Lamar University students advance art appreciation in Russia

Published 11:49 am Thursday, June 29, 2017

Special to The Leader

Lamar University students kicked off their summer exploring world-renowned art and architecture in Saint Petersburg, Russia while earning course credit for ARTS 1301, a core curriculum requirement.

“With art and architecture, there’s just no substitute for seeing a real painting or walking through an actual building,” said Richard Gachot, associate professor of art and design and instructor for the study abroad course.

“Saint Petersburg is a wonderful city to explore. It’s just so beautiful, with sumptuous palaces and cathedrals. It’s hard to imagine the atmosphere until you are there,” he said. “It is so dense and urban, the opposite of our suburban car culture.”

The program introduced students to the artistic and cultural history of Saint Petersburg, the capital of the Russian Empire, known for its rich art, architecture and literature. The “Venice of the North” was built by Peter the Great who opened up Russia to the western world, modernizing every aspect of Russian life.

“I want to expose my students to the best examples of art and architecture, and in that sense, Saint Petersburg is this wonderful jewel box of culture where you can walk almost any street and see fantastic buildings, ranging from the baroque to the contemporary,” said Gachot.

Gachot prepared students for the trip by assigning individual research projects and holding on-campus course orientation days that introduced them to Russian language and culture. He says that he was surprised by the students’ deep interest in Russia despite their diverse backgrounds and majors.

“I never anticipated how much I’d like this,” said Mackenzie Hudson, a Lumberton psychology and pre-med student.

“I loved walking around the city and hearing about the different architecture movements including Baroque, Neoclassical, Style Moderne, and Soviet. Also, we saw the church where all the Czars of Russia are buried. That was a pretty fascinating and unique experience,” she said.

Students witnessed architecture through the ages at several sites: the Log Cabin of Peter the Great and the Menshikov Palace; the Peter and Paul Fortress; Peterhof (the Russian Versailles); the Winter Palace, the Romanov royal residence; the country estate of Catherine I in Tsarskoye Selo, housing the famous Amber Room; and more.

The program also included guided tours of major art museums such as the Hermitage, the Russian Museum, as well as Russian Orthodox churches including the Kazan Cathedral, St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the Church on Spilled Blood.

Steve Nguyen, a chemical engineering major from Bridge City, says he feels he gained much more from the experience abroad than he would have in a traditional classroom.

“I got to really appreciate art in real life in a more hands-on experience. It really opened my mind to traveling more and experiencing new places,” he said.

Savannah Agee, a management information systems major from Orange, said, “I can truly say that I understand art so much more than before I went. We got to see original Da Vinci and Raphael paintings and so many architectural structures that just blew me away.”

According to Gachot, the overall mission of study abroad is enlightenment.

“People are very focused on themselves and their daily lives. Some of us have no idea what it is to live in another country and to see things from another point of view. You don’t understand that until you actually visit that country. That’s how we grow and gain a multi-cultural perspective,” he said.

The May 2017 trip was the first art program in Russia to be offered at LU. In the past three years, the Office of Study Abroad has added 14 additional programs in an effort to expand access to innovative educational opportunities that prepare learners to succeed in and contribute to a dynamic global society.