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02/16/2022 07:30 AM

Emily Weeks: Talking About Art

Emily Weeks, who teaches art history at the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts, is also working on a catalog résumé of the works of Jean-Léon Gérôme. Photo courtesy of Emily Weeks

Have you seen Emily Weeks walking around Essex? She walks a total of 2 ½ hours a day, an hour and a half in the morning and another hour in the afternoon. Her outfits change, but she says big black sunglasses are a constant.

But walking is about more than exercise. Emily uses her cell phone to check her correspondence, send messages, and do other work associated with her profession as an art historian. And she gets all this done without ignoring traffic.

“I put the phone down when I cross the street,” she says.

Emily teaches art history at the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts, which has recreated itself as an independent institution after the dissolution in 2019 of its association with the University of New Haven. The academy is now having an exhibition, open to the public, on the work of American artist Lennart Anderson, who died in 2015. He is known for a style that adapted classic realistic painting to a more modern interpretation. Emily recently spoke at the Essex Library about Anderson.

The Lyme Academy show, curated by artistic directors Amaya Gurpide and Jordan Sokol, has more than 20 of Anderson’s paintings and drawings that emphasize Anderson’s unique approach not only to portraiture but to the portrayal of everyday objects.

“It helps us to see things differently,” Emily says of his paintings, particularly those like his famous still life that featured an inflated silver corn popper.

Emily’s major research interest is what is known in the art world as Orientalism. It is not, as its name might suggest, involved in works depicting China or Japan, but rather focuses on the Middle East.

She earned her doctorate in art history at Yale, particularly interested in the work of 19th century English artist John Frederick Lewis. One of the things that convinced her to go to Yale after applying to eight different doctoral programs was the Yale Gallery of British Art, which had a painting by Lewis of the interior of a Mameluke house. The Mamelukes were once a ruling military class in Egypt, but Emily says the painting is really not a comment not on Egypt but on British patriarchal society.

At the moment, Emily is working on a catalog résumé of all the works of the best-known of the Orientalist painters, Jean-Léon Gérôme. She was asked to take the project over by the late art historian Gerald Ackerman, an expert on Gérôme who died in 2016.

A catalog résumé, Emily explains, is far more than a basic listing of an artist’s work. It gives the title of the work, the dimensions, the medium in which it was executed, and the provenance or history of possession that connects it back to the artist, as well as any additional research information and citations.

“The catalog authenticates the artist’s work,” Emily explains, adding that it is of key importance in determining the value of the objects listed.

For that reason, she points out, mistakes in the catalog are significant in the art world.

Gérôme was not only a painter but a sculptor responsible for the creation more than 900 works of art.

“He was prolific,” Emily says.

Emily, who has been working on the catalog “off and on” for some 2 ½ years, says she has about 20 percent of it done, though the work can sometimes be a very long-term job.

“Some people spend an entire career on a catalog résumé,” she says.

Emily says she is fortunate in having computerized digitalization of works of art to aid her in examining Gérôme’s work distributed throughout in Europe and the United States.

The Middle East, beyond the art world, is very much a part of Emily’s world. Her father Kent R. Weeks is a noted Egyptologist whose archaeological work includes the discovery of KV-5, the tomb of the sons of Ramses II in the Valley of the Kings. In addition, Weeks began the Theban Mapping project designed to map all the tombs in the Valley of Kings. The researchers used hot air balloons as part of their locating work, leading not only to archaeological advances but a whole new aspect of the Egyptian tourist economy, hot air balloon rides over key Egyptian historical sites.

Emily says her father got the idea for using the balloons when the family spent several years in Southern California and he became fascinated by ballooning.

Weeks lives in Old Saybrook and continues to lecture and write extensively—“The most active 80-year-old I know,” says Emily.

Emily spent large parts of her youth in Egypt, in both Luxor and Cairo. She is a graduate University of Washington, where her father and her late mother had studied.

After earning her doctorate, Emily worked as a curator at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, and actually sees analogies between the artists of the old Lyme colony and the 19th-century Orientalist painters she studies.

“They were artist’s colonies, where they looked at the world and painted the world around them,” she says.

Emily met her husband Joe Florentino, a computer expert who is now the assistant director for technical questions at the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning at Yale, when she was a doctoral student. He saw her walking by his office every day and wanted to meet her, so offered some computer help. She told him she didn’t want to accept assistance free so she would take him to coffee. The couple has one daughter, Bella, a 6th grader at Essex Elementary.

In order to share her enthusiasm for cooking with Bella, Emily started cooking classes for youngsters at an organic farm in East Lyme where she shopped. Her classes included vegetarian, farm-to-table versions of classics like pizza with fresh picked vegetables. She has also done adult vegetarian cooking classes at The Weekend Kitchen in Essex. One of her adult meals featured a vegetarian Thanksgiving—no turkey but “lots more side dishes.”

Dinner for her family of three involves making three different meals. Emily is strictly a vegan; Bella, she says, is largely vegetarian; and her husband has his own menu.

“Joe is strictly meat and potatoes,” Emily says.

Lennart Anderson: A Retrospective

Lyme Academy of Fine Arts hosts Lennart Anderson: A Retrospective through Friday, March 18, at 84 Lyme Street, Old Lyme. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Admission is free; onsite parking is available. For more information, call 860-434-5232.