Diana L. Linden Receives the 16th Annual Frost Essay Award for Her Article About Civil Rights Artist and Activist William R. Christopher

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Diana L. Linden is the recipient of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Patricia and Phillip Frost Essay Award for her article “‘In Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King’: White Privilege and White Masks in William Christopher’s Paintings of 1963,” which appeared in the fall 2019 issue (vol. 33, no. 3) of American Art. Linden examines a series of paintings by artist William R. Christopher (1924–1973). The suite of paintings dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. demonstrates Christopher’s complex racial awareness as a white, gay, Christian, civil-rights activist from the South. The jurors praised Linden for “integrating the methodology of social art history with a socially conscious concern to bring the insights of intersectional analysis to the practice of American art history.”

The Frost Essay Award recognizes excellent scholarship in the field of American art history by honoring an essay published the previous year in American Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s peer-reviewed journal for new scholarship. Each year, the winning essay must advance the understanding of American art history and demonstrate original research and fresh ideas. The award, established in 2004, is made possible through the Patricia and Phillip Frost Endowment.

A jury of three members of the journal’s editorial board selected the winner from articles published in 2019. The jurors who awarded the $1,000 prize were Kristen Pai Buick, professor of art history at the University of New Mexico; Mary K. Coffey, professor of art history at Dartmouth College; and Kirk Savage, professor of art history at the University of Pittsburgh. 

The jurors wrote that “through painstaking archival research, Linden has reconsolidated a nearly lost body of work by the little-known artist William Christopher. This body of paintings, executed in 1963 in response to the Civil Rights movement, sought to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with imagery focused on black subjects freeing themselves from the ‘mask’ of white expectations. Using Christopher’s diary, Linden chronicles his growing activism as a gay white Southern man confronting systemic racism both in his memories of a Southern childhood and in the nominally desegregated North. With insightful and original analysis, Linden illuminates a moment of interracial solidarity that sheds light on the psychic process of dismantling white privilege while exploring Christopher’s contribution to the history of imaging African American liberation during the tumultuous 1960s.”  

Linden is an independent scholar who lives in California. She specializes in American art of the 1930s, public art, art and social movements, and social realism. Her book, Ben Shahn’s New Deal Murals: Jewish Identity in the American Scene (Wayne State University Press, 2015), was selected as a finalist by the National Jewish Book Awards. She was also a co-editor of The Social and The Real: Political Art of the 1930s in the Western Hemisphere (Penn State University Press, 2006), and her work has also appeared in Prospects and American Jewish History, among other publications. Linden received a doctorate (1997) in American art history from the City University of New York and a master’s degree (1987) from Williams College, where the faculty honored her as the Robert Sterling Clark fellow for academic excellence. She has also taught at Pomona College, Pitzer College and the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor.

The journal American Art is part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s active publication program of books and catalogs that complements the museum’s exhibitions and educational programs. Information about subscribing, purchasing single issues or submitting articles to the journal, which is published for the museum by the University of Chicago Press, is available online, journals.uchicago.edu/toc/amart/current. A complete list of past Frost Essay Award winners and additional information about the award are also available on the museum’s website, americanart.si.edu/research/awards/frost

About the Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the home to one of the most significant and most inclusive collections of American art in the world. Its artworks reveal America’s rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today. The museum’s main building is located at Eighth and G streets N.W., above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station. Its Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft and decorative arts, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. Both locations are closed temporarily as a public health precaution to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Follow the museum on FacebookInstagramTwitter and YouTube. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Website: americanart.si.edu.

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