Naomi Kline

Jon Gilbert Fox photo.

Award for Distinguished Scholarship

Professor of Art History

While living in rural France as a U.S. Army wife and mother of two young children, Naomi Kline developed an appreciation for all things medieval. Living on the grounds of a château that was surrounded by beautiful old stone buildings, Kline says, “was like living in medieval times.”

It was her fascination with the nearby Romanesque abbey church of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire that inspired Kline to enroll in graduate school at Boston University to pursue her master’s and her doctorate in art history upon her return to the states.

While in graduate school, Kline served as curator of Hammond Castle Museum, a medieval-style castle built in Gloucester, MA in the late 1920s by the prolific inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. “My responsibilities were to poke around the castle, research its artifacts, give lectures, and develop exhibitions,” Kline recalls, noting that her work culminated in the well-received exhibition, “Castles: An Enduring Fantasy,” and the completion of her PhD.

Kline was now ready for a new opportunity. When her friend and former BU classmate Dick Hunnewell, an art history professor at Plymouth State, told her Plymouth State needed a gallery director and art historian, Kline applied. For the next seven years, she balanced gallery directing duties with teaching, then made the move to teaching full time.

Kline’s love of teaching is rivaled only by her passion for scholarly research—a passion she discovered while working on her doctoral dissertation on medieval stained glass, which “required me gain access to monuments, climb up on scaffolds, and spend hours with arcane documents in arcane libraries,” she says.

After years of researching and writing about medieval stained glass, Kline began to research the Hereford Mappamundi, a medieval world map that until then had received little attention from art historians. The only large-scale medieval world map of its kind in existence, the Hereford Mappamundi provides a paradigm for understanding the medieval worldview and the intellectual and conceptual framework of the Middle Ages.

Kline’s research yielded numerous journal articles, a book, and a collaboration with two of her students on an instructional CD-ROM. “We received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to create the CD-ROM,” she says. It was a tremendously complex project that was years in the making, but the result is something that, nearly a decade later, Kline still takes great pride in.

In recent years, Kline’s research has focused on misericords, wooden sculptures on choir stalls that typically feature carved images derived from religion, fables, proverbs, popular culture—“anything you can imagine,” she says. Kline is particularly interested in the secular images and their social context, an area she says is rich in research possibilities.

While her teaching and research focus on the past and have taken her to museums, libraries, and monuments all over the world, Kline finds there’s much to celebrate in the here and now. Recently, she and Hunnewell launched the art history degree at PSU.

And now, with her latest award, Kline—who has published scores of journal articles and books on her scholarly interests, and has gained respect as an expert in each—is recognized as a distinguished scholar. “I’m very happy to have this award,” she says. “I feel strongly that professors should contribute to their fields, and I’m grateful that my work has been recognized.”

Barbra Alan