by Jerel Marshall
Patrons of the world famous Louvre Museum in Paris, France, might have noticed something peculiar this summer. While droves of art enthusiasts gather around classic pieces to admire the brushstrokes of Francois Boucher and Antoine Watteau, a young American women stands far too close to appreciate the masterpieces. Yet she studies each painting with an enthusiasm that rivals the most passionate art aficionado’s. Her eyes dart from corner-to-corner, side-to-side and top-to-bottom.
Although some confused museumgoers might have mistaken this girl for a novice, she makes sure to appreciate the projecting corners and protruding ornaments of Louis XV frames. She takes time to take in the frames on royal portaiture that are topped with big national crests and decorated with lots of national motifs. This one-of-a-kind art fan is Georgia State University senior, Catherine Stankus, and she is crazy about picture frames.
“I don't even look at the paintings first anymore,” Stankus said. “I’ll spend a whole five minutes just studying the frame before I remember, ‘if we didn’t have paintings we wouldn’t have framing.’”
Some might wonder how a college student justifies travelling the world to satisfy such a rare passion. Stankus is taking advantage of her status as an Honors College student to write an undergraduate thesis, and is using the opportunity to do reasearch that is helping her to mature academically, network, and explore a topic that she is passionate about.
Although Georgia State houses many studio art and art history majors, you would be hard pressesd to find anyone on campus with as much interest in picture frames as Stankus. Her thesis will focus on the hisotry of frames in relation to paintings, and she'll create a picture frame to highlight the difference proper framing can make.
Since her subject matter is a little unorthodox, Stankus is taking an unorthodox approach to her research.
Unlike more traditional study abroad programs, Stankus traveled through Europe by herself for three weeks to visit different museums and study frames.
“We’re not Europe,” Stankus said. “We don’t have a lot of 18th century French picture frames. I got online and found a cheap plane ticket. I realized I could get so much more out of the thesis if I had more to work with. “
“I was the first person in museums every morning," she said.
Another element of undergraduate thesis writing that Stankus is benefitting from is forming important relationships. Since starting her research she has become closer to one of her favorite professors, Professor Maria Gindhart, who is serving as her thesis adviser.
“I had an honors class with her my first semester at Georgia State,” Stankus said. “She made me feel very comfortable with the Honors College and the school. “
Stankus credits Gindhardt for given her the idea of doing her thesis.
“She took my 18th Century class and was interested in frames,” Gindhardt said. “Knowing that she was an honors student I told her she should do an honors thesis.”
Although Stankus was unsure at first, Gindhardt was able to convince her that undergraduate thesis writing is an opportunity that she could not pass up.
“It’s something that not all honors students realize they can do,” she said.
Gindhart added that some students underestimate the networking and résumé building effects that thesis writing can provide.
Students aren’t the only ones that gain from this unique honors perk. Professors also have the opportunity to grow as they serve as an adviser to some of the brightest students on campus.
“A lot of times people think that teaching is me standing up and imparting knowledge to students,” Gindhart said. “But ideally, education is a conversation.”
She said that advising Stankus, for instance, is an experience that has her looking at picture frames in a new light.
“Catherine’s thesis has made me think differently about frames,” Gindhardt said. “It’s made me bend my mind in new ways. We have a chance to revolutionize undergraduate research and I think Catherine’s thesis is an example of that.”