Fellows in Residence, 2008-2009

Makeda Best

Predoctoral Fellow, Harvard University

Alexander Gardner–Photography into History, 1858–68

Since their invention, photographs have held a unique place in America as souvenirs of both personal and collective history. The daguerreotype, and later, the carte de visite, allowed a young nation hungry for visual representation and proof of its identity to see itself literally for the first time. In portraits of the nation’s political and cultural luminaries, the country connected with its auspicious present; in the production of their own photographic likenesses, ordinary Americans aligned themselves with this new reality. Yet, the complexity of the events and ideological conflicts in America in the nineteenth century continually challenged the medium’s technical, descriptive, and narrative capabilities.

The work of Alexander Gardner responded to this moment, in part through its wide-ranging subject matter, from the Civil War to the developing American West. This dissertation explores how in the process of creating images he developed a new pictorial model for photography in the nineteenth century and beyond. “Alexander Gardner— Photography into History, 1858–68” traces the formal and critical continuities of a vision that provocatively proposed a social role for photography as a medium straddling object and image, history and memory. By studying images beyond those considered in previous scholarship on Gardner, this dissertation extends upon the development of Gardner’s vision in Scotland and America, and analyzes his working methods, his negotiation of contemporary and artistic symbols, and his pioneering multi-media projects.

Sarah Carter

Predoctoral Fellow, Harvard University

A Basket, a Needle, a Penknife: Object Lessons in Nineteenth-Century American Material and Visual Culture

My dissertation focuses on the history of “object lessons” as they developed in primary school classrooms in the 1850s and 1860s and traces their role throughout the nineteenth century. Using objects ranging from baskets and penknives to whalebone and pewter vessels, this methodology was intended to teach children how to perceive their material worlds and to use their heightened observational skills to learn to reason. Framed by historical and bibliographic research, my project employs material culture analysis to mine the exotic and everyday objects at the center of this practice. Close analysis of object-based pedagogy links the perception of everyday things to larger anxieties about the stability of representation and reality in nineteenth-century visual culture and material life.

The research that I will do at the Smithsonian is crucial to the completion of this project. I plan to spend my time examining the actual pedagogical objects designed and adapted for nineteenth-century classrooms. Furthermore, I will explore the connections between object lessons and broader themes in nineteenth-century visual culture, particularly through study of advertising and ephemera, trompe l’oeil paintings, and representations of children.

Ellery Foutch

Wyeth Foundation Predoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania

Arresting Beauty: The Perfectionist Impulse in Peale's Butterflies, Heade's Hummingbirds, Blaschka's Flowers, and Sandow's Body

Nostalgic historicism and progressive modernism were antithetical forces shaping American visual culture in the nineteenth century. A third, heretofore unstudied factor was a desire to stop time, pausing the cycle of growth, decay, and rebirth at an ideal moment. This dissertation describes and analyzes this interest in capturing the “perfect moment” by focusing on four diverse examples: Titian Ramsay Peale’s butterfly illustrations and specimen boxes, Martin Johnson Heade’s paintings of hummingbirds, Harvard University’s Blaschka Glass Flowers, and photographs of bodybuilder Eugen Sandow. In both conception and reception, these works pursued notions of perfectibility and engaged contemporary cultural topics—evolution, theology and spirituality, neurasthenia and bodily decline, the allegorical trope of the Course of Empire, and J. J. Winckelmann’s notion of the cyclical nature of artistic production. This dissertation examines the cultural context of these works’ production as well as their aesthetic forms and qualities to illuminate the related issues that tie these diverse projects together: an awareness of the fragility of life and nature and a concomitant desire to preserve them in a “perfect state,” the impulse to transform nature into art, and an interest in didacticism, spirituality, and human design in the face of cultural turmoil.


