Winter 2012

Winter 2012

Carl Wennerlind, Photograph by Ruby Arguilla TullThe Casualties of Credit
by Carl wennerlind
Harvard University Press, 2011, $39.95

A Barnard professor’s new book explores credit’s past, shedding light on the problems it causes in the present.

When Carl Wennerlind began work on his first book, The Casualties of Credit, more than a decade ago, he had no idea that the global economy was heading for the greatest credit crisis in more than two generations. Wennerlind, assistant professor of history at Barnard, insists that he was not looking for parallels between the past and the present. His goal as a historian was solely to map the financial revolution that occurred in England beginning around 1620, a time when the need for access to credit was a driving force behind economic thought and innovation. “My book’s timeliness is purely a coincidence,” says Wennerlind.

But, the book makes for fascinating reading at a time when headlines are often dominated by credit-related problems. The wide-ranging narrative—populated by a diverse cast of players including alchemists, tramps, economists, speculators, and kings—reminds us that credit has always carried significant risks as well as benefits. “Credit is an ingenious mechanism,” notes the author. “But it comes at a price.”

Wennerlind, whose wife, Monica Miller, is an English professor at Barnard, joined the College’s history department in 2004 after four years in its economics department. He earned his PhD in economic history at the University of Texas at Austin and taught at Elon College (now Elon University) in North Carolina while writing his dissertation. He’s been studying money—in particular credit—and its philosophical, political, and cultural implications for most of his career, teaching courses such as “Filthy Lucre,” which studies the history of money from Mesopotamian times through 1900. “A lot of big questions about the world can be answered through the lens of money,” says the professor.

Last fall, he taught “History of Political Economy,” and before that, in the spring of 2009, a class called “Merchants, Pirates, Slaves and the Formation of Atlantic Capitalism.” Says Wennerlind, “The virtue of teaching here is that I have some really smart students. The resulting conversations allow me to further develop my thinking.”

His new book’s main purpose is to illuminate the seventeenth-century financial debates that arose in response to economic problems ranging from money shortages and mass unemployment to the collapse of the South Sea Bubble. Such debates engaged the leading political economists, social reformers, and government leaders of the times, along with intellectuals and philosophers such as Sir Isaac Newton and John Locke.

Without a doubt, the seventeenth-century arguments and ideas highlighted by Casualties of Credit resonate with current debates over social and economic dilemmas. Learning of past attempts to resolve fundamental economic problems provides a reminder of the intractability of societal challenges such as poverty, speculative bubbles, and economic slumps. Wennerlind’s book does not deal directly with today’s credit-related issues, but it suggests that credit has always been a slippery tool, subject to variables as intangible as faith, imagination, and public opinion. “I am trying to understand how people became comfortable with the idea that both the state and the economy rested on a foundation—credit—that really is just a figment of the imagination,” he says.

Most economists treat the emergence of modern credit as an inevitable result of rapid economic growth and political change during the English financial revolution. Casualties of Credit offers an alternative account of modern credit, tracing its development back to a specific set of intellectual and political conditions. These conditions arose in the seventeenth century, a time of rapid economic growth for England. At the time, England and the rest of Europe relied on metal currency for the vast majority of commercial transactions, and there weren’t enough coins to satisfy rising demand. Finding a solution to the money shortage became a sort of Holy Grail for many of the day’s most brilliant economists, such as William Petty and Charles Davenant.

A crucial shift came in the 1640s, as men like Francis Bacon and Samuel Hartlib began to promote a new, dynamic view of the world. They envisioned a society in which capital could be created out of thin air, with credit as the foundation for infinite progress. As this vision turned to reality, and credit became central to economies, governments looked for ways to strengthen the public’s trust in its ability to issue, regulate, and fundthe new system. They encouraged the transparency of banks and financial institutions, punished counterfeiters and anyone else who undermined confidence in the system, and hired reputable people to manage the financial institutions and banks that issued and regulated credit. “I’m struck by the fact that these issues of securitization, transparency, character, and punishment are as relevant today as they were 300 years ago,” notes the author.

At the same time, governments played a role in fueling speculative bubbles, such as the South Sea stock sales, and other problems. The governing party hired writers (including Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe) to promote the South Sea Trading Company through fictional accounts of the profits to be made by its backers. When the company’s stock collapsed, investors paid the price.

Causalties of Credit is just one of several ambitious projects that have kept Wennerlind busy. He recently finished editing a book on mercantilism, which is due out this summer; its working title is Rethinking Mercantilism. Meanwhile, he’s at work on Scarcity: Historicizing the First Principle of Political Economy, which explores political economists’ ideas about the relationship among humanity, nature, and goods. A second book-in-progress, Science and Economy, examines how political and economic factors affected the work of scientists such as Emanuel Swedenborg.

None of these projects will offer solutions for our current credit problems, but Wennnerlind hopes they will illuminate the inherent nature of those problems. “One thing we’re realizing right now is the limits of our power to control credit,” he says. “Credit allows us to have the growth that we’ve come to depend on in our society. But it’s also unstable by its nature, because it depends on trust—in institutions, markets, and individuals. When that trust is threatened or undermined, the social costs can be profound.”

—Harper Willis

Wendy Dubow Polins ’84, Photograph by Angela OwensFare Forward
by Wendy Polins ’84
Hamilton Hall Press, 2011, $16

A few years ago, Wendy Dubow Polins visited college campuses with her older daughter. “I watched her reaction,” she says, “and remembered my own—that feeling of being a student and everything, everything, is ahead of you. First love, first touch: all of those firsts.”

The novel that grew out of this sudden infusion of memory is hardly the average bildungsroman or novel about education, though the heroine, Gabriella, is a student. Fare Forward owes more to the speculative fiction of Dan Brown, of The Da Vinci Code fame, or such unconventional, magical love stories as Audrey Niffenegger’s bestseller, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and Solomon Rappoport-Ansky’s haunting Kabbalistic play, The Dybbuk.

