Charles E. Brownell, Ph.D.

Architectural history scholarship creates strong foundations

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With one gift, now-retired Virginia Commonwealth University art history professor Charles E. Brownell, Ph.D., and his sister, Louise T. Brownell, paid tribute to their late mother and laid a foundation of financial support for generations of VCU School of the Arts students.

Their 1995 gift created the Bess T. Brownell Architectural His­tory Scholarship. Over the years they added to the endowed fund’s principal, as did friends and colleagues.

Since 2006, the scholarship has provided nine students with financial awards ranging from $800 to $1,200. It is open to grad­uate or undergraduate students enrolled in the Department of Art History with a research focus on architectural history.

Brownell included a gift in his estate plan to bolster the schol­arship and further memorialize his mother, who was known as an enthusiastic supporter and friend of many VCU art history students. The gift will provide more money for scholarships in the future.

“We kept our mother’s name alive by giving money to students,” Brownell said. “The results are really satisfying.”

Relieving a burden

The Brownell scholarship award enabled Emily Campbell (M.A.’15/A) to travel to New York and Washington to view important collections of decorative arts, the subject of her thesis.

The scholarship meant that my work was meaningful.

“For me, it was most helpful to relieve the financial burden, and I liked that the department was showing interest in my work,” she said. “The scholarship meant that my work was meaningful. It was encouraging.”

Campbell switched from full-time to part-time employment during her second year of graduate school at VCU partly because of the assistance the scholarship provided.

“It was nice to concentrate on my studies,” she said. “The schol­arship provided assistance with tuition costs, and that allowed me to do a little bit of traveling.”

One of the greatest benefits of the scholarship, she said, was that the art history department and Brownell invested in her and her future.

Scholarships can have a big influence on where students ultimately decide to attend university, said recently retired VCU School of the Arts Dean Joseph H. Seipel.

“Every day I come across students with incredible need,” he said. “A scholarship is an enormous factor in a student’s life. It levels the playing field. Many of our students are the first in their families to attend college. Some come from means, but some don’t have great resources.”

Scholarships, Seipel said, enable students to follow their passions.

An instant connection

Campbell graduated from James Madison University in 2013 with bachelor’s degrees in art history and modern foreign languag­es. Her interest in architectural history programs led her JMU mentors to suggest contacting Brownell at VCU.

“When you start looking for architectural history graduate programs, they don’t come up that often,” Campbell said. “Usually, architecture is embedded within an art history program.”

Campbell and Brownell share a love of decorative arts. They instantly connected when she arrived on campus, and today Brownell considers her to be his successor in the study of ceramics. He often invites her to assist with his public lectures.

“He very much encourages his students to put themselves in the public eye,” Campbell said. “I’ve always appreciated that and his support of my career.”


To learn more about the School of the Arts, contact Julia Carr, executive director of development, at (804) 828-4676 or