Fellows in Residence, 2007-2008

David Bjelajac

Senior Fellow, George Washington University

Mercurial Pigments: Chymistry, Color Theory, and Studio Practice in American Painting, 1720-188

This book project will explore American painting practices and the material dimension of the craft from the colonial period to the Gilded Age. I shall research color theories and the history of artists’ pigments, oils, solvents, glazing, and binding media, the better to explain how painters constructed cultural and sociopolitical meanings through the manipulation of colors and tonal values. The book will especially focus upon the painting medium in relation to the scientific/metaphysical paradigm of “chymistry.” As indicated by its archaic spelling, the history of “chymistry” interweaves modernizing developments in chemistry with the persisting hermetic traditions of alchemy.

Anglo-American trans-generational pursuit of the Venetian “secret” of color and Titian’s oil glazing technique coincided with theories of optics descended from the alchemical, color, and light experiments of Robert Boyle and Sir Isaac Newton. George Berkeley’s Siris (1744) and other theological, natural philosophy texts embraced chymical interpretations of light while resisting mathematical, mechanistic theories. Newton’s confused distinction between prismatic light and pigment mixtures and his alchemical hypothesis that all gross matter could be transmuted into light particles allowed painters and color theorists alike to think of pigments as mercurial, protean agents mediating between heaven and earth. Painters imagined sublimely transforming earthly pigment compounds into virtually immaterial atoms of colored light held in suspension by webs of fluid brushstrokes and thin, transparent glazes. Thanks to Newton’s optical investigations, English and Anglo-American school painters, led by Benjamin West, seemed poised to recover Titian’s legendary lost secret for color glazing.

Washington Allston gained international renown as the “American Titian.” Allston, Thomas Cole, Samuel F.B. Morse, William Sidney Mount, and other American painters cited and copied the color treatises of the English pigment manufacturer George Field and Scottish theorist David Ramsay Hay. Field and Hay, inspired by Masonic, hermetic symbolism, opposed the continuing quantification of chemistry and optics in favor of metaphysical, triadic arrangements of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors between the value-laden, racially tinged polarities of white/black, light/dark. American antebellum painters’ enthusiasm for geology and mineral collections complemented their keen interest in appropriating pigments native to the disappearing American wilderness. Transmuting native pigments into luminous American paintings implicitly expressed the westward advance of arts and learning earlier prophesied by George Berkeley.

However, after the mid-nineteenth century, the chymstry paradigm inspiring earlier generations of American painters was fracturing. Science, religion, and art moved in different directions. William Page and George Inness both pursued Titian’s Venetian secret. Yet Inness relegated chemistry to a lower, materialist order of truth associated with contemporary, photographic-style realist painting. Divorced from its alchemical origins and the poetic, spiritual truth of Venetian color, prosaic, modern chemistry had become married to mathematical, analytical science.

Marie-Stephanie Delamaire

Terra Foundation for American Art Predoctoral Fellow, Columbia University

Transatlantic Encounters: Franco-American Artistic Exchanges during the Civil War and Reconstruction Era

The period from 1857 through 1876 saw a rise in the prominence of French art and artifacts in New York City, which was the artistic center of the country as well as a hub of international exchange. Michael Knoedler’s 1857 purchase of the New York branch of the Parisian art publisher and dealer Goupil and Company was the catalyst for disseminating French visual culture to the New York art world. By the end of the Reconstruction era in 1876, French paintings, reproductive prints, and artifacts had become a major presence in New York. Thus, the dominant position of the French school of painting was clearly established.

Moving art historical attention away from artists’ expatriation in Paris, this dissertation seeks to analyze the multifaceted influence of French art in New York during the Civil War and Reconstruction era. In so doing, this research proposes a new model for the analysis of artistic exchange in a transatlantic context and provides an international perspective on the visual culture of the Civil War and Reconstruction. While scholars have formerly been concerned with artistic training and formal influence, this project outlines an approach to artistic exchange which results from a complex combination of economic, social, political, and cultural forces.

