Beatrice Voorhees ’23 wins the 2023 Gaudiani Prize
Beatrice Voorhees ’23, a history and Slavic studies double major, computer science minor and scholar in the College’s Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts (CISLA) from Kent, Connecticut, was awarded the 2023 Claire Gaudiani ’66 Prize for Excellence in the Senior Integrative Project for her honors thesis, “Out of Odesa: Yefim Ladyzhensky and the ‘Odesa Text’ of Jewish-Soviet Culture.”
Named for Claire Gaudiani ’66, who served as president of the College from 1988 to 2001 and was the first alumna to fill the role, the prize, first awarded in 2016, is given to a graduating senior who has completed the year’s most outstanding senior integrative project.
Voorhees’ thesis, an original interdisciplinary study that contributes significantly to the understanding of Jewish history and creativity in 20th-century Eastern Europe, analyzes the artwork of Odesan Jewish painter Yefim Ladyzhensky through essays he dictated to his daughter. In them, he describes the thought processes behind his paintings as well as encounters and stories from his childhood. By including translated quotations from these largely unpublished works, Voorhees sought to highlight some of Ladyzhensky’s paintings as a primary source on Jewish-Odesan 20th-century history.
Voorhees describes the Odesa text as “a common urban artistic discourse through which writers and thinkers celebrated and mythologized the city. It posits Odesa as a sort of anti-St. Petersburg, a sunny, diverse, criminal, dangerous, and importantly Jewish urban space.” She argues that Ladyzhensky’s paintings and drawings are a visual continuation of the this text, with the connection appearing in the artist’s Odessa of My Youth, a collection of over 200 paintings of childhood scenes, and Red Cavalry illustrations, based on Odesan modernist Isaac Babel’s short story cycle of the same name.
Laura Little, Slavic studies lecturer and associate faculty director of CISLA, who served as Voorhees’ thesis adviser and nominated her for the award, said in her nomination letter, “Through her study of Ladyzhensky’s life, art and dialogue with predecessors, Voorhees celebrates human creativity and commemorates a culture subjected to staggering loss and devastation. In an age of rising antisemitism, she exposes the ongoing history of anti-Jewish violence in Odesa, Kyiv, Galicia and beyond, from the Tsarist era to the present day, when the Russian Federation’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and ongoing occupation of Crimea has once again put Odesans and their culture at grave risk.”
Sharon Portnoff, director of Conn’s Jewish Studies Program and chair of the Classics, Arabic and Jewish Studies Department, noted the difficulty of the thesis’ subject and said in her letter, “With a discerning eye, the thesis describes Ladyzhensky’s art to point to the difficulty—or inability—of categorizing the artist’s painting style and ably connects this inability to the fluidity of his identity and the decimation of his Jewish community. In this way, the thesis, by carefully detailing the paintings involved, literally dramatizes the uniqueness of the painter’s reconstruction of his past.”