Mary MacNaughton

by Gina Maggiore Brownstein '99

I would not have dared to be late to Professor Mary MacNaughton’s “Art Since 1945” class. She was not only one of my toughest teachers, but her class was so full of information that missing one lecture (or even moments of a lecture) could have been devastating. Professor MacNaughton took an enormous amount of historical and artistic detail and made it fit in a concise, understandable format. Her talent of selecting the top, most significant pieces from thousands of artworks is something that now I really understand. While my previous art history professor required that we attempt to cram 500 slides to memory, Professor MacNaughton assigned the top 50 significant artworks so that we were able to learn and actually retain some of that information.

As an inner-city high school photography teacher, I often wonder what my students will remember about me. What I remember most about Professor MacNaughton is her lecture about an artist that changed the way I think about art. She put up a Mark Rothko slide, and while I understood that it was important, I was not impressed. Professor MacNaughton told us that we had to see Rothko’s work in person to understand its significance and power. Although I was not at all interested in the slide, she made me want to see the painting for myself; if she thought I needed to see it in real life, then I definitely did. Later in the semester, on a field trip to The Museum of Contemporary Art, I walked into a room with a giant Rothko on each wall and understood what she meant about these paintings.There was a depth in the layers of color that could not possibly be seen or felt in a slide reproduction.

While doing work-study with the wonderful and caring Kirk Delman [the Williamson Gallery registrar and preparator], I had the opportunity to talk more with Professor MacNaughton. She was very encouraging to me about my ceramics focus and told me about the times she spent in the art studios. We joked about her coming to throw on the wheel with me sometime—a vision that previously I could never have imagined.

This balance between great teaching and personal relationships is what made my Scripps experience so meaningful. I think about Scripps art professors Glenn Husted, Alexis Weidig, Ken Gonzales-Day, Kathleen Royster—and Mary MacNaughton—as examples of what great teaching and connecting with students really is.