On Tuesday, November 10, 2015, Deputy Cultural Counselor Thomas Michelon presented the Insignia of the Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters to June Hargrove and Alison Stones, historians of French art, and Jill Schoolman, founder of Archipelago Books publishing house. The honors were awarded in an intimate ceremony at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York.
As Deputy Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy, it is my great privilege to decorate three extraordinary women who have achieved great distinction in their careers: June Hargrove, Jill Schoolman and Alison Stones.
Our honorees have diverging specialties, ranging from Nineteenth century sculpture to international literature to Medieval manuscripts. But they are united by a common passion for artistic expression. They have devoted themselves to their respective fields with incredible determination and zeal. And they are fortunate to have built entire careers out of something they love.
Michel de Montaigne once wrote, “The soul which has no fixed purpose in life is lost; to be everywhere, is to be nowhere.” Our honorees were able to identity their passions—their driving forces—early on, leading them to remarkable success. Through their success, they have enriched the public experience of art and culture, and they have particularly advanced the artistic cause of France. So we welcome these three Francophiles and French speakers to acknowledge the great debt France owes to them, and to celebrate the far-reaching impact of their achievements.
Let us first turn to June Hargrove. June, it took us a while to find the right time for this ceremony. But could there be a better moment than now, as Musée Rodin is reopening after renovation? Carrier-Belleuse, as you call him, was Rodin’s master. And, as a matter of a fact, the past years have been very generous with 19th century sculpture, in terms of exhibitions and research. Just remember the wonderful 2014 exhibition dedicated to Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux at Musée d’Orsay and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, your own on Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse at Palais de Compiègne or the reopening of Musée de Nogent-sur-Seine dedicated to Paul Dubois, Alfred Boucher and Camille Claudel. This is a time for rediscovering, and I’m very glad that French sculpture before Rodin’s revolution is in the public eye.
June, as a professor of art history, you embrace a large scope on European art, particularly French, from the eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. Between you and French art history, there is a love story – a love of art, a love of teaching, and also, a love of France. Which is very much reciprocated, might I add!
But beyond this mutual love, you’re a more-than-active contributor to international research, bringing together both sides of the Atlantic: a member of the scientific committee for the Revue de l’Art and the editorial board of Studiolo, the journal of the French Academy in Rome, you participate in the Advisory Committee of the French Sculpture Census. You’ve been supported all these years by prestigious institutions such as the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Deutschesforum für Kunstgeschichte, Paris, the Centre André Chastel, Paris-Sorbonne, and the Graduate Research Board of the University of Maryland. You were the Van Gogh Fellow in a joint position as the invited scholar for the University of Amsterdam and the Van Gogh Museum.
The scope of your contributions speaks to your immense love for your work in Art History. You’ve authored an astounding number of papers, and you’ve participated in symposium all over the United States and Europe. From curations for the Musée de Compiègne to conferences at the National Gallery of Art, you relish opportunities to share your discoveries and your conclusions. Your scholarship investigates the historical context of art, with an emphasis on the impact of global transformations on style and content in painting and sculpture.
Sculpture holds a special place in your heart, particularly Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, Rodin’s lesser-known master. June, you recognized Carrier-Belleuse’s talent in his own right. And you have dedicated much of your career to shedding light on this artist. You wrote a book on his life and career in 1977, and curated his first standalone exhibition at the Musée de Compiegne in 2014. At Compiègne, visitors (among them our dear friend Max Moulin from l’Institut Français) remarked on the very high quality of the exhibition and the chosen works, stressing that only the eye of an expert with an acute understanding of the most personal creations of Carrier-Belleuse could have presented so many masterpieces. One also would have needed a great deal of elegance and vision to show these sensual and delicate works, created by a master who was as fascinated by the voluptuousness of antique goddesses as he was by decorative arts and the rise of the industrial world.
It’s really thanks to your admiration of his work, and your research of his work, that art lovers are discovering Carrier-Belleuse for what he really was: one of the premiere sculptors of the Second Empire. And so, you’ve emerged as a definitive authority on Carrier-Belleuse. You’ve launched a renewed interest in Carrier-Belleuse that extends from the art history community to the general public.
Your love of art has also led you straight to many other French artists, particularly Edgar Degas and Paul Gauguin. You have written prolifically on both artists, and sometimes even on the influence they’ve had on each other. Your lectures on Gauguin’s final years in French Polynesia are one of the richest and most insightful on this marvelous artist that the Catholic missionaries in the Marquesas Islands nicknamed “Coquin,”or “rascal.”