An older physicist has spent a lifetime exploring the radical implications of his colleague Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and has finally cemented proof of time’s malleability—the existence of time travel. But he can only make this finding public if his granddaughter Gabriella relinquishes the love of a “mysterious stranger” who just may have come through a wormhole from another millennium to find her. The eminent scientist and novice architect—grandfather and granddaughter—endanger and embolden each other as their individual discoveries—scientific, artistic, romantic, and spiritual—become enmeshed. Dubow Polins has concocted a hybrid science-fiction thriller-romance.

Nevertheless, that old saw of creative writing seminars, “write what you know,” still applies. Driving the dreamlike novel is not only the tingling anticipation that the author remembered from her college days but also the conviction borne out by experience that bold, seemingly impetuous actions are written in the stars. “These crazy intersections of fate,” Dubow Polins exclaims with a crackly laugh of wonderment that proves infectious, “happen to me all the time.” When she interviewed at Barnard, she was asked where else she had applied. “Nowhere else,” she said. “This is where I want to be.” And so it would prove, though she couldn’t have predicted why.

A studious child in what she describes as a “non-artistic” family, she assumed that she would pursue law or medicine—until she sat in the dark of her first art-history course and listened to Professor Jerrilynn Dodds (now dean of Sarah Lawrence College) “talk with incredible enthusiasm” about the images on the screen. Dubow Polins signed up for every class she could get with Dodds, and when the professor invited her on an archaeological dig in the south of France the summer before her senior year, she jumped at the chance.

Fare Forward by Wendy Polins book cover

The four other students from Barnard and Columbia were architecture majors; faced with a Roman ruin or a crumbling Gothic abbey they would pull out their sketchpads and start drawing. “I realized that as much as I loved art history, I too wanted to be the one making something,” she says. “I didn’t want to just study what others had done.” Fare Forward begins at an archaeological dig. “The metaphor of archaeology is very powerful,” she notes, “whether you’re digging for your own history, for yourself, or for [the real] archaeology.” Like her characters, this architect-writer turned out to be doing both at once.

Gabriella follows her creator’s lead to pursue a graduate degree in architecture at Columbia. She spends late nights in Avery Hall buried under chipboard and endures end-of-semester “crits” in which each student must stand before a formidable jury of professors and professionals and defend her designs. Most crucially, the novel that features her is the fruit of an education in architecture that was “artistic and idea-based.”

“There was nothing about real world practical things,” Dubow Polins explains, nothing to prepare her for a first job devising a sprinkler system for a shopping center green. But assignments to draw up a house for a poet or a wing of a music school taught her to make her clients’ proclivities the foundation of her designs. And when she volunteered to renovate the interior of her local synagogue, in Boston’s North Shore, she was awake to the challenge of conveying spirit by means of solid form. So it was not such a leap to invent schoolwork for Gabriella that suited the themes of a metaphysical thriller. In Fare Forward, place is poetry—buildings are metaphors for being.

For the novel’s tone of foreboding, Dubow Polins drew on her life before college and graduate school. When she was a teenager, her parents sold their house in Montreal and moved the family to Israel. “Imagine a 15-year-old girl growing up in a very sheltered environment, with everything kind of simple and easy,” she explains, “and then my parents take me across the world, where my mother was traveling a lot—gone, basically—and my father was very busy,” as an orthopedic surgeon in the Yom Kippur War. Dubow Polins took the bus nearly an hour across Tel Aviv to school every day and returned in the dark. That sense of making your lonely way in a world too shadowy and complex to fully comprehend is at the novel’s elusive heart.

But what about its faith in enduring love? She has experienced that too—still is, in fact. When she was just out of college, her father liked to tell her about this charming young man he thought she should meet. As nothing appeals less than the prospect of a parent doubling as a matchmaker, she ignored him. But one day the two of them were enjoying a late lunch in an empty Dallas restaurant before she would fly back to New York when the same man entered the restaurant and recognized her father. He came over to their table. She liked the looks of him. Forty-five minutes later, she thought, “I’m going to marry this guy.” She did.
“It’s really a love story,” she says of Fare Forward. “What transcends time is love.”

—by Apollinaire Scherr

Yona Corn ’08, Photograph by Katie DonnellyYona Corn is a lyric mezzo-soprano with a passion for opera and classical musical theatre. Determined to build a career as a performer, Corn faces daunting odds, but she’s been cultivating some essentials, including resilience and a can-do attitude.

You’ve hit a few potholes on your career path. How have they affected you?
In 2009, I was playing Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro with the Amato Opera in the East Village. A boy, Cherubino cross-dresses as a girl. The hem on my dress was too long, and I tripped on stage, fell, and shattered my left [jaw] joint. I had surgery and made a complete recovery, but when you are faced with a potentially career-ending injury, you have a lot of time to think.
I also sing with the Oratorio Society of New York. Last fall, we were invited to perform at the Vatican. The night before we were to leave, I had a 102-degree fever and couldn’t travel. I missed the trip and the performance. But I’ve sung with the society at Carnegie Hall. I’m part of a 200-voice choir for a holiday performance of Handel’s Messiah. Not a moment goes by that I’m not grateful to be there.

How are you broadening your skills?
Recently I was a communications intern for the National Dance Institute, which was founded by Jacques d’Amboise, a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. The institute brings dance to schools where kids might not have been exposed to the arts. It was an opportunity for me to experience a different aspect of the arts. The kids were so happy to see the performers. It was wonderful to see artists sharing their skills with a population that needs it so badly. I’m now considering starting my own nonprofit organization.

