaching at Williams is a great pleasure,” Chadwick said. “It gives me an opportunity to work with small groups of students, [an opportunity] which I don’t often have in San Francisco, where I teach at a large public university and almost never have an undergraduate class with fewer than 50 students. One of the things I particularly enjoy about working with Williams students is their enthusiasm and their willingness to engage with the subject.”

The sleepy Berkshires are certainly a change from San Francisco. Nevertheless, Chadwick and her husband, an artist, are enjoying the slow pace of life in Williamstown. “We find it a very beautiful and friendly place to live,” Chadwick said, “and, as I was an undergraduate at Middlebury College in the 1960s, it brings back many fond memories of life in New England.”

The couple came to the area for the first time two years ago, when Chadwick was a fellow at the Clark and her husband had a studio in North Adams. In addition to the satisfaction that she gets from teaching classes at Williams, Chadwick also enjoys living on the East Coast, where she is able to take advantage of the research libraries, museums and galleries in New York and Boston. Research, and the writing that it spawns, play a critical role in Chadwick’s life. She has written numerous books and articles that focus on the role of women in the arts and the surrealist movement, including “Amazons in the Drawing Room: The Art of Romaine Brooks” and “Women and Arts in the Surrealist Movement.” Her newest book, which was recently published by Rutgers University Press, is titled “The Modern Woman Revisited: Paris Between the Wars” and collects in one volume all of the papers published in a symposium that Chadwick organized with a colleague from Stanford.

Chadwick always has a new project on the go and she doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. “My plans for the future are to keep doing exactly what I do now: writing, research, teaching, spending time with family and friends, leading as simple a life as one can in a complex world,” she said.

When she’s not busy researching and teaching, Chadwick can often be found at Cold Springs Coffee Shop and at Images Cinema, her favorite Spring St. hangouts. It may not be San Francisco, but Williamstown still has its share of coffee and culture, albeit in smaller amounts.