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President’s Scholar: Jo Farb Hernández

Photo: Thomas Sanders, ’15 MFA Photography

Photo: Thomas Sanders, ’15 MFA Photography

The President’s Scholar Award recognizes a faculty member who has achieved widespread recognition based on the quality of scholarship, performance or creative activities. This year’s winner comes from the College of Humanities and the Arts.

She will be honored at the 15th Annual Faculty Service Recognition and Awards Luncheon on March 11, 2014. Tickets are available for purchase.

Ask Jo Farb Hernández, professor of art and art history and this year’s recipient of the President’s Scholar Award, how she feels about the fact that she is considered one of the primary experts in the field of outsider art, and she will smile. “I don’t care for that term,” she says. “Humans have a tendency to classify things. Outsider art has come to refer to works created by those who are isolated from the mainstream art field, but this isn’t a movement like other fields. These creators don’t fit in a box.”

Neither does Hernández. After 25 years in the art and museum world, she was invited to apply to SJSU in 2000 for an unusual faculty appointment. The arrangement, in which she is encouraged to both do and teach, works well for Hernández. Three-quarters of her time is dedicated to directing the Natalie and James Thompson Art Gallery, overseeing the six student galleries, managing the university’s art collection, and coordinating a weekly speaker series and presentations for the art department. The remaining quarter of her time is spent teaching related classes in museum studies and associated subjects.

“It’s important to have a teacher-scholar model in a professor,” says Hernández, who also serves as executive director of SPACES (Saving and Preserving Arts and Cultural Environments). At SPACES, a nonprofit that focuses on the international study, documentation and preservation of art environments and self-taught artistic activity, she developed the most extensive public archive on the subject in the world.

“I love all aspects of scholarship—the field work, photography, meeting the artists, traveling, researching, writing. I’ve tried to study in areas that others haven’t, to fill in the gaps in the art historical record.” Hernández goes to great lengths to accomplish that goal: she has taught herself to read Gallego and Catalan to access articles and books only printed in those languages.

In her 13 years at SJSU, Hernández has published 11 books and catalogs, as well as 46 articles in journals and encyclopedias in four countries. She has curated 45 exhibitions in the United States, Japan, Korea and Spain, and has received 23 honors and awards, including a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Residence Award to do extended research in Spain for her latest book, Singular Spaces: From the Eccentric to the Extraordinary in Spanish Art.

Teaching is a natural extension of her research. “I love working with the students,” she says. “It is so rewarding when I get through to a student by sharing the passion that I have and leading them to ways to discover their own passions. I’ve spent my career trying to break down different barriers in art, and I try to infuse that into my teaching. My goal is to open minds and hearts.”