Melody Barnett Deusner

Terra Foundation for American Art Predoctoral Fellow, University of Delaware

A Network of Associations: Aesthetic Painting and its Patrons, 1870-1914

As it developed in England in the late 1860s, the Aesthetic movement in the fine arts and literature embraced emerging theories of the autonomy of art, celebrating a subjective, sensual engagement with an “art for art’s sake” freed from traditional expectations of narrative or moralizing content. Aesthetic ideas were first exemplified in painting by James McNeill Whistler and Edward Burne-Jones, and eventually took root in America in the works of John La Farge, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, and others. On both sides of the Atlantic, businessmen—including British shipping magnate Frederick Leyland, Detroit industrialist Charles Lang Freer, and New York banker Henry G. Marquand—were the chief supporters of the movement, purchasing paintings from Aesthetic artists to decorate their homes. These domestic spaces are most often described today as artistic shrines designed to insulate and isolate these collectors from the pressures of the modern industrial world and to demonstrate to their status-conscious social peers the impressive reach of their financial and cultural capital.

My dissertation, however, develops an alternative account of the movement’s evolution that highlights connection and action rather than isolation and passive absorption. Through a series of case studies of British and American Aesthetic projects, I demonstrate that despite its rhetoric of autonomy, Aesthetic painting was frequently guided by the desires of specific patrons and by the possibilities and limitations of display in carefully orchestrated social spaces, such as dining rooms and drawing rooms. Embracing a newly comprehensive attitude toward interior design, Aesthetic artists collaborated with their patrons as well as with an international array of designers, fabricators, and architects to create multimedia environments for gatherings of the patrons’ families, friends, business contacts, and political allies. By organizing my case studies around the concept of the “network,” I explore the bi-directional transatlantic exchange of Aesthetic ideas through these large-scale commissions and artistic collaborations, as well as through the complex intersection of patronage networks with powerful business and political networks forged in private social spaces at the close of the nineteenth century.

Kate Elliott

Wyeth Foundation Predoctoral Fellow, University of Iowa

Constructing National Identity: Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century Representations of First Contact

Throughout the nineteenth-century American artists were concerned with the creation of a national identity for young America. As previous scholars have noted, many artists turned to landscape and genre painting in this endeavor. However, artists also turned to history painting in extraordinary numbers. Among the historical images created during this period, “First Contact” subjects depicting indigenous peoples’ initial encounters with white explorers and settlers appear time and again. This dissertation explores the prevalence of the First Contact subject in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American art in order to understand how those images were part of the process of constructing a sense of history and national identity for young America.

My study focuses on images of First Contact from the 1830s to the first decades of the twentieth century and asks how each of these historical scenes was used by artists, patrons, and audiences to understand and rationalize the present moment. Ranging from the academic history paintings of Robert Walter Weir to the popular imagery of Charles Russell and Frederic Remington, the works demonstrate that the First Contact subject was important to Americans defining themselves by creating an epic history worthy of the grand ambitions of the young country. But the subject also proved to be extremely mutable and was repeatedly called upon to communicate specific ideas at different points in U.S. history, explaining, for instance, the proper handling of Native Americans, illustrating the importance of westward expansion, or justifying American imperialism.

