Graduation 2018: walking talking art

Kathryn Hallam Howard, graduating today with a BA History of Art, discusses why she decided to start studying in her fifties, and why Birkbeck was the perfect place to develop both her love of art history and her new venture, creating specialised walking art tours for fellow enthusiasts.  

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Hills around the Bay of Moulin Huet, oil on canvas, 1883, The Metropolitan Museum, New York (Open Access)

The summer of 2014 found me in a tiny hamlet on Guernsey. The path down to the local beach, Moulin Huet, is steep and rocky and used only by locals and visitors, who are lucky enough to know its well-kept secret. Visitors like Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who often painted the dramatic landscape with its imposing cliffs, ice cold seawater and crystal-clear light. So why, am I recalling my trek down a Channel Island path used by Renoir? Well, that was where I first decided to apply to Birkbeck to do a BA History of Art and Architecture.

I had always been interested in art and had visited many art galleries. However, I often found myself first to arrive at the gift shop, wondering where my friends and family were. Then in 2013, I trained to be a Blue Badge tourist guide and found myself taking groups around London’s amazing galleries and museums. Yet, I felt a fraud! I could easily take someone around the National Gallery and discuss twenty-odd paintings. However, were they to ask me about something I hadn’t researched, then my superficial grasp of art history would have been exposed. I decided to rectify that and an undergraduate degree at Birkbeck suited me perfectly. Term dates complemented the guiding season and the modular composition meant I could study different subjects without being restricted to one time period. The annual field trip was an added incentive and I enjoyed two trips to Paris and Berlin.

Another unexpected pleasure was the sheer diversity of the students in terms of age, background and nationality. I met many interesting people and made some good friends.  All my tutors and lecturers were experts in their field but also offered first class support to help us maximise our learning experience. I found the environment rewarding, stimulating and challenging. Preliminary surveys of European Art (pre-1800) and Modern Art, gave a good introduction to the discipline and the sheer variety of modules offered in the subsequent years was excellent. I studied topics as wide-ranging as art and architecture from 1250-1550, satire and caricature, the relationship of the body to modern architecture and the relationship between public and private space and modernity. One module, The Impact of immigration on Modern British Art inspired my dissertation topic – the art produced by those fleeing Nazi persecution, whilst interned as ‘enemy aliens’ on the Isle of Man 1940-1941.

I’m currently working with the family of an interned art historian, Klaus Hinrichsen, to explore recently discovered papers and correspondence. Some interesting lines of enquiry have already emerged. I am also creating specialised art tours for those who would like an affordable and interesting day out with a small group of like-minded enthusiasts, to be launched in 2019. If you are interested in learning more or can suggest an interesting theme for a tour then please get in touch at


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