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14th Annual Eldredge Prize Awarded for New Study of San Francisco's Chinatown

Contact: Smithsonian American Art Museum's Public Affairs Office AmericanArtinfo[at]
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The Smithsonian American Art Museum has awarded the 2002 Charles C. Eldredge Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in American Art to Anthony W. Lee, associate professor of art history at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass. His recent book, Picturing Chinatown: Art and Orientalism in San Francisco (University of California Press, 2001), is recognized as an outstanding study of the visual, social and political culture of San Francisco's Chinatown from 1850 to 1950.

"Each of the book's chapters skillfully intertwines interpretations of Chinatown from within and without the community," the Eldredge Prize jurors wrote in their decision. "We see the various ways in which Chinatown was perceived as a curiosity and later, as a consumer commodity. In turn, these transformations—viewed in the context of the social and political history of San Francisco—are revealed as expressions of the ever-changing possibilities and difficulties faced by inhabitants of the community."

The jurors also commented that Lee "tells the story of artistic response to Chinatown in a lively and compelling manner, without polemics or jargon, making it clear that a scholarly book can also be a pleasure to read."

The three jurors who awarded the $2,000 prize were: Erika Doss, professor in the department of fine arts at the University of Colorado; Kenneth Myers, associate curator of American art for the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art; and Carol Troyen, John Moors Cabot curator of paintings for art of the Americas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

"Anthony Lee's beautifully written book and thoughtful approach adds to the story of the United States, a nation that has defined itself through immigration over the past three centuries," said Elizabeth Broun, the museum's Margaret and Terry Stent Director.

Picturing Chinatown: Art and Orientalism in San Francisco looks at images of this famous neighborhood from about 1850, when the city was just developing, through the 1940s, when Chinatown became a tourist destination. Lee's study integrates fine art and "commercial" representations of Chinatown, examining the work of photographers such as Laura Adams Armer, Arnold Genthe, Dorothea Lange, Eadweard Muybridge and Carleton Watkins, as well as painters Edwin Deakin and Theodore Wores. He also addresses the work of several artists who depicted the Chinese community from the inside, such as the radical painter Yun Gee and the Chinese Revolutionary Artists' Club, a 1920s collective, and the "hyperethnic" dance productions that entrepreneur Charlie Low presented at his Forbidden City nightclub in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Lee uses these images as sources of cultural meaning as well as viewing them as works of art.

Lee received his doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley in 1995. He is currently chair of American Studies and an associate professor in art history at Mount Holyoke. Lee's research interests include modernist painting and photography, the visual cultures of immigrants and ethnic Americans, the role of art in the encounters between peoples and cultures, and the relationship between art and politics. In 1999, his book Painting on the Left: Diego Rivera, Radical Politics, and San Francisco's Public Murals was published by the University of California.

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 the discipline by reaching beyond traditional boundaries.

Recent Eldredge Prize recipients include:
• 2001: Jodi Hauptman, Joseph Cornell: Stargazing in the Cinema (Yale University Press, 1999)

• 2000: Wanda M. Corn, The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1915–1935 (The University of California Press, 1999)

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

Further information about the Eldredge Prize and a complete list of past winners is available on the museum's Web site at The deadline for 2003 nominations is Dec. 1, 2002.

The museum's research programs include fellowships for pre- and postdoctoral scholars, extensive photographic collections documenting American art and artists, and unparalleled art research databases. An active publications program of books, catalogs and the journal American Art complements the museum's exhibitions and educational programs.

Eldredge Prize Lecture

On Oct. 16 at 4 p.m., Professor Lee will present the annual Eldredge Prize lecture, titled "Orientals and Orientalists in the American Scene," in the Grand Salon at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. The lecture and reception afterward are co-sponsored this year by the Smithsonian's Asian Pacific American Program. This event is free and open to the public. For more information, call (202) 275-1557.

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 39,000 paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings, photographs, folk art and contemporary crafts.

While the renovation of the museum's historic home—the Patent Office Building—continues, American Art offers a full program of exhibitions at its Renwick Gallery. For information about Renwick Gallery activities, call (202) 357-2700. Please visit the museum's award-winning Web site at