Cynthia A. Fowler

James Renwick Postdoctoral Fellow in American Craft, Emmanuel College

Hooked Rugs and American Modernism

Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, hooked rugs were appreciated and collected by a wide variety of Americans, from wealthy individuals such as the DuPonts to middle class and low income American families. The pervasive interest in hooked rugs for home decoration is clearly demonstrated in a 1925 House Beautiful article which advised its readers that hooked rugs were the most “suitable rugs” for the American home. The “hooked rug craze,” as it was described in a 1928 House Beautiful article, was driven by a complex web of interests, including the fascination with Americana as a vehicle for constructing an American national identity, modernist preoccupations with the so-called primitive, and a celebration of the handmade at a time of increased industrialization. This research is an attempt to reconstruct the history of the “hooked rug craze,” including the social and historical conditions that were driving this interest in the hooked rug. Specifically, the project will focus on the fascination that hooked rugs held for American modernist artists and the efforts by these artists to position hooked rugs as part of their contribution to the modernist project. I will also consider the relationship between the production of hooked rugs as individual artworks and as functional objects for the home, including the efforts by artists themselves to establish cottage industries that manufactured hooked rugs for the general public. In addition, I will consider the reception of hooked rugs by the art establishment, from individual galleries that chose to exhibit hooked rugs along with paintings and sculptures to the rug exhibitions held by the Museum of Modern Art in 1937 and 1942. Overall, this research is an effort to contribute to the history of the fiber arts in early twentieth-century America.

 

Adam Greenhalgh

Predoctoral Fellow, University of Maryland

Risky Business: Chance and Contingency in American Art, 1876-1907

My study examines the subject of chance in American art from 1876 to 1907. As notions of luck, risk, and causality were undergoing serious revision parallel to the rise of powerful institutions dedicated to contingency and speculation, such as insurance and gambling, several major American artists initiated a thematic engagement with these contested and evolving subjects. By examining individual paintings and photographs that resonate with contemporaneous discourses on probabilism, chance, and the accident, my research teases out the role visual representation played in underwriting an emerging conception of the world as an ultimately indeterminate system and, paradoxically, in assuaging anxieties associated with the new paradigm.

Thomas Eakins’s Baby at Play (1876) thematizes the gamble involved in artistic creation by juxtaposing the cultural connotations of the accident—good and bad—when, in the aftermath of the Civil War, chance was being reconceived not as the essence of lawlessness but as the core of all laws of nature. Winslow Homer’s paintings of peril and rescue at sea of the mid-1880s resonate with a double-discourse prevalent in the rhetoric of life insurance advertising: life as commodity, and contingency plan as quasi-religious salvation. Francis Galton’s pseudo-scientific “composite photography,” which he also called “pictorial statistics,” points the way towards exposing a statistical logic underlying the blurred aesthetic of Pictorial photography. George Bellows presents a realism that confounds vision, undermining a rational, quantified view of the world at a moment when a paradigm of statistically-provable deterministic natural law was giving way to precisely its opposite: indeterminism. Presaging twentieth-century art that fully embraced chance’s role in both creative and interpretive acts, each of these artists engage productively with the tension at the heart of the dialectical relationship between control and accident.

Caroline Hannah

James Renwick Predoctoral Fellow in American Craft, Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the History of Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture

Between Art, Craft, and Design, Henry Varnum Poor and the Making of a Modern American Artist

This dissertation examines the interrelationship between the arts in the first half of the last century in America through the creative activity of Henry Varnum Poor (1887– 1970). Like a handful of other fine artists of his time, Poor engaged in the making of “decorative” or “applied” arts. He made furniture, designed houses and interiors, created murals in tile and fresco for public and private spaces, and produced graphic illustrations and designs for carpets. As one of the first studio potters in this country, his achievements presaged the Studio Pottery Movement. In the late twenties, he participated in staged exhibitions of modern domestic interiors in New York and other cities. Poor also created frescoes for Federal office buildings in Washington, D.C., among other public projects. His own studio and residence (Crow House) acted as a catalyst for his involvement in the decorative arts, from which he engaged in other commissions and expanded on his ideas of domesticity, decoration, and art.

Despite this abundance of creative activity, the significance of Poor’s overall contribution and the richness of this period in American art remain obscure. This situation results partly from the later twentieth-century art historical preponderance for classification, and hence division, of the arts. I argue that through his multi-faceted involvement in the arts, Poor played a role in the redefinition of craft as art and that his use of craft gave rise to an expression of domesticity that was effectively modern. By taking a broader look at Poor’s activities, particularly between the wars, within the context of the artistic climate at home and abroad, I will form a more nuanced understanding of Poor’s embracing of craft as an art form and the richness of this period in American visual and material culture.