How has your Barnard education enhanced your work?
It enriched my experience with music. I took a lot of music theory classes; I can place a piece of music in a historical time and analyze it. Now I’m at a point where I can instruct other people.

You don’t speak Italian. So how did you pull off a seemingly effortless rendition of the Italian national anthem at the Columbus Day wreath-laying ceremony at Columbus Circle?
I went to YouTube and did research to make sure I had the current version and the right verses in the right order. I’ve studied classical voice for a while, so I can sing in Italian. I practiced a lot. I met the Italian ambassador who said I did a pretty good job.

What keeps you motivated?
My advisor, Gail Archer [director of Chamber Choir] has always been so supportive. There has never been anyone who’s told me not to go for it, though saying you want a career in the arts can be a very big thing to say. I feel it’s just a question of the right audition at the right time with the right person.

—June D. Bell

Molly Friedrich ’74, Photograph by Brandon Schulman

Many have lamented the current state of book publishing. With independent bookstores closing in droves, publishing houses consolidating, and e-readers throwing the publishing model into chaos, it’s enough to make veterans of the business throw up their hands.

But not Molly Friedrich ’74, one of the industry’s most successful literary agents for the past 34 years. Her enthusiasm is undimmed. “It’s just so much fun!” she exclaims again and again, letting loose her trademark laugh, a low-pitched “Ha!” that is equal parts glee and self-satisfaction. “What’s exciting is being there first, being an original spotter of talent. It doesn’t ever get tired. It really doesn’t.” Calling a first-time author to say a publisher is making an offer “is as good as it gets. It’s so much fun to be part of changing a life.”

Friedrich has changed many lives in her career, as agent to some of the country’s top authors—among them blockbuster detective novelist Sue Grafton, Pulitzer Prize-winners Frank McCourt, Jane Smiley, and Elizabeth Strout, and bestselling novelists Melissa Bank and Terry McMillan—by wielding a potent mix of intelligence, charm, and determination.

“She is as savvy as can be, and really, really passionate,” says Bank, author of the 1999 short story collection The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, which was a runaway success.

Friedrich wins over authors and editors with the same doggedness with which she landed her first job in publishing, just after graduating from Barnard, where she majored in art history. In order to pass the typing test for an internship program at Doubleday, she spent “my entire last semester at Barnard typing the OP-ED page of The New York Times.” Still, her score was dismal. She took the test three more times, and finally, she says, “I think really just for my tenacity, they said, ‘We have to let her in.’”

A few years later, Friedrich took a job working for a literary agent, in large part because she and her husband were planning to have children and she knew she could have a more flexible schedule working on that side of the business instead of a corporate publishing house. The couple had two daughters, Julia and Lucy, now 30 and 25, and then adopted daughter P-Quy, now 14, from Vietnam, and a son, Fernando, now 9, from Guatemala. After close to three decades at the Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency, she formed the Friedrich Agency in 2007, representing mainly literary and commercial adult fiction, narrative nonfiction, and memoir.

When she sits down with a manuscript, Friedrich is looking for something that “moves me intellectually, or moves my groin, or moves my heart,” she says. “And when all three of those parts of a body are moved simultaneously, forget it!”

That’s when she makes the call that every author dreams of getting. But instead of heaping praise on the writer, she lists all the ways the book needs to be revised. The author of a thriller came to her office recently for “a four-hour editorial session” where Friedrich told him “every eighth word was an unnecessary word, and it was flabby, and we had to get all the adipose tissue out of it, and we want it to be cleanedup and ready for submission” in two weeks. And the author? “He was beside himself,” she reveals.

First-time author Elena Gorokhova broke out in hives the night before meeting Friedrich, the agent she hadn’t dared to hope would take on her memoir. As Friedrich went through the manuscript and reeled off everything that needed to be fixed, Gorokhova thought, “She’s obviously going to reject it.” Friedrich gave her two weeks for revisions, and later sold the book, A Mountain of Crumbs, to Simon & Schuster. “She’s so professional and so fabulous—nurturing and at the same time efficient and tough, like a great mother who has this tremendous love but at the same time she tells you what to do and gives you direction,” avows Gorokhova.

One of the keys to finding remarkable authors, Friedrich notes, is being accessible. “When you go to a party or an event—or a cheese store—you are inclusive,” she says, “open to the universe.” That attitude can yield manuscripts from “someone who has a sister who knows a cousin who lives in another state who met me at a barbeque in 1976.”

Snooping around helps too. At a booksellers’ convention more than 20 years ago, Friedrich decided to quiz the people waiting for autographs from Grafton, then a relatively new author with a line of alphabetical mysteries, who was then signing F is for Fugitive. Friedrich discovered a throng of independent booksellers who loved Grafton, leading her to an unusual proposal. She offered Grafton’s publisher a new multi-book contract on the condition that it ship 60,000 copies (a huge leap at the time from Grafton’s previous sales history) by the pub date, she explains. The strategy worked. After G is for Gumshoe was published, Grafton never had to look back.

“She’s a strong advocate for the writers she represents, and that’s somewhat rare,” says Carole DeSanti, vice president and editor at large at the Penguin Group, who is the editor for Bank and McMillan. “She gives unstintingly to her projects.”

Devoting so much attention to her authors is harder these days because of the changes in the publishing business. “It’s much, much more work now to be an agent than it was 20 years ago,” says Friedrich. With staff cuts at publishing houses, editors who used to have their own assistants now may share their assistant with one or even two other editors, she points out, leaving fewer people to work on an author’s book. And with newspapers cutting back on book reviews, it is more difficult to gain attention for a work. Whether the author will be adept at drumming up publicity is now crucial. “The whole nature of the business has changed so profoundly,” she acknowledges. “It used to be authors wrote the best books they could, and sometimes they were promotable and sometimes they weren’t, and it wasn’t devastating if they weren’t.”

