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Monday, December 9, 2002

Dr. Monica Rothschild-Boros has been teaching Orange Coast College's "Women in Art" class for seven years.

Only two of Orange County's nine community colleges offer such a class.

Rothschild-Boros initiated the OCC course in 1996. She wrote the course outline and secured its approval through the college's Curriculum Committee. Listed in the course catalog as Art 108, the three-unit class will be offered this spring on Thursday evenings, from 7-10:10 p.m. OCC's spring semester begins on Monday, Feb. 3.

The 49-year-old Irvine resident is a zealot when it comes to recognizing contributions made by women in the field of art: as art objects, observers and artists themselves.

"This class focuses on the unrepresented half of our society -- women," Rothschild Boros says. "Art books are filled with accomplishments of men. It's only a recent phenomenon that women have been included in books -- sparingly.

"It appears that publishers won't increase the size of their books, however, so they're adding a few women at the expense of pulling out a few men. That's not fair, either. My OCC course is devoted to the women who have been left out, ignored and buried by history."

During the first meeting of the class each semester, Rothschild-Boros goes around the classroom and asks each of her 25 students to name a prominent male artist.

"That's never a problem," she says. "Every student is able to come up with one."

She then starts around the room again, this time asking students to name a celebrated female artist.

"We usually get answers like Georgia O'Keeffe, Freda Kahlo and Mary Cassatte. Beyond that, it's total silence. If we have a student or two who's previously taken OCC's 'History and Appreciation of Western Art' class (Art 101), we'll get another few names, but that's about it."

When the course comes to a conclusion at the end of the semester, however, students are capable of rattling off dozens of names.

Rothschild-Boros possesses a Ph.D in Roman archeology from UCLA. She earned her M.A. in archaeology from the Westwood institution and a B.A. in European history from Connecticut College.

Six years ago, Rothschild-Boros taught classes in art history, archaeology and anthropology as part of OCC's popular "Semester in Florence" Program. She and her students were in Italy for nearly five months. Over the past several years she has taught art history and anthropology courses at OCC, UC Irvine, Concordia University, Irvine Valley College, Cypress College and Santa Ana College.

She has taught the "Women in Art" class only at OCC, however. It's the treasured jewel in her academic crown. The course explores such topics as: "The Female as Subject," "Women as the Creators of Art in Different Cultures," "How Men Have Depicted Women," "How Women Depict Men" and "How Women See Themselves."

"The central core of this class is the way in which women today create art," Dr. Rothschild-Boros says. "I try to go below the surface so that we can understand what motivates female artists today. We also look at what has inspired women throughout the centuries."

Each semester, Rothschild-Boros involves her "Women in Art" students in a quilt making project. Quilting has traditionally been a female art form. Every student in the class -- and there are always a number of men enrolled -- takes part in the endeavor.

"We are after all an art class, so this project is our artistic effort," Rothschild-Boros says with a smile. "Students are responsible for creating squares for the quilt. The class then puts the entire quilt together. It's a rewarding, challenging and exciting venture."

Each student must create a square that reflects an issue that's personally important to him or her.

"Images vary dramatically, and reflect the diversity of our classroom."

Squares can be created from almost any type of artistic medium available. They are frequently photographs, collage pieces, ink designs, paintings, drawings, iron-on items, written text, or sewn items.

Students bring their individual squares to the classroom and explain them to their classmates. The entire group then discusses how each square should fit into the mix. The group physically arranges the quilt, and a single class member takes the piece home and assembles it.

"We've now created nearly a dozen quilts -- one for each semester -- and they've all hung in the office of the dean of OCC's Fine Arts Division. A quilt provides a unique portrait of an individual class."

The quilts are each accompanied by a book. Students who submit squares are required to write a paragraph that explains the meaning behind their particular square.

Rothschild-Boros is planning to auction off quilts this spring in an effort to raise funds for the college's new Arts Pavilion, set to break ground in 2003. The $2.5-million Pavilion, to be funded entirely by private donations, will be located next to the college's brand new 60,000-square-foot, $15-million Arts Center that opened earlier this year. It was constructed with state funding.

The 8,500-square-foot Arts Pavilion will contain a campus Art Gallery, a Young Artists Gallery and a Gallery Cafe.

"We expect to auction off the quilts in April at the Square Blue Gallery in Newport Beach. Each quilt is unique and different from the others. They're all quite beautiful."
Square Blue Gallery is located at 355 Old Newport Blvd.

The product of German parents who escaped Europe's holocaust prior to Hitler's invasion of Poland, Rothschild-Boros was born and raised in New York City. She developed an early love for archaeology, art and history. She speaks four languages fluently -- English, Italian, German and French.

"My upbringing was somewhat sheltered," she says with a smile. "I was an only child, and my parents -- because of their background -- wanted to shelter and protect their daughter. They were German Jews who met and married in New York.