Wendy Ikemoto

Douglass Foundation Predoctoral Fellow, Harvard University

Double Vision: Pendant Painting in Antebellum America

My dissertation investigates the pendant canvas in antebellum American art. It studies four pairs: John Quidor’s Rip Van Winkle paintings (1839, 1849), Thomas Cole’s Departure and Return (1837), Titian Ramsay Peale’s Kilauea by Day and Kilauea by Night (1842), and Erastus Salisbury Field’s Ball portraits (1838). The project considers the pair and the interval as the primary components of the pendant and focuses on the role of the interval in cross-canvas dialogue. The dissertation draws upon theories of narrative to understand the way in which the pendant structure mediates signification. It also looks toward developments in antebellum literature and vision to understand the prominence of the pendant in nineteenth-century American art.

Adrian Kohn,

Patricia and Phillip Frost Predoctoral Fellow, University of Texas at Austin

West Coast Minimalism: Art in Southern California, Art in New York, and the Nature of Visual Perception in Modern Artistic Practice, 1958-72

This project aims to examine and contextualize the development of West Coast Minimalism, a body of artwork comprising abstract paintings, sculptures, and installations created in and around Los Angeles in the 1960s. Several artists from Southern California—such as Peter Alexander, Larry Bell, Frederick Eversley, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, John McCracken, Maria Nordman, Helen Pashgian, DeWain Valentine, and Norman Zammitt—experimented with new materials, new handling techniques, and new modes of hypersensitive seeing. These shared interests distinguish their practices from those in New York and demand independent analysis. In redressing biases, inaccuracies, and omissions in present scholarship, I intend to ask and answer (1) how these artists used twentieth-century developments in philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience to inform their studies of perception, (2) how their pieces actually looked and why so, (3) whether they achieved what they claimed to achieve (in my and in their own estimation, then and now), (4) what sensory and cognitive effects works had on viewers, (5) why artists moved from painting to making objects to constructing architectural environments, and (6) how their creations relate to prior Abstract Expressionist works, contemporaneous New York Minimalism, and subsequent Conceptual art. The project has three major goals. First, I plan to establish areas of correspondence and contrast among West Coast Minimalists since both analyses are lacking in current scholarship. Second, it will be necessary to evaluate similarities, differences, and distinctions of degree between Minimalism on the West Coast and Minimalism in New York. Third, and most critically, I will use these artworks as a case study in assessing the role of perceptual inquiry in modernist art of the United States.

Asma Naeem

Sara Roby Predoctoral Fellow in American Realism, University of Maryland

The Imagery of the Ear': The Visual Culture of Sounds and Sound Technologies in America, 1848-1948

My dissertation examines images that depict sound (or non-sound) in terms of the contemporary historical, cultural, and scientific issues surrounding noise, sounds, and the act of listening. From 1848 to 1948, America’s soundscape underwent tremendous changes, not only in terms of the inventions of the telephone, phonograph, and radio, but also because of the increased noise heard in the city streets, factories, and in the nearby countryside. Listening to period voices and looking closely at paintings, advertisements, prints, and other graphic material, I will investigate the complex relationship between visual representation and sonic experience. Chapter one argues that Richard Caton Woodville’s chatty townsfolk and straining listeners iterate the invention of the telegraph and newfound medical interest in the ear. My second chapter will consider how Thomas Eakins transcribes the visual and sonic physiognomy of his sitters at a time when the phonograph was boasting mimetic accuracy. In chapter three, I will explore how Winslow Homer displays his discomfort with new sound technologies like the telephone by emphasizing the power of the human voice and the old-fashioned use of bells and horns in the countryside and out at sea. Chapter four examines Edward Hopper “whiting out” the noises of New York City with his spare, lonely scenes, in contrast to the visual cacophony of Ashcan artists like William Glackens and Everett Shinn. And lastly, chapter five considers Jacob Lawrence’s proud depictions of African American oral traditions during the period when the hugely successful radio show, “Amos ‘n’ Andy,” mocked them.

