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WVU Art History Department visits Winthrop University

WVU Undergradate students Riley “Red” Klug (left) and Samuel Hensley (center) with Teaching Assistant Professor of Art History Megan Leight (right),

Members of the West Virginia University Art History department traveled to Rock Hill, South Carolina to join faculty and students in the Department of Anthropology at Winthrop University on a collaborative exhibition of Pre-Columbian artifacts from the Salazar Collection in honor of the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States.

On display through October 1, 2021 at the Louise Pettus Archive in Rock Hill, South Carolina, the exhibition "Preserved in Clay and Stone: Celebrating the History of Ancient Latin America" features 20 objects from the Salazar Latin American Artifacts Collection. The works represent several periods of Latin American culture and history and were selected for their emphasis on gender roles and animal imagery. 

WVU Honors student in Art History Riley “Red” Klug holds a Costa Rican sculpture from the Salazar Collection at the Louise Pettus Archives, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, South Carolina.

The exhibition objects were extensively researched by WVU Teaching Assistant Professor of Art History Megan Leight and undergraduate students Samuel Hensley, Riley “Red” Klug, and Grace Belknap, all of whom are in WVU's Art History and Research Apprenticeship program. Leight’s students combed through old ceramic volumes, dissertations on stone sculpture, and decades-old exhibition catalogs to uncover information about the unique objects in the Salazar Collection. 

Klug noted their participation in the exhibition and the RAP program has, “given me great foundations to become a better researcher.” Before this program and this exhibit, Klug wrote they “really had no experience with anything research related. This project helped me dive deeper into a focus area that I hadn’t really explored before now, and I genuinely love it… I cannot wait to continue working with the Pre-Colombian ocarinas in the collection, which are now the focus of my research with RAP.” 

WVU Honors Art History student Samuel Hensley peers into the temporary holding for the Salazar Collection at the Louise Pettus Archives, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Leight worked alongside her colleague Brent Woodfill, associate professor of anthropology at Winthrop University, and his undergraduate researcher Brandon Messmann who photographed all of the works of art, took measurement data, and shared the images through a Shared Google Drive everyone could access. The collaborative exhibition was a months-long process, spanning the summer to ensure it was a success at the beginning of the fall term. 

Klug, Hensley, and Leight presented the overview of their research on Sept. 16 at the Pettus Archive in Rock Hill, South Carolina. They discussed the collection in general as well as the purpose and significance of select artifacts. Following the lecture, faculty and students answered questions from the audience and examined the artworks up-close in the Pettus Archive. Hensley noted, “I’ve noticed major growth in my research skills since I’ve started working on more in-depth projects like this one. Professor Leight has helped me develop strong academic strategies that I’m really happy with, and working on projects that go beyond the constraints of a typical class is building my confidence in my ability to succeed at graduate-level research.” 

WVU Teaching Assistant Professor Megan Leight lecturing on a Costa Rican female effigy sculpture in the “Preserved in Clay and Stone: Celebrating the History of Ancient Latin America” exhibition, which is currently on display at the Louise Pettus Archive

On Friday, WVU students also viewed Pre-Columbian works of art at the Mint Museum Randolph in Charlotte, North Carolina before returning to West Virginia. Hensley shared, “it was wonderful to finally have the opportunity to see these kinds of artifacts in-person.”

Art History student researchers from WVU received travel support from the Margaret Tavenner Rajam Art History Endowment to offset the cost of the overnight stay in Charlotte, North Carolina. Leight received a College of Creative Arts (CCA) Professional Grant for the Winthrop event. Leight was also a recipient of a 2021 Distinction in Mentoring Undergraduates in Research award from the Office of Undergraduate Research at WVU.