Faculty Spotlight on Art History Adjunct Lecturer Carol P. Kropp

Our Wake-Up Call: The Notre Dame Cathedral Fire

When the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris went up in flames earlier this spring, it shocked the world. It should continue to serve as a wake-up call, says Adjunct Art History Lecturer Carol P. Kropp at Kent State University Regional Academic Center in Twinsburg. It reminds us that we take things of beauty (and people) for granted until they’re suddenly removed from our midst.

The fire got our attention because “everyone is attracted to a disaster,” Kropp says. “There’s something awesome about the shock and awe of watching the power of fire as it rips through a structure. But its effects are devastating. Pay attention to and value the treasures in and around your neighborhood. Once you recognize the beauty and value of history, you will be inspired to preserve and restore old buildings from demolition that are being erased from our collective culture.”

Kropp is the only art history lecturer at the Regional Academic Center in Twinsburg and has taught for Kent State Geauga since 2006. She typically teaches Art History I and Art History II on campus and one online course each semester, as well as during summer session. Between the two courses, she covers major art movements from prehistoric times through to 1950. 

She was preparing for her survey course on Gothic art on April 15, 2019, when she started seeing news reports of fire consuming the iconic 850-year-old Gothic cathedral in Paris. The cathedral roof and its support structure of ancient oak timbers were nearly completely destroyed. The main spire — 750 tons of oak-lined with lead — collapsed dramatically in flames. Thankfully, the cathedral’s bell towers were safe and many works of art had been rescued or were already stored in safe places. Even though it was one of France’s most iconic sites, Notre Dame Cathedral had suffered years of neglect and lacked funds for some needed renovations before the fire which, ironically, was likely caused by an electrical short during ongoing restoration of the structure. 

Kropp thinks the burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral struck a chord in people around the world for a couple of reasons. First, it reminded them of 9/11 and the devastating terror attack that struck the Twin Towers in New York City 18 years ago, killing thousands. But also, “Notre Dame is a universal representation of what humans can achieve. It is an icon set within the city of Paris, which has always served as a beacon of light for art, beauty, and culture. Let’s honor the spirit of the church — a symbol of humanity — to do more charitable works that benefit fellow human beings.”

Since the fire, arguments have been made for either restoring the Parisian cathedral to its last known visual state prior to the fire or alternatively, redesigning it according to a contemporary aesthetic. 

Kropp takes a third position: “It would be good in this case to restore Notre Dame to the pure Gothic style. The tower was added later, in the mid-19th century. Just know that the Gothic period is imperfect. It took so long to build, the people working on it would die, and things would burn down before phases got finished. So there’s no real continuity to most Gothic structures. They are quirky and imperfect, just like us!”

Regardless of the style in which the Notre Dame Cathedral will be renovated, its essence will be preserved for coming generations, thanks to the strong will of the Parisian people and their government to ensure that it remains an enduring monument for all to see and appreciate.

This is a teachable moment for each of us, Kropp says. “It’s a reminder to preserve and restore the buildings around us in the U.S. that have historical value. It’s easier to just demolish them, but then all the memories and histories around them are lost. Start small, like raising funds to put a working bell tower back on that church in town. Or help preserve a Frank Lloyd Wright building nearby by getting involved in raising funds for such a restoration. Raise awareness. Look around your own neighborhood for historic buildings to preserve.”

In her role at the Regional Academic Center, Kropp says that her goal is not to turn students into art history majors, ”but to help them find more joy in their lives through my class. If I can get them to look at a sunset differently because of the Constable painting, or look at the way light moves on the water because of a Monet painting, or look at the architectural details on the churches around town because we studied the elements of architecture, then I feel like I have done a great job!” 

Apparently, she has. Shortly after the Notre Dame fire, Kropp received an email from a former student. In part, his message said, “I am sorry to email you on such a sad circumstance but I thought you would like to know that since I have completed your class, I have a greater appreciation for ancient art and architecture. I don't think that I would have been so emotionally impacted by the Notre Dame fire prior to completing your class. I am very satisfied to hear that over a billion dollars have already been raised to help rebuild Notre Dame. It is evident that many people around the world believe in preserving ancient art. I now belong to that group because of you.”

Photos from 2011: Carol and her daughter at ND; Carol and her son at Sainte-Chapelle, close to Notre Dame; Carol at Monet's garden.

POSTED: Monday, September 30, 2019 - 11:04am
UPDATED: Monday, September 30, 2019 - 11:32am
Estelle R. Brown