Graduating student embarks on France Fulbright journey to bridge art and history

Zelig Goodman-Hoffman '24

Emma Herz Thakur '24 (ceramics and illustration) departs for France in September to revitalize artifact and collection relationships as a Fulbright Scholar.

Emma Herz Thakur ’24 (ceramics and illustration) feels fortunate that at RIT she met people who have won major grants, had their work featured in museums, and are connected with scholars from around the world. Now, she is one of them.

Herz Thakur will travel to France to complete a Fulbright Scholarship. She is one of a record six Fulbright Scholars this year from RIT.

Herz Thakur, from Millerton, N.Y., will split her time between Paris and Neuilly-en-Sancerre to complete her work, which has an overarching goal of creating connections between practicing artisans and museum collections. She explains that forming these connections can bring new life to museum collections and open doors for culturally responsive conversations regarding museum collecting, colonization, and the repatriation of artifacts.

Specifically, she will study collections sourced from former French colonies at the National Museum of Natural History to build a new body of ceramic work inspired by the collections and traditional French craftsmanship.

“This area of study is incredibly important. For me personally, my experience in a bi-cultural marriage with someone who is from a formerly colonized country gives me a unique perspective on the nuances around repatriation and cultural exchange,” said Herz Thakur. “Looking at how creatives can enhance and complement natural sciences and history collections can expand our minds in terms of what community interaction with these collections can look like.”

Herz Thakur is grateful for the support she received from her mentors at RIT, including Associate Professor Rebecca Scales, Professor Juilee Decker, Ann Mowris Mulligan Endowed Professor Jane Shellenbarger, Assistant Professor Peter Pincus, and Assistant Professor Chad Grohman.

As she anticipates traveling to France, Herz Thakur is hopeful as she faces the world of possibilities that being a Fulbright Scholar will bring to her life.

“I don’t know where this is all going to lead me. That’s the other thing about the Fulbright that's so daunting: the different avenues and the networking available to me is so broad. While I'm focused on this project, other doors might open for me that I don't know about yet,” said Herz Thakur. “All of these potential opportunities are both terrifying and exciting.”

As a double major at RIT, Herz Thakur can’t imagine her clay and illustration works without the influence of one another.

Herz Thakur’s ceramics capstone project included a series of sophisticated plates with illustrations and details referencing the mehndi she wore for her Indian wedding, where she married RIT alumnus Aashish Thakur ’20 MS (computer science), as well as motifs of animals native to India. 

“Understanding how illustration works in composition, and all of those principles, helps three-dimensionally,” she said. “I couldn’t live without either medium.”

Herz Thakur has been able to leverage the prodigious professional network shared by her faculty mentors. A notable moment saw Shellenbarger personally introduce Herz Thakur to one of her favorite artists, Kristen Kieffer, at the Flower City Pottery Invitational in Rochester. 

“By being in programs with amazing faculty, our doors are more open to whichever path we decide on going,” Herz Thakur said. “That’s special.”

Herz Thakur also completed a history immersion. The experience, particularly learning about the German occupation of France during World War II, influenced the direction of her Fulbright proposal. 

She departs for France in September, with the research concluding in June 2025. Her making will be done as the apprentice of potter Nirdosh van Heesbeen within the La Borne community, a tight-knit, creative hub where dozens of ceramists work. 

Herz Thakur is looking forward to observing how “they function as a community upholding an 800-year-old tradition.”

“How can I be accountable as an artist and make my mark in the discussion through my own work and my heritage?” Herz Thakur said. “It’s going to be a career-long road of exploration, but I’m excited for what the work in France is going to do for me.”

Recommended News