New scholarship honours the late Dr. Leslie Dawn

As a professor in the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Lethbridge, the late Dr. Leslie Dawn was known for bringing art history alive. Students who took his art history courses not only learned about artworks but also about the social, economic, political and cultural contexts in which they were created.

Kirstan Schamuhn is the first student to receive the Dr. Leslie Dawn Memorial Award established by Frederike Verspoor (at right), Dawn's wife, and other family and friends.

“Leslie really cared about his students,” says Frederike Verspoor, Dawn’s wife. “He cared about getting them interested in art history and inspiring them. His students went on to do very interesting things and he was always very proud of them. I’ve heard, directly and indirectly, from students that they really did enjoy him and his classes; it was what he loved to do.”

In honour of Dawn, Verspoor and other family and friends have established the Dr. Leslie Dawn Memorial Award to help U of L art history/museum studies or art students, with preference given to students who practice community engagement in the arts. The first student to receive the scholarship is Kirstan Schamuhn, an art history/museum studies student now in her fifth year.

“I am incredibly honoured to be the recipient of the Dr. Leslie Dawn Memorial Award and grateful to his family for their donations and support that made the award possible,” says Schamuhn. “Since beginning my degree in 2015, I have focused my education and activities outside classes on one core principle — gain as much hands-on experience as possible in the museum community before graduating.

“My passion lies in working in museums, and the thought of not being able to after graduating is a source of constant stress in my life. My anxieties about my future, from wondering how I’ll get a job post-graduation to how I’ll repay my student debt, has fueled me to do more as a volunteer in museums, to try harder in my classes, and to take on more opportunities as they arise, in volunteering and employment. The Dr. Leslie Dawn Memorial Award has changed my semester completely; it has helped reduce some of my stress about my student debt while also encouraging me to continue pursuing my passions.”

Dawn supported such enthusiasm in his students and encouraged them to be involved in the community as a way of melding art with contemporary life.

“Whatever art Leslie was teaching, he placed it in context of everything else that was going on at the time. He felt it mattered,” says Verspoor. “He was invested in it; it wasn’t just another subject, and just because it was art didn’t mean it was outside of everything else that was going on.”

Along with his love of teaching, Dawn enjoyed conducting historical research, writing catalog essays and reviewing art exhibitions. In addition, he wrote National Visions, National Blindness which provided an analysis of how art was used to create a Canadian national identity, frequently at the expense of Indigenous peoples.