Likewise, e-books have “shifted the paradigm so quickly” that nobody really knows what’s going to happen in the future, she says. Nevertheless, she doesn’t think much of e-readers, as least for herself. She tried one, but gave it away after a month.

In 2004, Friedrich shifted her own paradigm by taking on a new role in the publishing business: author. Her children’s book, You’re Not My REAL Mother!, came about after her daughter, P-Quy, made that declaration to Friedrich one afternoon while she was jumping into Friedrich’s arms in a swimming pool.
“With interracial adoption, for the first three years the child who does not look like you does not question the difference,” she says. But “when the first playdate comes home, around age 3 or 4, the child walks in, looks at you, looks at the child, and says, ‘Where’s your real mother?’” Friedrich wrote the book to give adopted children “a language for saying, ‘This is my real mother.’’’

In the book, which has drawings that resemble Friedrich and her daughter, the mom explains to her daughter, as Friedrich explained to P-Quy, that a real mother is the one who teaches you to count on your toes, plays tea party with you, and lets you put 20 bandages on a bruised knee when one will do.

The book was hatched over a lunch date. Friedrich was chatting about her daughter with an editor at Little, Brown and Company and mentioned the “you’re not my mother” declaration, along with her response. The editor said, “Oh, Molly, that’s a book.” What did Friedrich do? She negotiated the deal herself—on the spot. “I didn’t even think about getting an agent,” she adds. “Everything I’ve been trained to do went out the window!”

These days, Friedrich is passing that training along to daughter Lucy Carson, who recently landed a major deal for a young adult novel. “I’m preparing her to succeed me,” Friedrich says. But that’s somewhere down the road. For now, Friedrich is still reading manuscripts, making deals and lighting up when she talks about the new novel she is about to send out to editors.

“Who says publishing is dead?” she asks. “It is not. It’s flourishing. If you have the right conditions and the right hunger, the right sense of the magnetic field working, it’s all this kind of alchemy and it really works.”

—by Jennifer Greenstein Altmann


Advice On Finding a Literary Agent from Molly Friedrich

Do your homework

So much about agents “used to be shrouded in mystery, but now almost every agency has a Web site of some sort. You can find out an enormous amount about large and small agencies and how they function. I would say if you are a beginning writer, the best thing is probably not to go to the person whose name is on the door. Which is not to say that I don’t want to be approached. It’s just that the chances are that I’m not terribly hungry right now. Going to somebody who is younger and slightly hungrier is always very smart.”

Focus on the query letter

“It’s really important for a writer to know how to pitch his or her work, to describe it efficiently and compellingly. It’s vital.” The tone of the query letter should be “as though you were writing to a sibling with whom you have not been in touch for a couple of years.”

Get the details right

“Someone writes to me as M-o-l-l-i-e Friedrichson, I don’t even get to the first line, because the letter has already indicated such a degree of sloppiness. And that sloppiness is going to be translated right into their manuscript.”

Send your manuscript out later rather than sooner

“A lot of writers get so excited about the fact that they’ve written a book that they tend to part with it too soon. They tend to squander their one or two great names of agents early, and they really need to not do that. They need not workshop something to death, but should make sure it’s as good as they can possibly make it before they part with it. You don’t want to use your agent as your dry-run editor.”

Renowned Haitian-born writer Edwidge Danticat came to Brooklyn, New York, at age 12. Around the same time, she read her first English-language book, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, with a dictionary in hand. “I remember thinking that book is so raw and honest, all the things [Angelou] says, and she’s still walking around. Coming from a culture where you keep your business to yourself, it was so liberating,” says Danticat.

In her latest book, Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, Danticat explores the connection between art and danger, particularly for those artists in exile from countries in peril. With a title that references a 1950s lecture given by Albert Camus about the responsibility of an artist in the time of crisis, the book examines how creativity thrives under difficult circumstances. Danticat discussed her work on an October afternoon in The Diana Center’s Event Oval, in the first planned talk of the Distinguished Alumnae Series sponsored by the Africana studies department. The goal of the series is “to honor the work of alumnae who inspire us, who think about race, gender, and ethnicity beyond the university setting,” says Tina Campt, director of the department, who opened the event. Artists who make an impact on the world and how we see it can help inspire others to realize their own powerful potential.

Beginning with her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, published in 1994, just four years after her graduation, the prolific Danticat has created a significant body of work. She was a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award for her 2007 memior, Brother, I’m Dying; in 2009 she received a coveted MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant. Introducing Danticat, Professor Kaiama Glover referred to her as a woman who everyone from Oprah Winfrey to The New Yorker would like to claim as their own. The Barnard community happily makes that claim.

Edwidge Danticat, Photo by Asiya Khaki ’09 Create Dangerously, published in 2010, is not a handbook on how to create, rather it seeks information by taking “X-rays of artists,” according to Danticat. “I’m writing about a particular time in Haitian history, in a period that followed the earthquake, when you saw a flowering of the arts even in a most impossible moment that the country was facing,” she said in an interview prior to the event. “People were even more determined to display the new reality for the country.” One such example is graffiti artist Jerry Rosembert Moise, whose inspirational and hopeful tags on walls across the city of Port-au-Prince (such as Haiti pap peri or “Haiti will not perish”) have resonated nationally. The book is also about reading dangerously. She writes, “This is what I always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.”

During the event, Danticat read a portion from Create that details a historic moment for Haiti in 1964, when François “Papa Doc” Duvalier called a national day off to allow citizens to witness the execution of two young men, Marcel Numa and Louis Druin. Emigrants from Haiti years earlier, they were writers and intellectuals who had studied, worked, and pursued happy lives in America before deciding to return on an unsuccessful guerrilla mission to end Duvalier’s brutal regime. Their deaths became a national spectacle, but also had an unintended effect on the Haitian artistic community that Danticat’s parents belonged to at the time. Their response was to mount their own dangerous production of Camus’ play Caligula, about a brutal and ridiculous Roman dictator. Staged five years before Danticat herself was born, the event has always resonated and inspired her creatively. In her talk, Danticat declared, “To create dangerously is to create fearlessly … bravely moving forward even when it feels as though we are chasing or being chased by ghosts.”