Prudence Peiffer

Predoctoral Fellow, Harvard University

Routine Extremism: Ad Reinhardt and Modern Art

This project explores the unique and overlooked oeuvre of American artist Ad Reinhardt (1913–1967). I focus on what the artist called “routine extremism,” a term buried in his notes that refers to a code of living that would unite aesthetic ritual and everyday routine, political responsibility and artistic detachment. This dissertation will define the substance and effects of Reinhardt’s practice in its various aspects: his cartoon and essay interventions in the public press (chapter 1), his material process of painting and its perceptual and conservation difficulty (chapter 2), his treatment of time in his “ultimate” abstract paintings (chapter 3), his multinational didacticism and its photographic means (chapter 4), and his posthumous influence for artists as various as Carl Andre and Andy Warhol in the late 1960s and 70s (chapter 5). In so doing, my thesis will not only elucidate and interrogate the work of a misunderstood but major figure, it will also show how Reinhardt’s “routine extremism,” and our understanding of it, reevaluate art and history in the twentieth century, forwarding a theory of modernism both practicable and radical all at once.

Jennifer Raab

Wyeth Foundation Predoctoral Fellow, Yale University

Frederic Church and the Culture of Detail

The landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church are defined by an evolving language of detail. My dissertation examines this evolution, tracing a shift from a system of representation based on comprehensive knowledge to one marked by a diffusion of information. While “knowledge” implied the pursuit of order and unity for nineteenth-century viewers, “information”—a word increasingly used as the century continued—made no such promises. Church’s works exist between these paradigms. I focus on four major paintings in relation to an emerging Darwinian discourse, changes in viewing and exhibition practices, new methods of consumer display, and the pressures of photographic veracity on painting.

Emily Eliza Scott

Predoctoral Fellow, University of California Los Angeles

Wasteland Aesthetics: Art and the Postindustrial Landscape, 1962-72

Several vanguard artists in the United States turned from the interior architectures of the studio and gallery toward material landscapes during the 1960s and early 1970s, engaging outdoor spaces as a critical medium and testing ground. Specifically, many were attracted to “wastelands,” those landscapes that were actually or perceived to be ruined or contaminated. Although art historians have often collapsed landscape-based art from this period into the categories of “land art” or “environmental art,” this dissertation foregrounds the actual sites where such projects were staged and proposes that art in wasteland spaces represents a distinct branch of aesthetic practice. It maps, therefore, a genealogy separate from that for artists working with different kinds of landscapes and draws together performance artists, post-minimalists, conceptual photographers, ecological artists, and others in order to examine new ways that artists came to know and work with the land at this time. It contextualizes these artworks in relation to a precise socio-historical moment, namely the shift from industrial to postindustrial economies in the West, as well as longstanding landscape aesthetic traditions (e.g. the picturesque, the American technological sublime). This dissertation argues that the emergence of the postindustrial was evident in the production of new landscapes, new conceptions of landscape, and new crises of relation with land, to which artists shared an aesthetic response. It therefore complicates understandings of both postwar art and space via an exploration of the interplay between critical aesthetic imperatives and the landscapes in which they have been tested. It simultaneously traces the radical transformation of the American landscape, literally and metaphorically, in the same era: as technological testing ground, modern ruin, and repository of contamination.

Dalila Scruggs

Terra Foundation for American Art Predoctoral Fellow, Harvard University

The Love of Liberty Has Brought Us Here': The American Colonization Society and the Imaging of African-American Settlers in Liberia, West Africa

My dissertation investigates the visual imaging practices of the American Colonization Society (ACS). The American Colonization Society was comprised of a motley group of statesmen, gradual abolitionists, and slave owners who advocated “colonization,” sending blacks out of the country. The Society was founded in 1816 to establish colonies in Liberia, West Africa for free and manumitted African-Americans. Along with literary “sketches,” correspondence, and financial records, the Society used paintings, photographs, and engravings to demonstrate the efficacy of their work and garner support for their mission. African-Americans also participated in this image campaign as sitters in portraits and as picture makers. I will explore how both the white-run ACS and AfricanAmerican settlers in Liberia used visual imagery to represent Liberian settler identity to a public faced with resolving the “problem” of race in antebellum America.

