When she started her undergraduate at Queen's, alumna Jessica Insley (B.A. '13) didn't anticipate a career in Art History. She enrolled in ARTH 120 "on a whim" and soon found herself inspired, following her new passion for art and heritage overseas to the UK. Insley worked at Historic Environment Scotland before earning an M.A. from the University of Buckingham in England; she has since returned to Scotland, and is currently the Collections Curator at Mount Stuart Trust historical estate on the beautiful Isle of Bute.
In her interview, Insley credits Prof. Katherine Romba and Dr. Allison Sherman with fostering her early love of historic architecture, and she nods to the "challenging-yet-supportive environment" of Queen’s Art History program.
Why did you pursue an Art History degree?
"I was the 'first generation' in my family to go to university. While I was fortunate that the women in my family have a deep appreciation for art and beauty - I was frequently taken to galleries and museums as a child - I had never considered the art world as a career path for myself.
I initially felt some familial pressure to pursue the sciences when I started my undergrad. I signed up to my first-year ARTH 120 class on a whim, however I quickly fell in love with the study of the history of art. Learning how to look at art critically and becoming familiar with the language and vocabulary used to describe the objects in front of me felt akin to discovering a whole new lens from which to view the world.
I was also lucky to make friends with my classmates and find mentors in my ARTH professors and TAs, who encouraged me to pursue the subject that I loved."
What career paths did you envision after graduation?
"I didn’t have any one particular career path in mind. I knew that I had a passion for historic architecture (first sparked by Professor Romba) and heritage, and I was curious to see where that would take me. I was keen to complete an M.A., but first I wanted to narrow my focus by working in the industry for a few years.
I eventually decided to move to Edinburgh, Scotland to see if I could gain experience in heritage in the UK. After working at Historic Environment Scotland for two years, I decided to pursue my M.A. in Decorative Arts and Historic Interiors at the University of Buckingham. I could never have anticipated that I would still be in Scotland seven years later, working as a curator in a historic house!"
What are some unexpected ways your Art History education has served you in your professional life?
"I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to develop strong communication and research skills in the safe, challenging-yet-supportive environment of Queen’s before moving abroad and adapting to a new culture. The skills and confidence I learned in my undergrad were extremely transferable to every aspect of my professional life."
What advice would you give to current students of Art History at Queen’s?
"Stay open minded about your career and the path you may take. Do not be put off by titles without 'curator' - as there is so much to be learned working at every level in museums, galleries, auction houses, and historic houses. Volunteer whenever you can and be bold – reach out to people whose work you admire and ask questions. Follow the subjects and topics that excite you and spark your imagination the most, as your passion will always shine through."