Four distinguished professors retire from Hixson-Lied College
calendar icon30 Jun 2020
Lincoln, Neb.--Four distinguished professors in the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts retired this spring after a combined 145 years of service to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln: Donna Harler-Smith, Karen Kunc, Pamela Starr and Alison Stewart.
Harler-Smith is professor of voice in the Glenn Korff School of Music. She has taught at Nebraska since 1976. She holds a bachelor of arts degree from Denison University and a master's degree from the College-Conservatory of Music-University of Cincinnati.
“I have had so many awesome students,” Harler-Smith said. “I’m super proud of all my music education students that are teaching, well, around the country, but definitely in Nebraska. I had a good 44 years.”
She will miss her students.
“I’m going to miss the students,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll be teaching now that I’m going to be living in Colorado. I haven’t figured out what my next career move is going to be, but I’m going to miss terribly the opportunity to actually be in the presence of another person and watch music change them for the good. I mean, there’s nothing like that.”
Harler-Smith has performed extensively as a recitalist throughout the United States, and particularly enjoys fund-raising recitals for charitable organizations. Her stage roles have included Agnes in I Do, I Do, Adina in Elixir of Love, Salome in The Robber Bridegroom, Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi, Mary in Merrily We Roll Along, the title role in Little Mary Sunshine, and Sonia Walsk in They're Playing Our Song.
She has appeared as soprano soloist with numerous orchestras including the Cincinnati Symphony, Boston Philharmonia, Aspen Chamber Orchestra, and the Nebraska Chamber Orchestra. Harler Smith has sung in numerous world premiers by Landers, Henze, Snyder, Beadell and Fussell.
Kunc has taught at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln since 1983 and was named a full professor in 1998. In 2003, she was named Willa Cather Professor of Art with an emphasis in printmaking.
Highly respected nationally and internationally among her peers, she has had more than 110 solo exhibitions, received more than 90 awards, 60 grants and commissions, eight residency awards and her work has been shown in more than 350 exhibits nationally and internationally. Her work is featured in more than 26 publications.
Kunc said what she loved about teaching was having to explain various ideas and processes to her students.
“I do best with that one-on-one with the students and having to explain things in a million different ways,” she said. “Every time you’re talking to the next person, I had to think of a new way to explain about art, about making, about being driven, about pushing yourself. All of those explanations were a challenge to find a variety of ways to express myself and to get through to the students.”
She expects the printmaking program at UNL will also continue to improve.
“I want to see things continuing to more forward and for the School to flourish, and to see the developments that new people can bring,” Kunc said. “I think they’re all ready for that. Other people can bring something new to printmaking because the field is still growing.”
In 2007, Kunc received the prestigious Printmaker Emeritus Award from the Southern Graphics Council.
In 2013, she founded Constellation Studios in Lincoln, a space where Kunc shares her passion for printmaking with the community. It is her studio, a printmaking exhibition space, as well as a workshop and teaching center that specializes in workshops for etching, woodcuts, papermaking and bookmaking.
Kunc received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Nebraska in 1975 and her Master of Fine Arts from the Ohio State University in 1977.
Starr is Professor of Music History in the Glenn Korff School of Music. She has taught at Nebraska since 1987. A native of New York City, she holds a B.A. in voice from Harpur College of the State University of New York at Binghamton, a Master's degree in Library Science from Columbia University, and the Ph.D. in Music History from Yale University.
For Starr, the highlights of her career at Nebraska focus on her students.
“The highlights were really arriving at UNL and finding out how much I had to learn about being a good teacher,” Starr said. “And ending it by thinking I might have learned something from my students in that regard. I know I’ve done some very good work in terms of research—a couple of my articles that were game changers in my field—so I know I had the respect of my professional colleagues. But the real headline for me was sort of waltzing into a classroom in 1987 thinking I knew everything because I had graduated from an Ivy League institution with a doctorate and quickly realizing I knew nothing about how to reach students. And it’s been a 33-year journey to find out ways of reaching them.”
She will miss both her colleagues and her students, but she is thankful for her time in the Glenn Korff School of Music.
“Finding out what Nebraska was all about and finding out what Nebraska music students were all about was just an amazing find,” she said. “I just have a sense of gratitude for a 33-year ride with some of the best colleagues and students I could have asked for.”
She is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome and has also been supported in doctoral and post-doctoral research by the American Association of University Women, the Fulbright Commission, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, The American Philosophical Society, and the Research Council of the University of Nebraska.
Her research has centered on the music and musicians of the early Renaissance period, especially that of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, and she has lectured and published on this subject both in the United States and in Europe. . More recently, she has begun research into musicians at the margins in the culture of Early Modern England. Starr has served as Secretary of the American Musicological Society.
Stewart has taught art history at Nebraska since 1989. She received her Bachelor of Arts in art history and journalism from Syracuse University, her Master of Arts in art history from Queens College of the City University of New York, and her Ph.D. in art history from Columbia University.
In 1981 as a graduate student, she received a Fulbright grant to study in Munich. In 2014, she received a Fulbright Senior Lecturing/Research Award to teach and complete research at the University of Trier in Germany.
One of the highlights for her from her time at Nebraska is her seminar courses, such as History of Prints, where she had more student engagement.
“I really liked working with the Sheldon Museum and with the students to put on print exhibitions,” Stewart said. “In the last decade or so, we had three exhibitions and then e-books came out of them. I liked doing classes that work with students and doing that kind of thing.”
But the real highlight for Stewart was the college’s funding of her research.
“Having research support is really essential, I think,” she said. “But also being able to arrange going to the research and taking time off is really important.”
Her research, centered around secular imagery of the 15th and 16th centuries in Germany and the Netherlands, has been supported by Fulbright, National Endowment for the Humanities, Getty Research Institute and International Fine Print Dealers Association fellowships and grants.
Her most recent book is “Crossroads. Frankfurt am Main as a Market for Northern Art 1500-1850,” edited by Stewart, Lisa M. Kirch and Birgit Ulrike Münch.
Other recent books include “Media Revolution: Early Prints from the Sheldon Museum of Art,” edited by Stewart and Gregory Nosan in 2012; “Before Bruegel: Sebald Beham and the Origin of Peasant Festival” in 2008; and “Saints, Sinners and Sisters: Gender and Visual Art in Medieval and Early Modern Northern Europe,” co-edited with Jane Carroll, in 2003.
In 2015, she contributed a chapter titled “Man’s Best Friend? Dogs and Pigs in Early Modern Germany” in the book “Animals and Early Modern Identity,” edited by Pia F. Cuneo and published by Ashgate.
Watch for more on these four outstanding careers in our next magazine this fall.