I will use the SAAM fellowship to research two areas of colonization images: portraits of African-American settlers in Liberia and landscape representations of the Liberian settlement. I plan to explore the social and aesthetic discourses that inform colonization images by contextualizing ACS pictures housed at the Library of Congress with ACS records and nineteenth-century American artworks with similar thematic and formal content in Smithsonian collections.

Although this project is focused geographically on West Africa, thematically it is very much an American art history project. Colonization imagery was intended to sway American public opinion and drew its meaning from social and aesthetic discourses circulating in the United States. With its transatlantic scope, a project on colonization imagery dovetails with SAAM’s interest in American art in international contexts.

Hélène Valance

Graduate Fellow, Université Paris VII - Denis Diderot

The Re-Envisioning of American Landscape

I intend to work on nineteenth-century American landscape painting, focusing on the imaginary re-envisioning of native landscape: landscape seen as a wilderness to be tamed, cultivated, and ornamented in imitation of, or in contrast with, European landscapes, and considered in all its imaginative reconfigurations.

I will rely first on a series of texts dealing with scenery or landscape and its painted representations. These texts will be seen as reveries or re-imaginings of the American landscape and will be compared with analogous dramatizations or reconfigurations in the pictorial tradition, more particularly in the paintings of the Hudson River School.

It is almost a commonplace for nineteenth-century authors writing about American landscape to lament its “plainness,” its lack of “picturesqueness,” and its paucity of historical significance. Obsessed with representations of European landscapes that abound with signs of the past—ruins, monuments and buildings, all visible markers of human cultural history—American writers and painters of the nineteenth century dreamt of the picturesque “enrichment” of their own landscape. This preoccupation led some to re-envision their native wilderness in often hallucinatory ways, imagining future transformations that would incarnate the higher ideals of a new nation but at the same time point towards the figural rape of pastoral serenity. This tension between the dream of “cultivation” and the fear of violating the landscape’s native integrity demands an investigation into the definitions of this “cultivation” and its relationship to European depictions of landscapes. What forms do dreamed landscapes take in the work of painters? To what extent do the latter borrow European models, and in what ways are these anachronistic signs formally and technically integrated into the American imagery?

I will concentrate on the expression, in the works of nineteenth century painters, of paradoxes expressed by writers who, seeking a picturesque future that would endow them with a visible past, dream of a national representation nurtured by European pictures and confront the realities of their own country with delirious aspirations of its quasi-magical embellishment.

Jennifer Van Horn

Terra Foundation for American Art Predoctoral Fellow, University of Virginia

The Object of Civility and the Art of Politeness in British America (1740-80)

My dissertation examines the way that objects created and maintained civility in colonial America. Using portraits, cityscapes, dressing tables, and other goods, the project employs visual and documentary analysis to uncover objects’ function in creating the civil self. Civility, defined during the period as politeness and freedom from barbarity, was an interior state achieved through exterior appearance. This project employs an Atlantic World approach to explore the ways that colonists used objects to enact and to monitor their civility for themselves and an imperial audience. My dissertation argues for the importance of transatlanticism in the study of colonial America, moving beyond a nationalistic viewpoint to understand colonial objects’ role in carving out a polite space at the margins of empire.

Riccardo Venturi

Terra Foundation for American Art Predoctoral Fellow, Université Paris X - Nanterre / Università dell' Aquila

Unconscious Sources: Mark Rothko and Italian Art

This research project concerns the influence of Italian art on the work and thought of Mark Rothko (1903–1970) and comes from the observation that Italian references, mentioned by many critics, have so far not played a very significant role in the interpretation and understanding of his work.

