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Creighton senior earns prestigious theological award for essay

Detail from 1612 painting Curating, the kind of work still largely done in museums — but increasingly finding its way into the parlance of organizing summer music festivals or sidewalk fashion sales — requires a certain capacious perspicacity, a willingness to filter from many seemingly disparate things an assiduous, diverse glimpse of a people, time, place, phenomenon.

It takes a person with the galloping intellectual curiosity of Elenore Leonard, who may just have a curatorial career ahead.

Leonard, a Creighton University Honors Program senior from Waddell, Ariz., is a history major with an affinity for the fine arts, and whose most recent accolade stems from an independent study in theology that saw her tackle the work of painters giving variations on the narrative of the biblical story of Judith.

“It was nothing really official as far as my scholarship interests are concerned,” said Leonard, who graduates in May after completing her bachelor’s degree at Creighton in just three years. “It was just a personal interest of mine, something that sparked my curiosity. I get started on a lot of things that way.”

Elenore LeonardOfficial or not, Leonard’s study earned her the prestigious 2015 Albert Clark Award for Best Essay in Theology or Religious Studies at the undergraduate level, from Theta Alpha Kappa, the national honor society for theology and religious studies. The prize comes with $500 and publication of Leonard’s paper in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Theta Alpha Kappa. Leonard is the first Creighton student to earn the national prize since Meaghann Weninger won in 2003.

Leonard's essay, examining four Renaissance and Baroque painters — all Italian women who saw varying degrees of themselves in the story of Judith, a Jewish heroine who beheaded the tyrant Holofernes — makes the case that the women, Lavinia Fontana, Fede Galizia, Artemesia Gentileschi and Elisabetta Sirani, undertook their studies of Judith to make a point about their painting and to challenge the male-dominated art community.

“Each painting deals with the scene just after or during the beheading,” Leonard said. “Most paintings of Judith by men did something similar and, in that regard, these women weren’t trying anything different. They were proving a point that they could paint just as well as the men.”

When she submitted the paper for class last spring, Leonard admitted she thought that would be the end of the exercise. She’d return to her main interests in cultural and national history, pursuits that had led her as far afield as an internship at the Durham Museum in Omaha and a visit to the Natural History Museum in London, experiences which have pointed her toward a career path in museum studies.

Nicolae Roddy, Ph.D., associate professor of the Old Testament in Creighton’s Theology Department and the professor overseeing her independent study, believed otherwise. Roddy encouraged Leonard to submit the paper for the Clark Award.

“Even in her Freshman Honors class I could see Elenore synergistically engaged in the process of discerning her true vocation,” he said. “A gifted and self-motivated learner with a genuine spirit, Elenore exemplifies Jesuit and Catholic ideals of the mind and heart. Needless to say, we are very proud of her.”

Curatorship is on Leonard’s radar and she’ll begin graduate work in museum studies at the University of Kansas this fall. She admits she doesn’t think she’ll end up in the art history world, but she said she’s always keeping an open mind when it comes to her sweeping academic and personal interests.

“It was a fun opportunity to explore something outside of my usual area of interest and work,” Leonard said. “I think my career will lead me to a museum, though what kind of museum is still up in the air. I feel like I can do a lot of things because I have these interests and Creighton has given me opportunities I’ve never had.”

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