Remembering Dr. Allison Sherman

Art History student reflects on popular professor’s passing

Dr. Allison Sherman in Venice.
Dr. Allison Sherman in Venice.
Supplied by Jill WeinReich

For students like myself, Dr. Allison Sherman will always be remembered as a brilliant art history professor who could always make those around her laugh at one of her corny jokes or personal stories. 

Unfortunately on April 26, Dr. Sherman passed away after a two-year battle with cancer. With heavy hearts, flags were lowered around campus on May 2 and 3 as I joined the Art History Department alongside students, colleagues, family and friends to remember Dr. Sherman.

Dr. Sherman was a professor students could call a friend because of her passion for the story behind the art. I will always remember how she made simple facts like measurements and geographical locations come alive in her class. She even made policy fun, saying “Don’t Play a Player” to remind students that she was on the lookout for plagiarism, improper citations, and invalid extensions on papers.

Her battle with cancer was a difficult process to witness because her struggle was visible on her face. She grew tired and her complexion changed from pink to pale, but throughout this she maintained a smile. That amount of determination motivated everyone around her to support her through her battle because we all knew she was worth fighting for.

When I look back on Dr. Sherman’s memory, not only do I think about the positive contributions she made to my life, but also to Queen’s. Kate Hutton, ArtSci ’16, shared my thoughts.

“For me, Alison was an inspiration; a shining example of determination and brilliance. She always had a smile on her face and a wonderful story to make everyone laugh. I loved taking her courses and was always enraptured by her passion for art history.”

Back in April 2015 — when Dr. Sherman was first diagnosed with breast cancer — a GiveForward page was made in her name to give updates on her progress and to assist her family with medical bills. 

The department DSC rallied behind her, hosting a dinner which all proceeds went to Dr. Sherman’s battle with cancer. This wasn’t the lone event — other events like Cezanne’s Closet, an annual silent auction held at the Union Gallery, also raised proceeds for Dr. Sherman’s treatment.

Specializing in Italian Renaissance Art and Architecture, Dr. Sherman found creative ways to teach dry material. One of my favourite moments was when Dr. Sherman compared the shape of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s groin to the shape of an Italian renaissance groin vault during one of her lectures. The class laughed at the bizarre humour but rarely forgot what a groin vault was. 

Sherman was more than a creative professor — she doubled as a mentor, and friend. Her personality disarmed the relationship of student and professor, relaxing the tension of academia.

In the first class that I had with Dr. Sherman, she introduced herself by saying she loved tea and offered an open invitation for anyone to come by for a cup and chat about course difficulties or personal matters. Moments like this as well as when she shared her experience with anxiety during her undergraduate degree humanized Dr. Sherman unlike other professors.

This honesty encouraged students to come by her office hours and talk to her without any trace of fear. Andrea Howard, ArtSci ’18, was one of them.

“Allison Sherman was the first prof to advise me and support me when it came to navigating my mental illness in academia,” Howard said. “She was the only instructor who helped establish a system with me that consisted of disclosing information and keeping open communication with my [professors].” 

Dr. Sherman was widely considered as kind, caring and funny and acted with confidence that drew frequent admiration. Her infectious personality and laugh lit up any room.

“I would always hope her door would be slightly ajar, as it would mean I would get to pop in, chat, see her warm smile, hear a good story and share a laugh,” her colleague Dr. Norman Vorano said. “Her boundless positive energy was completely disarming and her natural empathy helped others around her open up.”

While I would usually dread going to class, her teaching style made me excited every week and gave me something to look forward to. So, when I found out she passed away, something broke inside me and a couple tears came to my eyes because I knew that her story telling was over. 

Queen’s University will remember Dr. Sherman. I will always remember Dr. Sherman. She was an inspiration and always knew how to make someone laugh. She was well loved. 

“I liken Allison Sherman to a comet, that all-too-briefly flashed across the firmament but periodically returns to lighten our lives,” Dr. Pierre Du Prey, a former professor of Sherman, said. “Allie’s Comet illumined so many by her brilliance of intellect, warmth of humor, and unbounded consideration for others.” 

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