"My father left Germany in 1937 and came to New York City. My mother was raised in Nuremberg and went through Kristalnacht in November of 1938, a horrifying experience."

Kristalnacht, "The Night of Broken Glass," was a Nazi pogrom against Jews. More than 7,500 Jewish shops were destroyed in one terrible evening. A total of 191 synagogues burned.

"Not long after that, my mother was sent by her parents to Scotland on a youth transport. She then came to this country. My grandparents followed later."

Rothschild-Boros attended a private girls school in Manhattan.

"One weekend each month, as I was growing up, my mother would take me to a museum. Over the years, we covered every square inch of every museum in Manhattan. I can't draw a lick, but I developed a love for art."

Rothschild-Boros left the sheltered confines of accessible Manhattan to earn her B.A. degree in European history from Connecticut College, in New London. She also studied Roman-British archaeology. Summers during her undergraduate years were spent in England studying and working at archaeological sites. She completed her B.A. degree and moved to the West Coast to attend UCLA.

She picked up her M.A. in archaeology, specializing in the Pueblo period of America's Southwest.

"Pueblo archaeology is about as far removed from Roman-British archaeology as one can imagine, but I fell in love with the locale and period."

That's not all she fell in love with. After completing her M.A. and beginning work on a UCLA doctorate in late Roman archaeology, she met a young UCLA law student, David Boros.

"David and I were married right after I completed my written and oral exams for my Ph.D."

She was awarded a Fulbright, and the newlyweds moved to Rome where she conducted her dissertation research. She spent 18 months in Italy.

Working with the University of Rome School of Medicine, she carried out research at an archaeological site in the center of the Italian capital, on the back side of Palatine Hill. The site faced the famous Circus Maximus.

"I was working with pieces of pottery found at the site," she says. "Using a biochemical technique, I extracted residues that had absorbed into the fabric of the clay. I did that in order to determine what food products the vessels had contained."

Not surprisingly, she concluded that the vessels had held grain, oil and wine -- staples of the Italian diet 16 centuries ago...and today.

After returning to the States and giving birth to her two daughters, Lauren and Emily, she began teaching at Orange Coast College in 1989. Lauren is now a senior human development major at the University of California at Davis. Emily is a senior at Woodbridge High School in Irvine.

Rothschild-Boros has taught OCC classes in "History and Appreciation of Art from Prehistoric Times to the Renaissance" (Art 100), "History and Appreciation of Art from the Renaissance to Modern" (Art 101), "History of Asian Art" (Art 103), "Cultural Anthropology" (Anthropology 100) and "Comparative Cultures" (Anthropology 110).

But her favorite class is "Women in Art."

"I'm extremely proud of the class, and have thoroughly enjoyed teaching it," she says. "It's my 'baby,' so to speak."

Rothschild-Boros takes an even-handed approach in her classroom.

"This is not a class about male bashing, not at all," she says with emphasis. "In fact, a significant number of our students each semester are male. It's a class about looking at women and their unique contributions to the world of art."

Since the beginning of time, Rothschild-Boros asserts, male artists -- in virtually every culture -- have objectified the female form.

"They've appreciated and worshipped the female as goddess. Women, on the other hand, have not objectified men, at least not until recently. Since 1970 -- and no doubt partly as a way of seeking revenge -- women have given men a bit of their own medicine."

Her OCC class takes a multicultural approach to looking at women in art. The course examines European influences in art, as well as influences that have come from Africa and Asia. It also explores African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic-American contributions.

The Orange Coast College instructor has done more for art than just stand in front of a classroom, however.

From 1989 through 1992 she curated a traveling art exhibit, titled "In the Shadow of a Tower." The exhibit featured the work of a Black Jew, Josef Nassy. Nassy, born in Surinam, was arrested by the Nazis in Belgium in 1942 and imprisoned for three years in Laufen internment camp, not far from the infamous Dachau concentration camp. While imprisoned, he created more than 200 paintings and drawings, depicting camp life.

"The Nazis never discovered that Nassy was Jewish, so he wasn't held as a 'racial' or political enemy of the state," Rothschild-Boros said. "He survived the war and lived until 1976. I was able to talk with members of his family."

Rothschild-Boros secured the paintings and drawings from a collector, Severin Wunderman. She researched the work, wrote an exhibition catalog and put the show together. During its three-year run, the exhibit made stops in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Hartford, Hamburg, and at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Rothschild-Boros visited each exhibition site and offered public lectures about Nassy and his work.

"It was an extremely gratifying experience," she says. "It was a story that needed to be told, and the response to it was extraordinary."

Once again this spring, Monica Rothschild-Boros will be back in her Orange Coast College classroom teaching her favorite class, "Women in Art."

"Teaching is my passion," she confides. "Except for my family, nothing makes me happier. I love doing this."