Student Stories: Gail Tanzer

Gail Tanzer

Majors: Art History, Languages, Writing

Gail Tanzer began taking art history courses at College of DuPage about 20 years ago. 

“Having graduated with a master’s from the University of Chicago some time before then, I was well-established in my social work career,” she said. “However, I was always interested in art history. So I took my first art history class from Lynn MacKenzie, who was the head of the department at that time. I loved the class so much that I was eager to take every other art history class that COD offered.”

By the time she was done, Tanzer applied for and was hired to be a part-time adjunct art history teacher at a local university. She has since retired from teaching and social work, and she took time to relax until discovering her next path: writing a historic fiction novel about Ducci di Buoninsegna, an artist she admired but thought was under-appreciated in modern times.

“I had done a report on Duccio for my very first art history class. I loved his altarpiece and especially his scene of Christ Entering Jerusalem on the back of the altarpiece,” she said. 

Tanzer returned to College of DuPage to learn what she needed to create a good book. She studied Italian for a year and used the knowledge of both the language and the Italian culture to visit Siena and complete her research on Duccio. She also took a writing workshop class that helped improve her writing style.

College of DuPage is not just a school to help one get a degree. It is also a place to gain the knowledge to do what you want to do well.

Gail Tanzer

In November 2013, her book “Duccio and the Maestà” was published through Createspace. It is available through Amazon in paperback or Kindle.

Having decided to write a series on great artists, she decided her next project would be a book about Albrecht Dürer. In preparation to visit his birthplace in Germany, Tanzer took German classes at COD. As a result, “Across the Alps: The Secret Life of Albrecht Durer,” was published and is available on Amazon.  

Tanzer’s next book, “Graven Images: The Tumultuous Life and Times of Augusta Savage, Harlem Renaissance Artist,” was released by Taylor and Seale Publishers. She completed three book signings in Florida, Augusta’s birthplace, before the pandemic closed bookstores. 

Published in 2022, her latest book “Blame It on the Bauhaus?” is about Otti Berger and her life as a Bauhaus student and prominent textile designer who faced obstacles as a “secret” Jew in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s. Tanzer brushed up on the German she learned at COD and took two additional COD courses, the first about individuals who tried to overthrow Adolf Hitler, and a second about Mies van der Rohe, the last director of the Bauhaus who originated steel and glass modern architecture.

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She returned to COD for a social media marketing course to learn about using various platforms to advertise her books. Her latest historical fiction, about a polish artist who comes to Chicago in 1929, highlights the Polish neighborhoods of Chicago fondly referred to as Polonia.

Tanzer advises students not to give up on their dreams. 

“Keep learning and working on your goal in your chosen field and, if that truly is where your heart and talents lie, you will succeed,” she said. “I credit my career in writing and wanting to tell the stories of artists to my mid-life venture into the inspiring courses at College of DuPage. 

“College of DuPage is not just a school to help one get a degree. It is also a place to gain the knowledge to do what you want to do well. I heartily agree with the theory that we should all be lifelong learners and doers, and COD is the place to get the skills to do so. I will always value what I have learned at College of DuPage, and I may return for further classes in my quest to be a lifelong learner.”