“Since this book has come out people say, ‘I live in a peaceful way, there is no war where I am, so it doesn’t concern me.’ But every act of creation is a kind of risky one, every artist comes face to face with that,” she says. “It takes some act of courage to extract things from yourself and put them out there no matter what the environment.”

During a Q&A session with the audience, led by Professor Quandra Prettyman, her mentor since her first-year seminar, Danticat talked about how she wanted to always have writing in her life. Her parents preferred she become a nurse or—her father’s suggestion—a brain surgeon who writes on the weekends. At Barnard she took any class that allowed her to read more. “I would go to Milbank and look at that box with the writers,” she says. “If you’re a writer I would recommend it as a visualization exercise. I would look at Ntozake Shange, [Thulani] Davis, [Zora Neale] Hurston. I would just imagine getting in that box.” To this day, she writes for the girl she was then, and others like her, who read to know the lives of others.

These days, the most difficult part of creating for Danticat is striking that balance between work and family. In addition to mingling with the likes of Oprah and Toni Morrison, she is active in several charities aimed to rebuild Haiti, including Li Li Li (“Read Read Read”) a program that involves young adults reading in Creole to children displaced by the earthquake, and 10x10, a group that encourages the importance of education in the lives of young girls. She is also mother to two children, ages 2 and 6.

Danticat recalls the words of former Barnard president Ellen Futter ’71: “You can do everything, but perhaps not all at the same time.” Danticat does what she can. She continues to write in the evenings, but it is not the sole pursuit it once was. Still, in life as in art, problems can have a positive side. “I feel like all of the different stages of life add layers and hopefully it makes the work deeper.”

—by Melissa Phipps

Watch highlights from Edwidge's visit.

The beginning of the academic year 2011-2012 welcomed improvements and changes to the Barnard campus—some more strikingly apparent than others. Here, we review some of the more noteworthy and visually arresting enhancements to the physical plant of this great institution. Not all improvements were photogenic: While extended library hours are a boon to the entire campus community, it’s hard to photograph them.

Liz’s Place
1st Floor, The Diana Center

Liz's Place, The Diana Center, Photograph by Courtney Apple

Liz’s Place, an informal café generously funded by trustee Ravi Singh and named for his late wife, Elizabeth Yeh Singh ’83, is always light-filled and convivial, with a great view of the campus green and, in spring, a beloved flowering magnolia tree. Now, with comfortable, new, and colorful seating, a Starbucks coffee menu, and a large flat-screen television, Liz’s Place attracts even more students, staff, and faculty for a quick bite, casual meetings, and study.


Dance studio
3rd Floor, Barnard Hall

Dance Studio, Barnard Hall, Photograph by Courtney Apple

Dancers train hard and practice for many hours. To make this intensive study and creative research more feasible, a new dance studio for Barnard’s stellar department has found a home on the third floor of Barnard Hall. What makes the space ideal for technique and choreography is a professional “sprung” floor—designed to have a softer feel, absorb shocks, reduce injuries, and allow the department to accommodate the demand for its classes.


The Jan R. & Marley Blue Lewis Parlor
1st Floor, Brooks Hall

Lewis Parlor, Photograph by Courtney Apple

Student requests for more quiet study space brought about a transformation of the signature room of Brooks. The expansive space features Arts-and-Crafts-styled library tables with electrical outlets for laptops and period reading lamps that provide warm illumination. Comfortable wing chairs, neutral colors, and richly patterned carpets complete this latest restoration, which was begun in 2005 with a generous gift from Jan R. Lewis PA05, and continued with her enthusiastic support. The parlor’s refurbishment now recalls the original early twentieth-century interior design created by legendary decorator Elsie de Wolfe.


2nd Floor, Barnard Hall

Offices, Barnard Hall, Photograph by Courtney Apple

Reconfigured space and contemporary interior design from the firm FXFOWLE give a dramatic, yet soothing, look to the suite of second-floor offices that now house the Consortium for Critical Interdisciplinary Studies, a program that includes Africana studies, American studies, and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. Also at home here: the Writing and Speaking Fellows programs, and the office of the manager of selected academic programs. In addition to the lime upholstery, soft gray wall color, and strié-woven carpeting that picks up the colors of both, a wall of smoky glass panels features appliqués of variegated leaves designed by Gail Solomon that recall those of the much-loved magnolia tree on the campus green.


Chemistry Department
6th Floor, Altschul Hall

Chemistry Lab 6Th Floor, Altschul Hall, Photograph by Courtney Apple

A grant from the National Science Foundation combined with College funds led to the renovation of the chemistry department’s teaching and research laboratories and office space on the sixth floor of Altschul Hall over the past summer. The modernization comes at a time when expanding enrollment in chemistry over the last decade pressed hard on existing facilities; the update spearheads future enhancements to the science facilities in Altschul.


The Hive
1st Floor, Altschul Hall

The Hive, Altschul Hall, Photograph by Courtney Apple

The first floor of Altschul Hall once housed the Altschul Atrium, a coffee shop and informal dining space, which opened during the construction of The Diana Center. The space languished after the opening of the Diana, but responding to students who expressed a desire for “hang-out” spaces, President Spar asked the architecture department for ideas and student input to repurpose the area. Led by two architecture department graduates, Shanshan Qi ’06 and Charles Curan CC ’06, current architecture students generated ideas and drew out possible designs. Professor Todd Rouhe’s architecture firm Common Room turned those designs into a plan for the redo. Zoe Namerow ’13 and John Buonocore CC ’12 designed the hexagonal seating. The result is “The Hive,” a contemporary meeting area for studying and socializing.

