Art history and French double major senior Jacqueline Christensen debuted her exhibition “The Manuscripts of Mont-Saint-Michel” on Monday April 24 as part of her senior thesis. For the past year, Christensen has been studying the Celtic influences on the monastery at Mont-Saint-Michel in Northern France. To take her research a step further, she curated an art exhibition to mimick the illuminated manuscripts created at Mont Saint-Michel, which reflect the different cultural influences through artistic elements and styles.
Christensen’s interests and the path of her research came together naturally. Her thesis was inspired by her experiences studying abroad in France in spring 2016, when she visited the monastery at Mont Saint-Michel.
“I just had this incredible sense of belonging there. I felt so attached to the place and I didn’t know why,” she said. “The only other time I felt that way in the past was when I visited Ireland with my family.”
The Celtic people are usually associated with Ireland, but in the Middle Ages groups of Celts migrated downward and settled in French monasteries. After being conquered by the Roman Empire, the Celtic people slowly converted to Christianity at their own pace, creating their own unique Christian practices.
Realizing the potential connection between her experiences, Christensen chose to delve deeper into the history of Mont Saint-Michel, verifying that the monastery is historically representative of the convergence of Celtic influences and the Christian cult of Saint Michael.
Christensen completed her thesis paper in the fall semester, but needed a way to continue her research into the spring. Upon the recommendation of a professor, she decided to use her skills in watercolor painting to further her studies.
“I’ve always loved painting,” she said, “but I’ve never been able to really incorporate it into any of my academics.”
At first, she was unsure on how to blend art into the thesis, but after stumbling upon images of the manuscripts created at Mont Saint-Michel, she could immediately recognize the Celtic artistry. These manuscripts acted as proof for her conjectures about the culture of the monastery. As a result, she decided to recreate them herself as a visual representation of all the work she had done for her thesis.
The exhibition and Christensen’s research as a whole are an incredible testament to how art can enrich our understanding of people, cultures and academic fields. Using watercolor started as a casual suggestion from a professor, and ended up leading her to the proof that tied her whole thesis together.
For Christensen, art is not only a key tool in exemplifying her claims, but also a source of personal fulfillment in being able to do something she loves.
“It was an extremely fulfilling journey,” she said. “It gave me the opportunity to pursue a passion that I’ve always had in the academic context.”
But to Christensen, this exhibition is more than just a representation of her research—it’s an act of advocating and a form of support for the arts at Geneseo. Christensen is also the president and co-founder of the Art History Association, which has promoted other student exhibitions in the past.
“I really wanted to take this opportunity [through the exhibit] to promote the arts and as president of the Art History Association, that has kind of been our goal,” she said.
She even hopes that with enough student support, the administration will reinstate an official art department at Geneseo.
“I wanted to take this kind of activist approach because there are so many art enthusiasts in this school, and I wanted to make a statement that the arts are still very much alive,” Christensen said.