There is a new presence among us this year whose thoughtful and imaginative contributions will make an impact on the lives of UR students and the university as a whole. I recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with Friederike Seligman, who we would all benefit from getting to know.

Looking for a place to sit down in Rush Rhees Library, we chose an area under a Russian painting, a work of art which set the theme for the conversation. Throughout the various questions I asked Seligman and the topics we discussed, we always seemed to come back to the subject of art and the various roles it has played in her life.

After leaving her home in Hamburg, Germany at the age of nine, her family moved to the west side of Manhattan, “near the Museum of Natural History,” she made sure to say. Growing up among many different “ethnic enclaves” in the west side, Seligman would frequent museums and attend lectures. It was easy to see where her love and appreciation for the arts originated.

Seligman attended Oberlin College where she studied art history and Russian and developed a strong appreciation for these fields. When I asked her if she herself was an artist, she calmly replied, “No, I dabble in art like anyone else, but I just have a real appreciation for it. It makes me happy.”

Later in her life, as she and her husband moved from Boston, to Washington to Ann Arbor to Tucson and then St. Louis – like “academic vagabonds,” she said – she would always find herself involved in some artistic endeavor.

At Washington University in St. Louis she found a unique way to bring people together through her own passion. She purchased works of art to decorate the Washington University School of Law and found artists and art collectors to both donate and lend art to the school. “I wanted to bring art to a scientific and pragmatic culture,” she said. “For law students who are trained to pay attention to fine details, to have to look at aesthetic events encourages them to look at things from a different angle than what they are used to. It’s an enriching experience.”

Until her two children, now ages 19 and 21, were both in college, Seligman spent some of her time doing volunteer work teaching multi-cultural arts to children in elementary and middle school. Volunteering gave her flexibility in raising her family.

In her first year at UR, Seligman has been keeping herself comfortably busy. She is not only adjusting to her new home-town and setting up house, but is also teaching an undergraduate literature course called “Chekhov and The Modern Short Story.” As to whether or not she was reluctant to leave St. Louis, her answer was a resounding no. She was very excited when she heard her new home would be Rochester, particularly because of the Eastman School of Music, affording her numerous listening and musical exploration opportunities at her fingertips.

As we parted ways in the tunnels beneath Rush Rhees, Seligman ventured into the Art and Music Library to check out the display.

This was a fitting end to our conversation and illustrates her enthusiasm for our university and her firm belief in the value of culture and art. As Seligman says, “It’s a good medium to bring people together,” and I agree, it is something UR should strive for.

Weintraub can be reached at

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