Montclair State Professor Elizabeth Emery, after being awarded a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities this past December, is ready to begin research for her book about the namesake of the Musée d’Ennery in Paris, France.
Emery, a professor of French in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, is now a three-time NEH award recipient. She said that, in the most recent fellowship grant, only 80 of the 1,251 applicants received an award. “The being chosen part was very exciting—I got an email during finals saying that I had won. It was better than Powerball, which I will never win,” said Emery.
The book, titled Clémence d’Ennery: A Female Connoisseur in the Age of Male Collecting, is about a 19th-century working class woman and collector of Asian art pieces who started a museum with her own two hands and worked toward providing free access to the public.
“I became interested in the topic after reading a guidebook that talked about a small museum in Paris built by a 19th-century woman who had bought the thousands of tiny works of Asian art at Paris department stores. That seemed very unlikely so I started doing a bit of digging in old newspapers and archives to find out more about her and about her collecting habits,” said Emery.
The NEH fellowship grant will fund Emery’s research into the the Musée d’Ennery and Ennery herself, who will be the basis of the book’s protagonist. Emery plans to have the book finished by summer of 2017, but she said that the publication process could take up to two years after that.
“I would like to say that I have already written a lot, but the grant doesn’t start until next September, so for now, I’m starting classes and dreaming about going to France and spending time digging up old documents in dusty boxes of archives in a couple of different cities,” said Emery.
Emery explained her interest in the chosen topic for the book as a process which developed through one project after another and finally culminated in her presentation of a paper about Ennery, which was received remarkably well by the audience. “[Montclair State] was really important in that progression, particularly in encouraging us to present our work at conferences,” Emery said.
Emery said that “the real topic” of her book is “the lost story of French women collectors of this period [the 19th century].” Emery’s first specialization, after being hired to teach medieval and 19th-century French studies at Montclair State, focused on how the medieval period was represented after the Middle Ages. From there, she developed an interest in the objects that French people collected from that period, which led her to a study on writers’ houses which were kept and preserved as museums. Through that project, she stumbled upon the story of Ennery.
“I do feel that what she did in creating a museum is very much like what a lot of self-made Americans did at the end of the 19th century in endowing libraries and museums,” said Emery. “Public libraries and museums are amazing ways of gaining access to knowledge without having to spend money. We tend to take them for granted now, but they are some of the most valuable shared resources we have as a society.”
In this way, Emery feels that she shares some of the goals of her protagonist in desiring to provide access to the public. She urged students at Montclair State to take advantage of all the learning opportunities and resources offered to them during their college career. “I guess I do focus a lot on providing opportunity and access to educational and cultural resources,” said Emery. “That’s one of the best things about being a teacher.”