Art history professor Kenneth Craig, who taught at Boston College for 45 years before he died in August, was “one of the best and most influential” professors in the department, according to Aurelia Campbell.
“He was an extremely generous, welcoming, kind, thoughtful colleague and professor,” said Campbell, the art history director of undergraduate studies. “He was incredibly warm and nurturing, always giving so much attention to everyone. He went out of his way to make you feel special.”
Craig began his career at BC in 1977, serving as the chair of the fine arts department from 1985 to 1988 and later as the director of undergraduate studies of art history. During his time at BC, he taught courses such as Northern Renaissance Art, the Age of Rembrandt, Greek Art and Archaeology, and more.
According to Stephanie Leone, BC’s art history department chairperson, Craig gave his heart and soul to his work.
“He was especially dedicated to his teaching and to his students,” she said. “His door was always open. There were always students around his office. … He struck such a nice balance between setting high academic expectations for the students but also showing compassion and understanding and engaging with them as people.”
Craig was always attentive and thoughtful in conversations with students and colleagues, Campbell said.
“He would remember what you said in conversations with him and bring it up later just to follow up,” she said. “He wanted you to know he was listening. … People felt they could open up to him because he wasn’t nosey or offering unsolicited advice. He was just there to listen.”
Leone shared how Craig brought a student-centered teaching approach to important conversations and meetings within the art history department.
“He was the conscience of our department,” she said. “He was the one in departmental discussions and decision-making that always kept us focused and reminded us what mattered, which is our teaching.”
Megan Streeter, MCAS ’24, said she took at least one class with Craig every semester of her first two years at BC.
“He makes me excited about post-grad because I know that maybe one day I can have a job I love as much as he loved his job,” Streeter said. “He was also the most knowledgeable professor I’ve ever taken a class with.”
Josephine Kim, a student and advisee of Craig’s, said he was her rock when she was conflicted about pursuing art history or going to medical school.
“I would sit down with him and talk for like an hour almost every month because I was just really, really conflicted about what to do and he would give me amazing advice and reassure me that whatever I do, it should be something I’m happy about doing,” Kim, MCAS ’23, said.
When she speaks to students declaring the art history major or minor, Campbell said most of them bring up the impact Craig had on their decision.
“It seems like nine times out of 10 when I ask students what inspired them to declare that major or minor it was because of professor Craig,” she said. “They either took one of his classes, maybe for an art credit or just from other interests, and then the student totally fell in love with the discipline because of him.”
Kim said one moment with Craig that stood out to her were the final words she exchanged with Craig over email.
“It was when I decided to finally drop pre-med and just focus on art history this last summer,” she said. “He emailed me saying, ‘Just do what you want to do and do what you will make you happy,’ and I feel like those words over email [show] just how much he cared for me throughout the few years I’ve got to know him.”
Streeter said while Craig was a difficult professor, he was always encouraging his students to further explore the discipline.
“A lot of times when a professor is super intelligent or a tough grader they can feel intimidating or out of reach,” she said. “Although professor Craig was demanding, he was never discouraging. He wanted us to one day be smarter than him. He was always rooting for our success.”
Even in serious situations, Kim said Craig always made students smile, providing necessary support and an uplifting attitude.
“He would always teach with laughter and make the entire class and just feel excited to learn about what he was teaching, and just his endless support and guidance for the students,” Kim said. “I strive to be, hopefully, a professor like him one day.”
Streeter also said that although Craig took his discipline very seriously, he still brought humor into the classroom. When studying Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” she said Craig fixated on a man in the painting lying with a music sheet covering his naked body.
“He was hilarious,” she said. “He made art history fun.”
As a professor and art historian, Leone said she most admired Craig’s devotion and patience.
“[He had an] incredible devotion to his profession,” she said. “The other thing that I admired about him as an art historian was his patience when looking at and studying art. He would look at a painting over and over to see new things and he had an amazing ability to evoke the pictorial image through words.”
Leone also said Craig is recognized globally by art historians for his interpretation of Pieter Aertsen’s still-life paintings.
“He was able to show that there was a symbolic connection between the biblical scene in the painting and the representation of the still-life objects,” she said. “This has a lasting impact that goes beyond BC and anybody reading about Aertsen and about Netherlandish painting will notice the work of Dr. Craig.”
According to Campbell, in past years she and Sheila Gallagher, a studio art professor, talked about having a designated “Ken Craig Appreciation Day” to showcase to Craig how special he was to the BC community.
“Although we never got the opportunity to do so, we wanted to take him out and just let him know how much we appreciated him because he was just so special and beloved to so many people,” Campbell said. “He was here for 45 years. Art history at Boston College was synonymous with Kenneth Craig.”