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Mason and Smithsonian to Offer Master's Degree in the History of Decorative Arts

Oct. 13, 2010

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FAIRFAX, Va. – George Mason University's College of Humanities and Social Sciences and The Smithsonian Associates program of the Smithsonian Institution have joined to offer a master of arts in the history of decorative arts. The 48-credit program will focus on object-based instruction and integrate the history of decorative arts into the study of art history and cultural studies.

As the only degree program of its kind offered in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the program is ideal for students interested in pursuing careers as curators, historic site directors, auction house associates, authors and art educators. The new partnership between The Smithsonian Associates and Mason will begin in July 2011 with classes beginning in the fall, pending approval by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

"The history of the decorative arts has only recently begun to be treated with the critical eye it deserves, and this degree program emphasizes both research and practical job skills in a way that increases the potential for career opportunities for students," says Robert DeCaroli, associate professor and director of Mason’s art history program. "Mason will benefit greatly by having access to the incomparable resources and expertise that come with the unique partnership with the Smithsonian Institution."

Through direct observation and hands-on examination of artifacts, dating from Renaissance through contemporary, students will investigate American, European, and global aspects of craft, architecture and interior design, furnishings, metalwork and jewelry, textiles and costume, and ceramics and glass. Some of the coursework includes museum studies, decorative arts theory, and design history.

The unique partnership between Mason and the Smithsonian Institution will allow students direct access to the vast collections of the Smithsonian museums including the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of Natural History and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art.

"The partnership between The Smithsonian Associates and Mason will provide a balance of connoisseurship training blended with studies of history, function and aesthetic development of objects reinforced with deep understanding of material culture and theoretical considerations," says Cynthia Williams, director of the history of decorative arts program at The Smithsonian Associates. "Ultimately, this program will help to further distinguish the history of decorative arts as a field of serious and significant scholarship."

Taught by Mason art history faculty and adjunct faculty who are scholars and decorative arts professionals in the United States and Europe, the majority of the courses will be held at the Smithsonian Institution's S. Dillon Ripley Center in Washington, D.C. Seminars and select courses will be held on Mason's Fairfax Campus.

The master of arts in the history of decorative arts was formerly a partnership of The Smithsonian Associates and the Corcoran College of Art + Design from 2004 through 2012. Students who are unable to complete their degree with the Corcoran by the end of the spring 2012 semester will be eligible to earn their degree from Mason with a full transfer of credit. New and returning students for the 2011-2012 academic year will comprise one student body.

About George Mason University

Named the #1 national university to watch in the 2009 rankings of U.S. News & World Report, George Mason University is an innovative, entrepreneurial institution with global distinction in a range of academic fields. Located in Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C., Mason provides students access to diverse cultural experiences and the most sought-after internships and employers in the country. Mason offers strong undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering and information technology, organizational psychology, health care and visual and performing arts. With Mason professors conducting groundbreaking research in areas such as climate change, public policy and the biosciences, George Mason University is a leading example of the modern, public university. George Mason University—Where Innovation Is Tradition.

 About the Smithsonian Associates

The Smithsonian Associates offers life-enriching educational and cultural experiences inspired by the Smithsonian’s exhibitions, collections, and research. Each year The Smithsonian Associates creates and presents nearly 1000 individual programs that deliver exceptional opportunities for learning and growth. For audiences of all ages, on the National Mall and across the country, programs range from lectures, interviews and panel discussions, to performing arts for adults and children, to studio art classes and local tours. The Smithsonian Associates can be reached at 202-633-3030 or