Lecturing in Prague
Quite some time ago, Štěpanka had inquired whether I might be able to give talks to some of her classes on anything I could think of that might relate. (This is how we academics actually invite guest lecturers; for example, I say to my friend Annie, “I’m going to be town next week, can you tell them something about architecture?” and she responds “Sure, and can you tell my class about Czech modernism the week after that when I go visit my grandmother?”)
Štěpanka’s area of expertise is American history and especially immigration, while American art is my secondary specialty, so she was not just dreaming that this might work. I replied that I could resurrect my famous (or at least well-received) talk on the obscure nineteenth-century artist Christian Mayr and his somewhat better-known painting Kitchen Ball at White Sulphur Springs, and fiddle with it a bit to emphasize Mayr as an immigrant. The paper already had a fair amount in it about race relations, as the painting depicts African-Americans having a dance party at a Southern resort mostly frequented by the planter class.
Kitchen Ball at White Sulphur Springs
Besides, (I may be biased since I did write an MA paper on it) Kitchen Ball at White Sulphur Springs is a fascinating work and surely everyone must want to know about it.
Suffice it to say that the lecture was duly fiddled with and I managed to come up with a PowerPoint version of what had previously been done with slides (not quite all the same images, but it was satisfactory). I was a little worried because I didn’t think I could possibly translate it into Czech and perhaps the English would be a bit too technical, but the students proved to have an impressive grasp of English and asked some very intelligent questions afterwards.
So, it was a success. And I finally had cause to wear the suit I had brought. In fact, Štěpanka took one look at me and said I looked very art-historical. She knew whereof she spoke. I would have fit right in at College Art Association. It was probably overkill for a graduate seminar, but who cares. After all, the Charles University has existed since 1348 and so some ceremony seemed indicated.
We went to the Louvre Café afterwards and plotted other things, like what I could get her son Michael for Christmas that he might not tire of too quickly or decide was shallow and lacking in sufficient grandeur. (He is enamored of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars, which he deems have deeper messages than some of the movies we watch. After all, he is fourteen. But also a Monty Python fan.)