If you were to take a walk around the streets of Bochum, a city once noted for its coal mining in western Germany, you would come across small bronze plaques slightly protruding from the sidewalk in front of many houses….
Paying it forward in time and talents
Alumna mentors Renée Crown Honors student for her Capstone Project
When noted jewelry historian Mary Gilbert Palmer ’65 learned that Laura Marsolek, a junior art history and metalsmithing major, was planning an honors capstone project on Renaissance jewelry, Palmer agreed to lend her expertise.
“The College of Arts and Sciences came up with a way for me to ‘pay it forward,’” says Gilbert Palmer, who lives in northern Utah and is founder of Mary Gilbert Palmer Antiques and Importing. “I’m able to help Laura in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.”
Marsolek first learned of Gilbert Palmer by reading a story about her in the college’s fall 2008 Connections magazine. The story highlighted her expertise as a jewelry historian and her financial gifts to the University to support students who study abroad. Marsolek also learned that Gilbert Palmer studied in Syracuse University’s Florence Program, an experience that inspired her career in antique jewelry. Marsolek resolved to find a way to meet Gilbert Palmer. She sought advise from Eric Holzwarth, deputy director of the Renée Crown University Honors Program.
Marsolek is spending the 2011-12 academic year in Florence through SU Abroad. Her honors capstone project focuses on the jewelry of Eleanor of Toledo and her son, Giovanni, members of Florence’s powerful Medici family during the 1500s. Marsolek is studying a painting by Agnolo Bronzino that depicts pieces of the family’s jewelry. “Since Renaissance jewelry was often recycled and melted down into other pieces, paintings are a key way of understanding jewelry that is physically lost, but is immortalized in art,” says Marsolek, who also creates her own jewelry.
Holzwarth sought advice from Mary Lerner ’66, Arts & Sciences assistant dean for communications and public relations. Together, they created a proposal to invite Gilbert Palmer to become Marsolek’s honors reader, a proposition to which Gilbert Palmer eagerly agreed.
Last spring, Gilbert Palmer made a special trip to campus to meet Marsolek and brainstorm the project. Gilbert Palmer arrived with a knapsack bulging with her master’s thesis on British Victorian-era jewelry, books and antique jewelry. The pair sat for hours, heads together, sharing ideas and imagining the possibilities. Marsolek also showed Gilbert Palmer samples of her handmade jewelry. “I was amazed at the amount of research Laura had already done on the project,” Gilbert Palmer says of the first meeting, “and the jewelry Laura creates is exquisitely crafted.”
While abroad, Marsolek will study Italian, art history and advanced metalsmithing. Gilbert Palmer will meet Marsolek in Florence, where they will visit the Bargello Museum to view its Renaissance jewelry collection and then travel together to London and Rome. Gilbert Palmer will introduce Marsolek to museum curators as they view some of the finest collections of antique jewelry in the world. They will view 19th-century jewelry at the British Museum and at the Jewelry Vault at the Victorian Albert Museum, both in London. They will also meet with the chief archivist at the Bulgari Museum in Rome, where Gilbert Palmer conducted research for her master’s thesis.
“I am excited about working with Mary Gilbert Palmer, whose interests are similar to mine,” Marsolek says. “She has helped me discover ways to structure my project, and has pointed me toward extraordinary resources and readings.” When Marsolek returns to campus for her senior year, Gilbert Palmer will visit to review drafts of the project, culminating in its presentation on Capstone Presentation Day, the Honors Program annual event to highlight student work.
Gilbert Palmer also serves on The College’s Board of Visitors and hopes her gift of time and talents inspires similar kinds of philanthropy. “This is a mutually beneficial experience,” Gilbert Palmer says. “Laura is a remarkable artist and an exceptional scholar for whom I have tremendous respect. This kind of giving is so easy and gratifying. You can’t put a price on it.”