And that’s the thing about you, June. As many of those who changed the way one embraces history of art, you have developed an interdisciplinary theoretical model that amplifies every context: historical, social, and political. I think about a book you co-edited, entitled Nationalism and French Visual Culture, 1871 – 1915. In the chapter you authored, “Qui Vive?” you discussed how monuments of grief and national unity after the Franco-Prussian War transformed into symbols of aggression in the lead up to World War One. This is a really fascinating contribution to both history of art and history of ideas, and I would urge everyone in this room to read it.
Your way of looking at art resonates with your students at the University of Maryland, who are attracted by your unique teaching style. Your commitment led to you being honored with the “Teaching of Art History Award of the College Art Association.” There are many reasons for this, and one of them is a very specific way to think about art in this interdisciplinary context I was referring to. You link your class conversations about art to a broader context, invoking identity, sexuality, class and more. You challenge your students to use their knowledge of art to grapple with questions. And you lead your exacting classes with your signature elegance and charm – elegance and charm are actually two words that come to the mind of all those who know you. In this way, you make your passion for France and French art contagious! With you, we can’t underestimate how much a single class can inspire the next generation of Francophiles! So tonight we honor you, not just as an esteemed scholar and a friend of France, but as a scholar who has trained generations of American Francophiles and excellent historians of French art.
June, your love for France and French art is undeniable, and it permeates throughout your work. It has led you to profound discoveries on French artists. You have created veritable and dynamic links between these two countries, which will never cease to inspire our admiration and our gratitude. And so, for all of these reasons and more, it is my honor to present you with this award tonight.
Chère June, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
Let us move now to Jill Schoolman. Your name, dear Jill, is intrinsically tied to that of the publishing house you founded and that is the reflection of your very character: polyglot, perfectly Francophone, close to the authors that you publish, discreet as well as dynamic, aiming above all at excellence. The perfection you seek exceeds your choice of authors: it is the combination of the aesthetic quality of the publications, and the linguistic mastery of your translators, all of which adds to a consistent editorial mission, targeting the best of literature.
Dear Jill, you are more than a publisher, you are a true creator of books, who places artistic talents in the service of the promotion of works of fiction and poetry coming from all countries.
Should we be surprised, given that we know that books feed your life and nourish your soul? We hear that in your early days as a publisher, based in the West Village, your studio was so filled with books that books began to serve other household functions, and were stacked to create a desk and a bedside table. Today, this same passion inhabits you. Your friends describe how you deliver books on your bicycle – a charming sight, zipping around Brooklyn with a bag full of books. You’re probably the only publisher that hand-delivers books to retailers.
How did you come to all this?
You have degrees in English and film studies from Yale. This double academic track towards two languages as different as literature and cinema certainly speaks to your ideal of breaking boundaries between forms of thought and aesthetic categories. You studied literature at Oxford University, and eventually joined Seven Stories Press in New York, a celebrated publishing house led by Dan Simon. And your experience at Seven Stories, which publishes a lot of foreign fiction, must have drawn you closer towards a void in the American book industry. As you might know, in the United States, only three percent of the book market consists of books in translation, of which only one percent is fiction.
But Jill, as a lover of literature, you recognized this problem, and you addressed it head-on. In 2003, you founded Archipelago Books, a non-profit that seeks out the most compelling international writers and publishes their work in English translation. And so, you provide American audiences with a whole new world of books, and you ensure that these authors get the international acclaim they deserve. Thanks to you, literary works written in Afrikaans and Basque and Slovenian are reviewed in publications like the New York Times, the New Yorker, and Bookforum. You have published Gate of the Sun by Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury, and Small Lives by Pierre Michon, all to rave reviews.
Perhaps you do this well, Jill, because you know how much we need to be immersed in a foreign culture. You once said that you hoped Archipelago books would “chisel away at stereotypes and awaken curiosity about other cultures and ways of seeing and being.”
You are undaunted by works that could be obscure or challenging. Not many publishers would have signed onto My Struggle, a controversial 3,600 page autobiography by Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgård. But you signed it right away, and this six-volume book has become a smash success. You give the public what they didn’t even know they were looking for.
Your insight has also led you to tackle one of the roots of the foreign-language book shortage, which is clumsy translations. By seeking out the most quality translators, you lift an additional barrier from global literature. Archipelago books have won translation prizes from PEN America, the French-American Foundation, and many other literary distinctions. You recognize the weight that can rest on a single word, and you ensure that the intended meaning passes seamlessly from one language to the next.
Archipelago also uncovers the voices that have been suppressed for political reasons. Through your work, the exiles, the dissidents and the political prisoners are also given the opportunity to be heard, to tell their story, and to share their art. Doing so, you extend the thread of communication to lead to a more profound mutual understanding.
