The song of the siren and the beak of an owl

Two art majors present at the Ninth Annual Longwood University Undergraduate Medieval Conference


­ Julia Poyer with Asa Simon Mittman during her presentation.  Photos courtesy of Dr. Kat Tracy, Longwood University.

Sirens and sinful owls are beasts fit for a conference. Two Radford University students researched and presented these topics March 27-28 at the Ninth Annual Longwood University Undergraduate Medieval Conference in Farmville, Virginia.

Art majors Kimberly Lynn Morrill and Julia Poyer both created papers for Dr. Carlee Bradbury’s art history class. Bradbury is an associate professor of art history.

Morrill, a double major in dance and art with a concentration in art history, broached the subject of mermaids. “Singing Sirens—How Medieval Misogyny Shaped a Monster” was the title of her paper and presentation, and was included in the session “Marginal Magic.”


Kimberly Lynn Morrillduring her Siren presentation.

“We studied bestiaries (a collection of beasts) in Dr. Bradbury's medieval art class, so our papers expanded on a creature that we picked,” Morrill said, “I also personally love the sea and the femme fatale idea behind sirens.”

Poyer, an art major with a concentration in art education, used owl symbolism in the Middle Ages as her topic. Her paper and talk were called “Outside of the Christian ‘Norm’: Medieval Bestiaries Representing Owls as Being ‘Sinful’ Birds.’” Asa Simon Mittman, professor of art history at California State University, Chico., chaired her session “Othering and Violence.”

“I knew I wanted to choose some sort of bird and in my research stumbled across various representations of owls being attacked by other birds as well as having more human-like features like noses and mouths,” Poyer said.

These elements inspired her to research the reasoning behind why these artists to made such choices. This led her to the topic of anti-Semitic references in medieval representations of owls.

“Medieval artists were capable of creating convincing images of owls, but purposefully chose to add references to Jews, such as horns and hooked noses in bestiaries, as a way to instruct Christian audiences, which was something that I found interesting and decided to expand upon in my Longwood Presentation,” she said.

“Both Julia and Kimberly delved into the subject of controversial symbolism in a highly contextualized way,” Bradbury observed about her student’s work. “After much research and visual analysis, they situated the owl and siren (respectively) within the larger framework of medieval culture.”

With such projects, Bradbury encourages her students to participate in conferences. This particular one required students to submit abstracts to Longwood University for consideration.

“The Meeting in the Middle at Longwood University is a highly competitive undergraduate research conference that draws students from all over the country,” Bradbury said. “Radford students are usually the only art historians to present. This continues to be an honor.”

Meeting in the Middle was the conference theme based on the growing interest of medieval studies in the Farmville area. Longwood University is central to medievalists in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland.

Following this conference, Morrill plans to present her research at Big South Undergraduate Research Symposium this month. Other art history students presenting at this conference include Ciara Banks, Regan Chancellor and Kenna Crane.

For more information on art history at Radford University, visit

Apr 8, 2015