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Tasting spring through architecture

BY HANNA ROSMAN | FEBRUARY 25, 2010 7:30 AM

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D. Fairchild Ruggles thinks studying art is like time travel.

The art historian will give a lecture titled “The Alhambra: Real and Imagined” at 5:15 p.m. today in the Main Library’s Shambaugh Auditorium. The discussion will focus on the Alhambra, of Grenada, Spain, an Islamic citadel and will cover different points of history through a PowerPoint presentation. The lecture is open to the public, and it will be followed by a discussion.

For Ruggles, it is a chance to mentally get away from the harsh Midwestern weather.

“On a snowy, cold day, for one hour, we are going to a sunny, warm place,” she said. “You can transport yourself there.”

The Massachusetts native is educated as an art historian with interest in architecture and landscape, but she initially began as a studio artist. She started out, as many students do, by studying Spanish architecture. She slowly shifted her interest in drawing and ceramics the history of gardens, then studied the “built environment,” which she defines as an inhabited space that we live in.

“I realized I like talking about it more than doing it,” Ruggles said.

Her areas of interest center on Spain and India, primarily the Medieval Islam style. The architectural structures in those areas are generally freer compared with the boxed-in style of areas with harsher weather that are built to keep the elements of nature out.

“I was attracted to both parts of the world because they are very open to architecture because of the climate,” Ruggles said.

The art historian is also interested in the relationship between an environment and its inhabitants. She believes that gardens and architecture are closely defined and should not be separated.

“The inhabited environment that we live in reflects society,” she said.

Ruggles is also intrigued by the feminine aspects of art, an interest sparked when she was a college student. The visibility of women in history in particular interested her.

“The space of women as patrons of the arts is hidden away and oversimplified,” Ruggles said.

UI art Associate Professor Barbara Mooney teaches Ruggles’ research on the built environment in her classroom. Her students will attend the lecture for class credit.

“Gardens are like paintings and sculptures,” Mooney said. “They’re not just lovely things, and students are learning multicultural lessons.”

The professor believes there is a strong relationship between humankind and nature. To her, gardens are not only pretty, they provide sustainability. Mooney is furthering her efforts towards educating students in this area by trying to make it a general-education requirement for next spring.


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