by George Hersh, OLLI member

Roberta Shaw brings a warm, humane, and deeply grounded approach to the study of art history. After graduating from Stanford in history and humanities, she traveled throughout Europe for five months and then decided to study history of art at UC Berkeley. During her years in graduate school she continued her love affair with travel by spending three of her summers leading student groups to live in family settings in Europe and Japan. She moved from an initial fascination with representative drawing to a broad interest in varieties of art, particularly folk art and artistic traditions outside the conventional concentration on western European history.

Her travel experiences were expanded by the many years when she was raising her three daughters abroad, accompanying her husband’s postings with C.A.R.E. and other service organizations. She has spent extensive time living in Calcutta and Kerala, in the Philippines, in Swaziland, and in traveling throughout the world. She formed the habit of photographing art and architecture wherever she travelled and her formidable collection serves to illustrate her classes with the solid evidence of first-hand presence and observation. In recent years, she has organized and conducted eleven art history tours abroad, including to both Northern (2007) and Southern (2008) India.

Mrs. Shaw has taught in many schools in many places: the California College of Arts and Crafts, Vermont, UC San Diego Extension, and more, here and abroad. During the Cold War period, she was a dedicated peace activist and traveled to the USSR before and after the political thaw. She initiated a major cultural exchange event that worked to reestablish more friendly relationships with the people of the Soviet Union, an exhibit of 750 pieces of ethnic art that traveled from Russia to San Diego and to San Francisco in 1989. That experience opened several new teaching opportunities with UC Berkeley Extension and with the Fromm Institute in San Francisco, where she has been giving courses since 1997.

Her range of subjects over the years gives some indication of her breadth of information and experience. Among other topics, she has taught courses on Greek and Roman art illustrating mythological themes, European uses of biblical themes in fine art, Russian folk art, Russian fine art, Iranian art history, and Islamic art.

Art, for Mrs. Shaw, is not just a matter of passive appreciation and scholarly classification. As a unifying component of her activism for peace, she has used her knowledge of art to demonstrate the essential humanity of all people, particularly those who are the designated enemies of the moment. And in her life, she honors the performing arts as well. For many years, she was an enthusiastic folk singer and folk dancer and she maintains her love of music with a place in a local Unitarian choir.

Our upcoming OLLI course will be a survey of the artistic achievements of a turbulent and productive period, but one which most standard art histories ignore. We will be led through time in Northern India from the 13th to the 19th centuries. We will follow the early development of Islamic dominance in the area centering on Delhi, and the expansion into the opulent Mughal Empire, which reached its apex in the16th and 17th centuries. We will meet men of power and patrons of the arts: Akbar the Great, Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal. and his son Aurangzeb, "the richest man in the world." Then we will follow the decline of the Mughals and the passage of power and grandeur to the Hindu Maharajas, the "great kings" who fought or capitulated to the British Raj.