—Annette Stramesi Kahn ’67

Martha Harris Moskowitz ’57, a born-and-bred New Yorker who was raised on the Lower East Side, had “never had a country experience” when she entered Barnard. The allure of getting away from the city was compelling, so she eagerly signed up for a barbecue at Barnard Camp (the original name) during her first-year fall semester. She was sold. “It appealed to me,” says Moskowitz. “It was something that was out of the ordinary.”

Indeed it was. Barnard Camp, opened officially on October 15, 1933, was located in nearby Westchester County in Ossining. Students had to pump their own water, heat it on a propane stove for cooking and cleaning (the cold-water outdoor shower was brisk) as well as buy and prepare their own meals. Socializing was simple, focused on telling stories around the living room, or at an outdoor campfire, singing folk songs. Moskowitz recalls, “I learned a lot of folk songs. Living in Alphabet City, you didn’t learn a lot of folk songs.”

The desire to offer Barnard students (many of whom were urban New Yorkers) an experience that was distinctly different from the pressures of the Morningside Heights’ campus developed as early as 1918, when students had been able to retreat to a farm in Bedford, New York. During the 1920s, Barnard students escaped to campsites around the metropolitan area, ultimately asking the administration for a permanent place to call their own. The original 10-acre site was bought for $9,000 with funds raised by alumnae through ticket sales to Greek Games, donations, and benefits. By 1938, the camp was 20 acres with one main cabin; two rooms with bunks could sleep 15 to 20 students. There were outhouses connected to refuse pits; the lake was considered the best option for getting clean. Seasonal activities included hiking, ice-skating, swimming, and skiing. After the retirement of the physical education department chair, Margaret Holland, who was an adviser for the camp, the cabin was renamed “Holly House.”

Barnard Camp lettering by Brian Rea

Neither the Forest of Arden nor the Garden of Eden (Holly House was surprisingly close to the Sing Sing state prison), the camp was especially valuable for commuters who enjoyed the opportunity to get to know dorm students in a non-classroom setting.

“As a city person, it was so nice that we could go someplace,” says Millicent Alter ’57, who was raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn. She vividly remembers the food—pancakes for breakfast, cold cuts for lunch, and hot dogs and baked beans for dinner. As a relatively inexperienced cook, Alter recalls how she bought coffee beans at the local supermarket but didn’t know they needed to be ground. No matter. With her camp mates, they put the beans into a pillowcase and tried to pulverize them; but three students still had to walk back to town to get the beans ground so they could brew coffee.

Holly House had other attractions. “It was a way to get out of the house,” laughs Gaya Feinerman Brodnitz ’57, who commuted to Barnard from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. She also liked the modest cost, $5 for the weekend, which included food, and the chance to watch the Tappan Zee Bridge being built as she rode the train north to Croton-on-Hudson.

There was a lightheartedness and simplicity to the camp’s activities, not to mention assorted pranks, she recalls. One Halloween, some senior girls were at the camp with a group of first-years. “All of a sudden, things were going ‘bump in the night,’” says Brodnitz. Nervous first-years (who had let their imaginations run wild thinking about escapees from Sing Sing) were consoled with roasted marshmallows from the seniors who had pulled the prank. There was also a day when the students decided to have only blue food, including blue mayonnaise. “It was very old-fashioned, and very relaxing,” declares Brodnitz.

By the 1960s, the quaint charms of Holly House were less attractive to undergraduates, and the camp was ultimately sold in 1992. But, for those who had spent memorable weekends in the woods, the appeal was undeniable. “You got to know people who went to camp with you,” says Moskowitz. “It added to the Barnard experience. I have fond memories of going up there. It made us feel closer to the College. We made friendships across the classes.”

—by Merri Rosenberg ’78

Dianne Dwyer Modestini ’68, Photograph by Andy RyanConservator Dianne Dwyer Modestini ’68

In 2007, Dianne Dwyer Modestini was restoring a painting that she believed to be a picture of Christ known as Salvator Mundi or “Savior of the World” by the great Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci. Ultimately, other experts in the field reinforced her conviction. It was no doubt a major milestone in her highly respected career.

A love of painting, combined with a proclivity to care for people and things, made conservation a natural choice for Modestini. At Barnard she majored in art history; she was fortunate to study with great faculty, including legendary art historian Julius Held. “It was through him that I became interested in conservation,” she says. Held often included information about the actual size and physical state of works of art in his lectures. Modestini later learned that he had trained as a restorer. He introduced her to a paintings conservator who advised her to apply to an institute in Brussels. She discovered they were no longer training novice students. Held then encouraged her to apply to a new conservation-studies group being formed in Cooperstown, New York. Since it was not set to start for another year, she registered at the University of Florence and spent a year in Italy, “learning Italian and soaking up everything I could,” she says. Upon her return, she began the Cooperstown program. She later studied the conservation of wall paintings in Rome with Laura and Paolo Mora, two esteemed Italian restorers.

Today, Modestini works in consultation with public and private collections as well as with dealers and collectors. Salvator Mundi may be her most exciting project thus far, especially since there are only some 15 known surviving paintings by Leonardo. The work was damaged, and Modestini used images of the Mona Lisa for comparison in order to repair it correctly. As she progressed, she came to the realization that the works were by the same artist. She explains more about the master’s depiction of Christ in relation to his other known works, “In each of his surviving paintings, he sets himself a different task which reflects his studies of the natural world. In the Salvator Mundi, he set the most impossible task of all, which was to make a portrait of a divinity.” Giorgio Vasari, an artist who wrote The Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, first published in 1550, said that Leonardo did not finish the head of Christ in The Last Supper precisely for this reason. But the Salvator Mundi was certainly done after The Last Supper, and at approximately the same time, circa 1500, that he began the Mona Lisa.

