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Art major wins Eastern’s Library Research Award

Published on May 18, 2022

Art major wins Eastern’s Library Research Award

Isabel Butternick
Isabel Butterick '21

Isabel Butterick ’21, of Willimantic, who majored in Art with a Studio Art concentration and a minor in Art History, has been named the recipient of this year’s annual J. Eugene Smith Library Research Award at Eastern Connecticut State University. The award recognizes exemplary undergraduate research projects that use library resources.  

A committee of faculty and library staff evaluates submissions for the award, which must demonstrate the ability to locate, select, evaluate and apply information from print, microform and online databases and collections. Butterick wrote her paper, “Empty Persons, Empty Portraits” for Maeve Doyle, assistant professor of art history, whose “Topics” course last spring was on “Histories of Portraiture.” The final assignment for the writing-intensive course was a scaffolded research project that students worked on throughout the semester.  

Butterick’s research project tackled a philosophical problem within the history of portraiture — the apparent contradiction between the Buddhist disavowal of the self and the central role of portraits — representations of the self, especially in Zen Buddhist visual culture.

In her paper, Butterick introduced the Zen concepts of anatta (no-self) and sunyata (Emptiness), explaining them through a discussion of primary textual sources and examples of Buddhist art from the second century through the 17th century.

"During my time at Eastern I’ve been able to nourish my eclectic interests in fine arts, history and philosophy,” said Butterick. “To me, this research project represents the culmination of academic skills I’ve learned. As a Studio Art major with a minor in Art History, I am interested in both learning the technical skills to create art, and the importance of art and material culture in society. I have a particular interest in the intersection between art and religion, which I explored in ‘Empty Persons, Empty Portraits.’

“Learning about the way artists use visual language to convey their beliefs inspires me in my own work. In the future I plan on pursuing a career in fine arts, but Art History research will always be a pillar in my own artistic process.”

“Isabel’s final essay is one of the finest examples of original student research I have read during my time at Eastern,” said Doyle. “Her research is of the highest level, and the range of sources she cites reflects and supports the interdisciplinary nature of her project. Isabel masterfully anchored a broad-reaching topic and balanced an interdisciplinary research question through her careful and thorough review and selection of available primary and secondary sources. This essay topic presented a research challenge, since many historical works of Zen art remain in active monasteries and have not been widely available for study. This makes Isabel’s accomplishment all the more noteworthy.” 

The Library Research Award Committee includes Professors Courtney Broscious (political science), Bradley Davis (history), Jonathan Hulvey (biology), Manuel Otero (English), and library staff Hope-Marie Cook, Kellie O'Donnell-Bobadilla and Angela Walker. 

For more information on the awards visit

Written by Dwight Bachman