Sarah Maline
Associate Professor of Art History / Gallery Director

Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin
M.A., The University of Texas at Austin


Associate Professor of Art History Sarah Maline teaches everything from the art of the ancient world to Renaissance paintings and politics to contemporary Japanese films.

As exciting as it is to introduce students to the world of art, Maline also introduces her students to the world with trips to Europe and Asia.

Maline is also the Director of the on-campus UMF Art Gallery. The Gallery’s mission is to bring contemporary art to UMF and the community. The Gallery offers opportunities for student internships, and students in arts administration and other majors can work closely with visiting artists and build future exhibitions.

The World is Your Classroom

Maline has taken students on trips to Japan, Italy and Germany. She collaborated with a UMF theatre faculty member to create a two-week course that immersed students in Japanese culture, particularly its art and theater.

“When we went to Japan we studied the contrast between the old city of Kyoto and the new city of Tokyo. We spent a week in each city. In Kyoto, we went to Kabuki-za, (centuries-old traditional Japanese theater), and we also went to a Bunraku puppet show in Osaka. We visited the famous Five Mountains Zen Buddhist temples of Kyoto and compared the architecture and compared the gardens,” Maline said. “In all our trips, we give students free time to explore their special interests,” Maline added.

Trips to Italy usually include visits to Rome, Florence and Venice over a two-week period. In the past, Maline has teamed up with faculty members in music, creative writing and political science to create the Italian intellectual adventure course. Students focus on one field of study — art history, music, creative writing or political science — and keep an academic journal during the trip. During the trip, faculty members hold seminar classes, which could include an art discussion outside the Sistine Chapel or a history expedition at the Roman Coliseum. “We end up learning from each other. I see Italy very differently now. It’s more than just its art,” Maline said.

Collaborative Learning

Trips are examples of the team teaching and the interdisciplinary investigations that are hallmarks of UMF’s cooperative learning approach, Maline noted. Maline likes to encourage that same cooperative learning in her classroom.

“Teaching contemporary art, as I do, there are things I don’t know about yet, but I feel comfortable enough to go into a class with this new material and say we can learn about this together. At big universities, students can have the expectation that they are passive receptacles. Here, we expect our students in their small classes to be active participants,” Maline said.

Maline finds this approach encourages students to become more engaged and focused on their studies. For instance, during a recent art history course, Maline assigned a team of students to create a presentation explaining the Pop Art movement. “They’ll present that information and lead a discussion, and I’ll add information when I need to, but by turning over control to the students it becomes a collaborative experience and not a passive one,” explained Maline.

“In my first-year seminar, I’m teaching Japanese Pop. Some students know nothing about the subject, and others are diehard fans of manga and anime, forms of Japanese pop art. For the first few weeks, we explore the historical background and then together we decide which themes we will explore. It’s a way of giving students ownership over their class, because it is their class,” Maline said.

Liberal Arts and Student Success

Maline uses no set formula or rubric for student success, because she finds these tools can stifle intellectual creativity. Instead, her students draft and revise their work, learning to refine and clarify their ideas.

“Those first drafts can be all over the place, but eventually the quality ends up better because they feel freer to explore ideas. They become more experimental, more ambitious and more independent,” noted Maline.

Learning to “think outside the box” is fundamental to a liberal arts education, according to Maline. As a public liberal arts university, UMF can help students become even stronger creative thinkers, she added. “Liberal art graduates are simply more flexible. They are good critical thinkers, strong writers and communicators, and they can do anything. A liberal arts education challenges students to solve problems in different ways,” Maline said.

No Typical Student

UMF students are quirky, idiosyncratic, unique individuals, Maline said. Some of the students who come to UMF would do well anywhere, she added. Others may not have been the strongest students in high school, because they had deep fascinations in specific subjects that distracted them from their other classes. Here at UMF, students can focus in on that subject of special interest, Maline explained.

“As a liberal arts college there is enough flexibility in the UMF curriculum that if they come here just fascinated on something like Japanese anime they can approach that as a scholar when they get here,” Maline said. “Students invent some amazing majors — a student with a love of anime and Japanese gaming, for instance, could design a major incorporating film studies, new media and literature.”

UMF encourages students to design their own major outside the traditional departmental boundaries. Its small, supportive and close-knit campus also means that UMF students have more opportunities for leadership than in larger universities, Maline noted.

“We get students who are looking for a small, intimate experience where they have a lot of contact with their peers and faculty and they don’t want to get lost in some big place,” Maline said.

Samurai Warriors and Wedding Gowns

Maline also collects Japanese wedding kimonos — full-length, elaborately-embroidered gowns usually colored in shades of ivory, gold and scarlet. Her collection is often on display at UMF, she said.

“When I lived it Japan, I would pick them up at temple flea markets where they were very inexpensive. In Japan, many brides rent their gown, and after a season of rentals they would appear in the flea markets. They are wonderful wall hangings, and they will go to live on various hall offices around campus,” Maline said.

The gowns have a historical significance. The typical wedding kimono is based on the dress of court ladies of the Edo period, Maline explained. The twentieth century wedding gowns are based on the heavy overcoats worn by women of the samurai class.

“There is one that’s a little damaged that we let people try on,” Maline said. “It gives you a sense of history, of how it must have felt to wear layers and layers of kimonos in unheated Japanese homes two hundred years ago.”