Conservation is a very detailed process filled with carefully made choices about the restoration of a piece. The most important issues have to do with the work’s state; few old master paintings are in pristine condition. From the moment a painting leaves the studio, the materials used to create it begin to alter in different ways. Cleaning a work becomes the basis for everything that happens afterward. Modestini describes how in high contrast paintings, those painted on a dark ground: “The difference between light and darks increases dramatically due to changes that occur over time; the varnish removal needs to take this into account so that the formal values are balanced.” There is also the issue of retouching. In Italy, there is a more conservative approach, while in the U.S., with some exceptions, imitative retouching has been the norm. “The problem with this is to know when to stop. If you take out every crack, spot, and defect, the painting can end up looking like a reproduction,” she says.

And, the same rules cannot be applied to every painting. In the early twentieth-century, when conservators were seeking to further formalize the profession, some tried to make the process more scientific with rules that could be universally applied. But every painting presents different problems: Some are fairly straightforward, others are quite complicated, and many little decisions have to be taken along the way to do what’s best for the work.

Is the goal of the conservator’s work to return a painting to its original state? Modestini says no. “We try to understand as well as we can the materials that were used to make a painting, partly to be able to imagine what the work might have looked like 500 years ago,” she says. “The best we can do is to maintain harmony among the elements that have gone out of sync so that the formal values—shape, perspective, volume, hues, transitions—are in keeping with one another.”

Technological advances have also changed the conservator’s work. The use of imaging with infrared wavelengths has been revolutionary in revealing the layers of paintings, enabling us to see underdrawings and changes the artist, or others, made to the piece. Work at the National Gallery in London on pigments and binders (the substances that bind the paint and cause it to adhere to a surface) have helped to understand paintings and the original intentions of artists.

Understanding the process and purpose in creating a work is the result of hours of the conservator’s study and skills and can last weeks, months, even years. Modestini acknowledged the close relationship that exists between a conservator and a work of art. “I have experienced this with the Salvator Mundi,” she says. “It has, in some ways, changed my life.”

Nadine Orenstein ’83, Photograph by Andy RyanCurator Nadine Orenstein ’83

Whether for a casual stroll or a required class, many a Barnard student has found herself at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, delighting in the wonders of one of our nation’s preeminent cultural treasures. Some are lucky enough to find careers there as did Nadine Orenstein. In what started as an internship nearly two decades ago, Orenstein, now a curator in the department of drawings and prints, continues to bring her passion and expertise to do research, create exhibitions, and care for a collection she loves. She is a specialist in northern European prints—Dutch, Flemish, and German—most notably the works of Rembrandt.

Orenstein grew up in New York City, where she was exposed to myriad artistic and cultural experiences, and where she made many visits to the Met. Since her father is French, she often took trips to Europe with her family and enjoyed seeing castles and museums. In high school, she majored in art, and, later, majored in art history at Barnard. On the heels of graduation Orenstein enrolled at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. While obtaining her PhD she participated in a curatorial studies program run by the institute at the Met, enhancing her knowledge in Dutch prints. She later completed an internship, traveling to the Netherlands for dissertation research. Orenstein’s first full-time job was in the museum’s Print Study Room. Later, she became a curatorial assistant, which eventually led to a curator position. From an early age, Orenstein liked the idea of what curators did. “I thought they had wine and cheese parties and got to travel,” she laughs.

But exhibition receptions and accompanying artworks around the globe are just part of the job. Curators also build collections through buying works at auction and cultivating potential donors, which also helps raise money. Orenstein lectures and gives tours at the museum. She also teaches on the side. “Every day is something different,” she says. “One day you could be talking to the director of the museum, the next day you could be talking to a truck driver while supervising a delivery.” Research on the collection is of prime importance, as it forms the basis of many exhibits, but also allows Orenstein to develop her scholarship; she’s on the editorial board of Print Quarterly, the journal of her field.

Her latest project at the Met is “Infinite Jest: Caricature and Satire from Leonardo to Levine,” on view until March 4, 2012. Orenstein explained the curatorial process using the exhibit as a case study. “It’s about a four-year process,” she begins. It starts with an idea, and in this case, Orenstein’s colleague. Associate Curator Constance McPhee, who works on British caricature, suggested they mine the Met’s plentiful holdings of such artists as Thomas Rowlandson and James Gillray. Orenstein explored French caricature and other nationalities. She describes the intentions and theme of the show: “Instead of a chronological march through time, we wanted to show continuity in how caricaturists knew their subjects and understood past traditions. We wanted to show the artistry and the approaches they used.” Orenstein and McPhee tried to choose works that were comprehensible and funny even if viewers did not know the stories behind them.

The challenge? A lot of the material had not been researched well; both curators found themselves doing a great deal of it, with catalogue text submitted a year in advance of the opening. She and McPhee wanted to do something unique and more substantial than a lot of other museums that were doing caricature shows in the same period. The shows can be attributed in part to the economy: Museums like to exhibit works they already own, due to the costs of receiving artworks on loan, which can be quite expensive. “Caricature is something many museums have lots of, and the works are easy to exhibit,” she explains.

Seeing how it all fits in the gallery and how all the pieces interact on the walls is the “fun part” according to Orenstein. The exhibition is divided into four sections, beginning with an exploration of the building blocks of caricature. In a classic sense, caricatures (derived from the Italian carico and caricare, “to load” and “to exaggerate”) are generally thought of as images that distort faces and physiques, and when combined with satire, make personal, political, or social statements. The show’s second section consists of social satire, which experienced a golden age in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century France and Britain. The third area focuses on politics while the last group of images relate to notable people from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries.

