In 2004, Musselman Library was searching for Asian Art Historians to write descriptions for the many treasures in Special Collections that were to be digitized. Little did we know that one of the greatest treasures that would come from this project was a tiny woman donning a nun’s habit and a perpetual smile.
While her careful work, lovingly and knowledgably describing each piece of art, will live on, we have lost Cuc Nguyen herself. In December of 2006, she succumbed to cancer.
“Cuc was a delightful, insightful, knowledgeable scholar who brought a sense of wonder and enthusiasm to her work,” said Karen Drickamer, Director of Special Collections.
During the summers of 2004 and 2005, Cuc traveled from her California home to live on campus and catalogue hundreds of pieces of rare art. Her descriptive words went beyond the facts and presented the art in a way that engaged the viewer in a sense of wonder and delight.
“She brought a vast knowledge, well-developed research skills and the instincts of a good teacher to our project,” said Drickamer. “She taught us all about our collection… Her descriptions are thorough, instructive and engaging.”
Cuc’s enthusiasm drew people to her, which was why most were surprised to learn of her oppressive background. A native of Vietnam, Cuc had become a Buddhist nun at an early age. After struggling to survive the hardships of the Vietnam War, she spent several years living in seclusion in the mountains as part of her spiritual journey.
Cuc also had a love of art and education. She studied French literature and earned degrees from College Francais Nhatrang and the University of Saigon. In 1992, after her father’s release from an internment camp, her family came to America. Cuc continued her studies in California where she earned a B.F.A. in Fine Arts and a M.A. in Asian Studies. She was finishing a Ph.D. in Art History at the time of her death.
She was herself an artist and worked in many media: Chinese calligraphy and painting, batik, oil painting, watercolor, photography and more. She once said that “art is one of the most beautiful forms in human expressions.”
Cuc’s love of art enriched our Library. Her love of life enriched our lives. We miss her.
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