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Press Room


12th Annual Eldredge Prize Awarded for New Interpretation of Early Modern American Art

Contact: Smithsonian American Art Museum's Public Affairs Office AmericanArtinfo[at]
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Recorded information: (202) 633-8998

Dr. Wanda M. Corn, Robert and Ruth Halperin Professor in art history at Stanford University, has been awarded the 2000 Charles C. Eldredge Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in American Art by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Her recent book The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1915–1935 (The University of California Press, 1999), is recognized as an outstanding example of art historical scholarship and a landmark study of early 20th-century modern art in the United States.

"Dr. Corn demonstrates brilliantly the extent to which early American modernisms coalesced around varying interpretations of a peculiarly American identity and alternative strategies for its representation," the Eldredge Prize jurors wrote in their decision announcement. "We expect the book to have considerable influence on future scholarship in this field."

The three jurors who awarded the $2,000 prize were: Linda Ferber, chief curator of American paintings and sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum of Art; Michael Leja, associate professor of art history in the department of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Sally Promey, professor of art history at the University of Maryland, College Park.

"We're proud to add Dr. Corn, one of America's premier art scholars, to the distinguished list of Eldredge Prize winners," said Elizabeth Broun, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "Her new book is a landmark in the history of American art and a delight to read."

The Charles C. Eldredge Prize, named in honor of the former director of the museum (1982–1988), is sponsored by the American Art Forum, a patrons' support organization. This annual award seeks to recognize originality and thoroughness of research, excellence of writing, and clarity of method. Single-author, book-length publications in the field of American art history appearing within the three previous calendar years are eligible. It is especially meant to honor those authors who deepen or focus debates in the field or who broaden thediscipline by reaching beyond traditional boundaries.

In The Great American Thing, Corn takes a larger view of American modernism and finds its roots in New York City during World War I, a full generation earlier than is commonly thought. She examines a group of artists centered around Alfred Stieglitz and European artists and writers who supported a new focus on technology, all searching to find an art that was distinctly modern and American. She writes, "Machine age modernists focused on industrialized America, replacing the iconography of Niagara Falls … with that of skyscrapers." Revising the history of early modernism in America, Corn acknowledges the role European artists played in encouraging their American colleagues' search for "Americanness" in art and a national identity.

The book is organized into two sections, each with three chapters that center on a particular work of art. The first section, "The Transatlantics," examines the dynamic exchange of ideas between New York City and Paris, France through the work of Marcel Duchamp, Gerald Murphy and Joseph Stella. The second section, "The Rooted," looks at work by Charles Demuth, Georgia O'Keeffe and Charles Sheeler, artists who chose to find their inspiration and "Americanness" in the United States. Corn's structure is organized around a close examination of seven works of art that allows the reader to grasp a sense of the variety and complexity of ideas shaping early modernism in the United States.

Wanda Corn received her bachelor's degree from New York University and continued her graduate studies there, at the Institute of Fine Arts, earning a doctorate in 1974. In 1980, she became the first permanent appointment in the history of American art at Stanford University, where she had served as the chair of the department of art and art history. Corn served two terms as a commissioner at the American Art Museum from 1988–1995, and she was a Smithsonian Institution Regents' fellow in 1987. She has curated a number of museum exhibitions including The Art of Andrew Wyeth in 1973 and Grant Wood: The Regionalist Vision in 1983.


Recent Eldredge Prize recipients include:

  • 1999: Caroline Jones, Machine in the Studio: Constructing the Postwar American Artist (Chicago, 1997)

  • 1998: Sarah Burns, Inventing the Modern Artist: Art & .Culture in Gilded Age America (Yale, 1996)

  • 1997: Sue Rainey, Creating Picturesque America: Monument to the Natural and Cultural Landscape (Vanderbilt, 1994)

Information about the 2001 Eldredge Prize is available on the museum's Web site at or write .to Research and Scholars Center, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. 20560-0230. The deadline for nominations is Dec. 1, 2000.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum's research programs include fellowships for pre- and postdoctoral scholars; an estimated .100,000-volume library specializing in American art, history and biography; extensive photographic collections documenting .American art and artists; and unparalleled art research databases. The museum's exhibitions and educational programs are complemented by an active publications program of books, catalogs and the journal American Art.

The museum is also coordinating eight exhibitions traveling across the United States as part of the Treasures to Go tour, the nation's most extensive art tour ever. The Principal Financial Group® is a proud partner in presenting these treasures to .the American people.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum collection began with gifts of art donated to the federal government in 1829 and has evolved into the world's most important American art holdings with approximately 38,000 paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings, photographs, folk art objects and contemporary crafts.

While the Old Patent Office Building is closed for a 3-year renovation, the museum is continuing a full program of craft exhibitions at its Renwick Gallery (located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street, N.W.). For information about Renwick Gallery activities, call (202) 357-2700. Please visit the museum's award-winning Web site at