The show has been popular (Orenstein says some people have spent two hours in the galleries), in keeping with previous special exhibitions of the same media. “There is a sizeable audience and a misconception that people don’t want to make the effort to look at things done in black-and-white,” she observes. She thinks prints and drawings require a different kind of looking, one that stems from the personal and gets people to look up close to think about the details and the story behind what they are seeing.

The images in the exhibition represent only a fraction of the more than 1.2 million works that make up the Metropolitan’s drawings and prints collection, whose history began in the early twentieth century. Orenstein clarifies, “When it was created, anything printed was considered part of the history of print-making. It started as a collection of prints and photographs.” What the public might not know is that the museum also holds other types of print material, from baseball cards to eighteenth-century Valentines. Because these images are sensitive to light and humidity, works are constantly rotated in the galleries. What is not on view can be examined in the drawings and prints study room by appointment. What is the best part of being a curator at one of the world’s best museums? “You get a big machine behind you to put on the shows,” responds Orenstein. She cited the support she gets from the Met’s excellent editorial and design departments. She works with museum educators to create public programs and tours. Colleagues at other institutions have to do most things themselves, while Met curators like Orenstein are able to focus more on the catalogue and putting together the exhibition; “If you do even a small show, a lot of people are involved in it, and a lot of people see it. It’s the great part of working at the Met. The staff here brings very high standards [to the exhibitions].”

For links to information about the exhibit and an article by Nadine Orenstein, go to

—by Stephanie Shestakow ’98

Constance Hess Williams, Photo by Courtney Apple, December 2011Constance Hess Williams is a woman who spent much of her career as a leader, and she is anxious to pass the torch. A member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for five years beginning in 1997 and a Pennsylvania state senator for two terms from 2001 to 2008, Williams is emphatic: Women must play a larger role in both state and national elective offices. “My greatest wish is for 50 percent of all elected officials to be women, since we are 50 percent or more of
the population,” she says. She has put a lot of thought and financial resources toward this goal, trying to determine how to give more women the confidence and self-assurance to lead. While some aspects of being a leader are innate, Williams believes there is a certain language of leadership that one can only learn by being around other leaders. Young women, particularly those attending liberal-arts colleges, should have exposure to politicians, businesspeople, and other leaders. And they need to learn the language of leadership to join the conversation.

It was this notion that inspired Williams last summer to endow the directorship of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard. Named for the Greek warrior goddess known for wisdom and rational intellect, the center is committed to creating and supporting visionary women leaders through fellowships, mentoring, scholars programs, and other initiatives that put young women in spheres of influence. The center is also creating its own power circles, reaching out to existing leaders among Barnard alumnae as well as members of the community at large for inspiration and guidance. Williams’s support will help cement Athena’s current leadership: Kathryn Kolbert, who has been with the center from its inception, has been named the first Constance Hess Williams Director of the Athena Center.

Anyone walking through Barnard Hall these days may happen on one of the center’s flyers with the tag line: “Glass Ceilings Are Meant to Be Broken.” Williams is a bit of ceiling-breaker herself, although she did not initially set out to be one. The daughter of oil magnate and onetime owner of the Jets football team, Leon Hess, Williams was encouraged to study art, literature, and music. “To be a good wife,” she says. This was typical among women at Barnard, even in the Mad Men era. Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking Feminine Mystique was a recently published sensation, but the woman’s movement had not yet taken root. “In my graduating class at Barnard, one either was married or was going to graduate school. I think I was one of only a few of my classmates who went to work,” she notes. Williams never reflected on what she wanted to be: She studied English at Barnard because she loved books and never considered anything else. It was expected that she would find a good husband and work to be his helpmate. Leadership was not part of the equation.

Years after graduation, working in direct marketing at a small publishing house in Philadelphia, she was often frustrated in her attempts to lead on a project. As soon as she was close enough to close a deal, the male heads of the publishing house would take over. When her brother suggested she go to business school, she took the advice and pursued her MBA at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Williams learned “the vocabulary and the language of leadership” at Wharton: “I gained confidence. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, if you don’t know how to have the conversation,” insists Williams. Exposure to leaders helped her understand how to have that conversation. It opened doors to leadership in her local Democratic party, to run for election herself, to pass key legislation, and to become a leader of the Democratic caucus in the Pennsylvania Senate.

A Barnard trustee for 10 years during the 1990s, Williams has been an active supporter of the College. Under Judith Shapiro’s presidency, Williams established the Constance Hess Williams Fund for Women in Politics in 2005, which aimed to help students gain real-world political experience by funding paid internships to work on political campaigns, in governmental agencies, and in the offices of public officials. The success of this leadership initiative provided one of the catalysts for creating the Athena Center. “When Debora Spar came in, she really wanted to institutionalize this leadership. That’s how Athena evolved. It went beyond political leadership,” says Williams.

The Athena Center’s own leadership is a point of pride for Williams. Kathryn Kolbert is a renowned civil-rights lawyer who has long fought for women’s and reproductive rights; she also has extensive experience in the nonprofit world. A fellow Philadelphian, Kolbert is also an old friend. “I’ve known her for years. Kitty is a great leader, she brings much to the table,” enthuses Williams.

Williams herself will remain at the table, as a member of the center’s board of advisors. Retired from politics after her Senate term ended in 2009, she spends most of her time these days as the chair of the board of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But Williams hopes to remain an active part of Athena’s progress and plans. Having celebrated her 45th reunion in 2011, she is thrilled that the center’s programs are so competitive, attracting the best and brightest students. “That’s another reason the center is important,” she explains. “Women of each generation need to ensure that expectations for women following them are high.”

—by Melissa Phipps

New boiler in Plimpton Hall, photograph by Courtney Apple