A Noted Historian Bids Farewell to the Past

A Historian Bids Farewell to Her Past 1

Bryan Thomas for The Chronicle

Nell Irvin Painter, who taught history at Princeton, is now an artist, with an M.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design. "As an historian, I would take your hand, and I tried to make things clear so readers could go from A to C. Clarity was my great strength," she says. "As an artist, it's not my job to explain."

In 2005 the prize-winning historian Nell Irvin Painter put down her pen and picked up a paintbrush.

After 17 years at Princeton University, the publication of seven groundbreaking books, and terms at the helms of two prestigious historical associations, Ms. Painter said goodbye to all that. She retired at 62 and spent $150,000 to pursue a bachelor-of-fine-arts degree from Rutgers University, followed by an M.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design, in 2011.

And although