And through this deep sense of responsibility, and your eye for talent, many brilliant translations of works in French have been published by Archipelago. From Marguerite Duras to Eric Chevillard, Maurice Sceve to Dominique Fabre, French writers classic and contemporary remain relevant in English-speaking nations. Your books also represent the greater Francophone world, well beyond France. You made us hear incredible voices from Haiti such as Franketienne, and Rwanda, such as Scholastique Mukasonga. They are voices that resonate with us long after we close the works that you publish. They matter, all the more in a world that needs now, just as in the past, to exchange and to understand, to get to the essence of one another.
Jill, you are a bridge between different cultures. You are an amplifier for French and Francophone voices, and hundreds of others. With a critical eye and a resourceful spirit, you direct your passion for books towards global good. For all of these reasons and more, it is my honor to present you with this award.
Chère Jill Schoolman, au nom du gouvernement français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres.
Our final honoree this evening is Alison Stones, who epitomizes the brilliant achievements gained when we immerse ourselves in a particular field. Alison is a specialist on Medieval Art History, which she taught at the University of Pittsburgh for nearly thirty years. And Alison, through decades of tireless research, you have carved out much distinction as someone who illuminates the past. For you, art is like a window to a distant era. A single manuscript, a miniature or an icon can unveil a host of new conclusions about life and culture in Medieval times. With your skills and expertise, you unlock these secrets, and keep the public connected to what seems like a faraway world. And more often than not, your study of that world is centered on France, a great hub for artistic activity during the Middle Ages. Your work turns the spotlight on France, resulting in new insights on our artistic legacy.
At the core of your scholarship is a unique process, founded on precision and determination. Studying such a forgone era has its inherent challenges, but you are undeterred by Old French and ambiguous records. In fact, you embrace obscure material, because you see it as an opportunity for new discoveries. You have devoted much of your career to Arthurian lore, a topic that is enshrouded in mystery. Your work examines Chretien de Troyes, the father of Arthurian romance, as well as “En la marche de Gaule,” the oldest prose version of the Lancelot-Grail romance. But it’s not the stories that fascinate you the most; it’s the physical properties of the original manuscripts, because they are laden with clues. The choice of illustration reveals which moments the artist and patron believed were worth depicting. The choice of pigment reveals how much money was involved in the process. Your diligence leads you to these details, and in turn, you use art to delve deeper into the circumstances and psyche of Medieval France.
And through your exhaustive research and poignant commentary, you help the public better appreciate Gothic and Romanesque art. You have curated for several exhibitions on the Middle Ages, so that the greater public can also pore over manuscripts and iconography. You shed light on great Medieval monuments that have survived the test of time, and exist in France to this day. In 2004, you led an initiative for a comprehensive study on the sprawling Chartres Cathedral of Notre Dame. And you left no corner of the Cathedral untouched! With the thousands of photos that comprise your study, one can zero in on each individual panel in the stained glass windows, in order to truly understand and admire the craftsmanship details. Your mastery of Medieval art gives credit to the illustrators and calligraphers, the architects and glassblowers, who, in their sum, compose a rich cultural expression.
Dear Alison, studying the Middle Ages is fascinating, because this era was fascinating. To do so, you use innovative methods. By assembling databases on the Chartres Cathedral, or the Church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine at Vézelay in Burgundy, you bring the secrets of the Middle Ages to our fingertips. Your digital resources are the perfect compliment to your respected published works, and are just some of the reasons you made University of Pittsburgh one of the premiere places to study Medieval art. You have since retired from your teaching, but you main active in the art history community, as a Fellow of both the Société nationale des antiquaires de France and the Society of Antiquaries of London. And because you love your work so much, we can expect you to view slides and examine manuscripts for many more years to come!
Your scholarship keeps the Middle Ages in the public consciousness, but it also illuminates a very formative period of French history. With you, we understand the artistic activity that complemented the reigns of iconic French leaders, from William the Conqueror to Saint Louis. It was also a time where France found an expression of itself in many of the distinct regions that compose our nation to this day – Normandy, Burgundy, Champagne, and so on. Your work uncovers the origins of our national identity, leading not just to a better appreciation of our art, but a better understanding of who we are.
Dear Alison, you have made more than a subject of study out of France and her history: you intimately live and understand our country. You have surveyed Perigord and the Dordogne; you have launched yourself in search of the Cistercians, and you have reviewed French manuscripts of the 13th and 14th centuries. And through your study of art, you have made France an essential part of who you are as well. You possess a command of the French language, and you live for part of the year in France, in Chauzanaud, where we hear you’re a master gardener, and a brilliant hostess as well! You have embraced France so much that French has become a second culture for you, so your work encompasses your identity and experiences too.
As a dedicated scholar and an eternal friend to France, you shed light on these ages to make brilliant discoveries. Therefore I am honored to present you with this award tonight.
Chère Alison Stones, au nom du gouvernement Francais, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.