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In Legacy: Associate Professor Emerita Carol Bird Ravenal Artist, Art Historian, AU Professor, and Philanthropist

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Carol Bird Ravenal, Breakfast with Twin, “Good Morning Gene D.” 51x32 inches

Carol Bird Ravenal

The College of Arts and Sciences is sad to share the news that Associate Professor Emerita Carol Bird Ravenal has recently passed away.

Professor Ravenal, artist and art historian, first came to AU’s Department of Art in 1969. She was a teacher of art history, art education, studio art, and design. She was a founding member of the American University Arts Council and served on the Honorary Committee of Fall for the Arts, the university’s annual community celebration of the arts.

Carol Bird Ravenal

Professor Ravenal left behind a legacy at AU through the Carol Bird Ravenal Travel Award in Studio Art and Art History. This award touched many students who benefited from it and allowed them to travel during the summer months or to support further art history or studio experience.

The following story about Professor Ravenal and how her travel award influenced the life and career of Hedieh Ilchi was written in 2016.

Carol Bird Ravenal was born into a family of artists and architects. But her personal artistic journey was further inspired by a series of opportunities to travel extensively throughout Europe. Her exposure to other cultures and artistic expressions propelled her to become an accomplished painter, professor, and art historian.

After earning her PhD from Harvard in art history, she received a travel award to explore Europe for a year. “I travelled from one end of Europe to the other; I visited countless museums to experience the works I had admired in years of classes,” she says.

While teaching art and art history at AU, Ravenal received another travel award, and she travelled to Norway to study the work of painter and printmaker Edvard Munch. Several years later, the five Scandinavian embassies awarded her a travel grant to study and teach nineteenth century Nordic Art in connection with an exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

For the last seven years, Ravenal has given AU students the same chance to learn about art firsthand through the Carol Bird Ravenal Travel Award. Ravenal provides grants to AU studio art and art history students, in the hope that exploring great works may inspire their own artistic sensibilities.

“If you are creating art, or studying the many facets of art history, you need to explore, savor, and digest the wider world. A student’s world can expand exponentially with the first views of a strange and unknown place, whether it’s Paris, Berlin, New York, or California. Perhaps this experience will change lives. It surely has enriched and changed mine.”

Ravenal taught K-12 art education, art history, design, color, and painting at AU, and is now a professor emerita. She previously taught art history at the Rhode Island School of Design. Ravenal has lectured at the National Gallery of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Kreeger Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution, and has exhibited in more than 40 venues around the world. Ravenal is a founding member of the AU Arts Council and the AU chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

Hedieh Ilchi in her studio.Hedieh Ilchi: Carol Bird Ravenal Travel Award Recipient

In 2010, Hedieh Ilchi received the Carol Bird Ravenal Travel Award to support her MFA thesis research. She travelled to Tehran in her home country of Iran to study the art of tazhib (Persian illumination). “This experience strengthened my understanding and ability to incorporate Persian painting in my thesis paintings,” she says.

During her three-week trip, Ilchi also wanted to better understand how Iranian women confront social and gender related boundaries. She documented their lives in the form of photographs, which she later used as a source of her paintings. Her paintings are still influenced by her travel to Tehran and by her exploration of her cultural identity as an Iranian-American.

 Hedieh Ilchi, I looked long at the green trees as you looked deeply into my eyes, 2015, acrylic and watercolor on panel, 40x30 inches, courtesy of the artist and Hemphill Fine Arts.

In talking about her work, Ilchi says, “My recent paintings reflect an ongoing interest in the fusion of visual codes of western abstraction and traditional Persian art, with an emphasis on the ornamental abstractions of tazhib. The resulting synthesis evokes allegories of intrusion and invasion, referencing the historical and contemporary sociopolitical conflicts.”

Ilchi received her MFA in studio art from American University in 2011 and her BFA from the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design in 2006. She is currently an adjunct professorial lecturer in AU’s Department of Art. She received the Robyn Rafferty Mathias Student Research Grant from American University and the Bethesda Painting Award. Ilchi has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions nationally, and her work has been reviewed in a number of publications including the Washington Post and Art Papers magazine. She was an artist in residence at the Vermont Studio Center, the Arlington Arts Center, and the Jentel Foundation.