Consulting archival material rarely considered by scholars, I reconstruct three of Rothko’s travels in Italy, in 1950, 1959, and 1966, for periods that ranged between five weeks and three months. On the one hand, I deal with the artist’s relationship with art of the past, from antiquity to the Renaissance; on the other hand, I describe his bonds with contemporary artists (Toti Scialoja, Carlo Battaglia), art critics and historians (Giulio Carlo Argan, Emilio Villa, Milton Gendel, Gabriella Drudi), and Americans staying in Italy at the time (Peggy Guggenheim, Peter Selz, Bernard and Becky Reis).

In particular, I identify several crucial sites that Rothko visited: the island of Torcello and the church of the Assumption (twelfth century) near Venice; the Laurentian Library by Michelangelo in Florence; the Beato Angelico frescoes that decorate the walls of the Dominican monks’ cells in the San Marco convent in Florence; as well as the ruins of Pompeii and Paestum. Rothko also saw the Mythological Room at Boscotrecase when it was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

From Pompeian painting to the frescoes of Fra Angelico, from the Byzantine mosaics to the unresolved and tense architecture of Michelangelo or De Chirico, this reconstruction accompanies a methodological reflection on how to account for the influence of Italian art on Rothko’s work, avoiding the difficulties of an iconological and semiotic position.

The hypothesis is that Rothko was searching for alternative examples to the “selfaware image” (V. Stoichita) and pictorial flatness typical of Clement Greenberg’s formalism. Several episodes of Italian art, which he encountered in his readings and his travels, helped him to conceive an image that frees itself, that abandons the picture and anthropology of images beyond the history of art.

Following the unexpected publication of Rothko’s The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art (2004)—an artistic treatise wherein Rothko refers to Giorgio Vasari’s Lives—this project concentrates on Rothko’s formation and readings that precede his travels in Italy. The research also focuses in particular on the American debate during the thirties and forties about the history and critique of Italian art.

Glenn Willumson

Senior Fellow, University of Florida

Iron Muse: Picturing the First Transcontinental Railroad

This project analyzes the ways in which visual representations of the first transcontinental railroad brought about a new understanding of the post-Civil War role of the American West. My research centers on the photographs of the construction of the railroad (1865– 1869) but also discusses the ways in which the railroad companies used different media—paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs—to frame the corporations’ efforts. Corporate managers and politicians used railroad imagery from fine to popular art forms to construct an ideology that redirected American ideals and acted as a vehicle for the ideological reconstruction of America as both an industrial nation and as a country with a grand new western horizon. I consider a variety of media, not as isolated objects, but as artifacts that carry on a complex interaction with texts, with each other, and with the culture and society that viewed them. My book will be the first to present the pictorial legacy of the railroad in its entirety: the circumstances of pictorial production, the physical character of the visual image, selected sites of reception, and the historical representation of the images of both the transcontinental railroad and the extensive landscape that it promoted.

Although focused on a specific event, my research is more than a narrow historical study. By tracing the continuing history of the imagery generated by the railroad, my book will demonstrate how this visual culture is reinterpreted and continues to influence our contemporary and historical understanding of the American West.

Other Smithsonian Fellowship Appointments in American Art

Jobyl A. Boone

Predoctoral Fellow (at National Portrait Gallery), University of Delaware

Christo and Jeanne-Claude in the United States, 1964-2005

Johanna Burton

Predoctoral Fellow (at Archives of American Art), Princeton University

The Content of Context: Appropriation in American Art of the 1980s

Rowena Houghton Dasch

 Predoctoral Fellow (at National Portrait Gallery), University of Texas at Austin

Now Exhibiting': Charles Bird King's Picture Gallery, Fashioning American Taste and Nation, 1824-61

Dorinda Evans

Senior Fellow (at National Portrait Gallery), Emory University

Art in Conflict: The Legacy of Gilbert Stuart

Christine Filippone

Predoctoral Fellow (at National Air and Space Museum), Rutgers University

Science, Space, and Utopias in the Work of Alice Aycock and Agnes Denes