It is mediums such as architecture and crafts that Pfaffenroth will focus on next year when she travels to Vienna on a Fulbright Scholarship to study the art nouveau movement. “The art nouveau movement wasn’t just about painting, but was about architecture and design,” said Pfaffenroth, who added that she hopes to explore “how people who were just craftsmen became artists.”
Pfaffenroth’s interest in art began before she reached Amherst. “My parents traveled so much, and in every city we went to, we would go to the museum,” she said. “I really began to appreciate and understand the visual definition of certain styles.”
Although her family’s travels included trips to China, Egypt and Turkey, Pfaffenroth’s primary interest remained in European arts. “It’s what I feel I’ve had the most exposure to,” she said. “Other places, even though they’re just as fascinating, I don’t understand them as much.”
Being at Amherst enabled Pfaffenroth to develop her interest in art more fully. “It helped me to know how to study these things I had been exposed to,” she said. “It helped me learn how to look at them and write about them.”
For her senior thesis in European studies, Pfaffenroth studied how turn-of-the-century art nouveau artists Hector Guimard (France) and Charles Rennie MacKintosh (Scotland) tried to create atmospheres, such as rooms and buildings, as opposed to isolated works of art. She explored “the desire to design a whole environment in the art nouveau movement.”
Pfaffenroth was inspired to study Guimard after seeing his Paris subway designs, which she described as “spooky” and “very organic.” She discovered MacKintosh this past summer while taking a course on decorative arts at Christie’s in New York City. “He uses geometry and large fields of color, which is very modern in concept,” Pfaffenroth said. “No one before that-that I can think of-had such a style.”
Seeing the whole picture
In addition to European studies, Pfaffenroth majored in French and fine arts. Pfaffenroth said that she had known since high school that she wanted to major in arts. She was inspired to be a European studies major partly by her first-year seminar, “Reading Paris,” with Professor of French and European Studies Ronald Rosbottom. In that class, Pfaffenroth said, they explored Paris through literature, art and architecture. “I really enjoy looking at culture in more than one way,” Pfaffenroth said.
The European studies major also appealed to her as a way to avoid choosing between two languages: French and German. “I hate picking favorites, so I copped out and chose the European studies major,” she said. “Then I realized I would have to go abroad and pick one anyway.”
After spending the first semester of her junior year in Paris, Pfaffenroth needed only two more French classes to satisfy her major. But for her Fulbright application, Pfaffenroth applied to Vienna, so she could resharpen her German skills.
“Being a triple major kept me from doing other things, but I really enjoyed the courses I took and would have taken them anyway,” she said.
The most challenging part of her majors, according to Pfaffenroth, was her studio art classes, since before Amherst she had mostly focused just on reading and writing about art. “Here I was learning technique and what an artist had to think about,” said Pfaffenroth. “I think creation is much harder than history.”
A futuristic design
“The first thing I’m going to do is buy a guidebook and study it this summer,” Pfaffenroth said of her plans for next year. “I’ll get to know the city by walking around and taking public transportation.”
After her year in Austria, Pfaffenroth plans either to work or to go to graduate school in European art history or decorative arts. She would like to hold an art- or art history-related position, such as a consultant to set designers creating period sets: “This year, I’ve realized that rather than just doing art history, I want to do something creative and productive that incorporates my art history knowledge,” she said.