Joanna Frang

Terra Foundation for American Art Predoctoral Fellow, Brandeis University

Becoming American on the Grand Tour, 1740–1830

My dissertation, “Becoming American on the Grand Tour, 1740–1830,” examines the Grand Tour as a formative feature in early American political culture and civic life. Framing the Grand Tour as a formative experience on both an individual and a national scale, this project focuses on the ways young men and women from the urban elite in the colonies, and later, in America, used this kind of edifying travel as a means for both selffashioning and fashioning the young republic. Using an interdisciplinary approach that draws from interpretive methods of history, anthropology, art history, and material culture, this project contests any narrow definition of political power and cultural activity in eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century America. Material and visual evidence provides a key set of sources for this project in the form of the objects Americans collected while on Grand Tours, including wallpaper, portraits, landscape paintings, books, furniture, sculpture, and even the classically-inspired architecture they subsequently chose for their private homes and public institutions. The Grand Tour was a visually intense experience for Americans, who demonstrated the ways that such travel refined their aesthetic sensibilities in sketchbooks, sitting for portraits while abroad, purchasing post-card sized vedute of Italian scenery, and collecting artwork for private and institutional collections. My dissertation engages with the Grand Tour as a material and ideological phenomenon with sustained cultural resonance for Americans long after travelers returned from abroad. In the nineteenth century, Americans celebrated the nation’s natural wonders and antiquities as superior to the Grand Tour attractions of the Old World, providing a logic for expansion in the search for such American objects and vistas.

Jason Goldman

Predoctoral Fellow, University of Southern California

Arousing Possibilities: Deviant Sexuality and Underground American Art, 1955–69

My dissertation considers how the U.S. sexual revolution of the late 1950s and 1960s provided the historical crucible for a new category of work known as underground art. In contrast to the American avant-garde of this period at large, which lacked any single political project or orientation to mass culture, underground art was a radical practice organized around the exploration of sexual taboos, the subversion of obscenity laws, and the espousal of progressive sexual politics. By embracing forms of sexuality marked as deviant, artists of the underground sought to politicize erotic art, transforming it from a minor genre into a means of social dissent and counter-cultural expression.

My project brings together the clandestine visual production of American artists Wallace Berman, Robert Smithson, and Brigid Berlin in order to examine the intersection of deviant sexuality and underground art from a variety of perspectives. Representing a range of artistic practices and subject positions, Berman, Smithson, and Berlin are an unconventional art-historical ensemble; but when considered together, they suggest the collective way in which artists of many sorts gravitated toward the underground and the multifaceted potential of deviant sexuality, a term I choose for its historical specificity to postwar sexual politics, where it could signal any number of non-normative acts and desires. Methodologically, the project treats underground art as both a material archive and an immaterial, discursive context. Rather than attempt to codify underground art as a movement or school in the traditional sense, my dissertation seeks to capture the shifting meanings and political uses of underground art within its historical moment.

Kenneth Haltman

Terra Foundation for American Art Senior Fellow, University of Oklahoma

Preparing a Critical Translation of René Brimo, 'L'Évolution du goût aux États-Unis

My goal is to prepare a critical translation of Brimo’s study of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century patronage and art collecting in the United States, L’Évolution du goût aux États-Unis—despite its private publication in Paris in 1938 a foundational text that helped shape the then still fledgling field of American art history. By “critical translation” I mean to suggest my ambition, beyond merely rendering the text into English, first to verify and, as necessary, to correct its scholarly apparatus and then, in a lengthy introduction, to situate Brimo’s project at once historically and historiographically.

Valerie Hellstein

Patricia and Phillip Frost Predoctoral Fellow, Stony Brook University

The Politics of Metaphysics in the Club: John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and Ad Reinhardt

The research I will conduct at the Smithsonian Institution will form the third chapter of my dissertation, which as a whole offers a new understanding of the metaphysical goals espoused by certain Abstract Expressionists and those associated with the Club by elucidating the context of the postwar religious discourse and its intersections with radical politics. I reposition the prevalent shift by artists and intellectuals away from activist politics after World War II by exploring how the artists transformed their once overt politics into a discussion of metaphysical themes. Skepticism toward the metaphysical content claimed by these artists coupled with the empty religious rhetoric employed during the Cold War kept scholars from understanding the historical role that religious attitudes played in shaping postwar abstract art.

This chapter will argue that the Club was not a monolithic vehicle for Abstract Expressionism, and while it nurtured some of the Abstract Expressionists like Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, it was in fact the breeding ground for a stringent critique of what came to be seen as Abstract Expressionist metaphysics. Alternatives espoused by John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and Ad Reinhardt were no less political and, in fact, often followed similar anarchist lines, but they were embedded in the ideas of Zen and Eastern thought. The aim of this chapter is to demonstrate how in the hostile, conservative Cold War environment metaphysical and religious ideas were called upon to provide several outlets for more radical political beliefs.

Jamie Jones

Predoctoral Fellow, Harvard University

American Whaling in Commerce, Culture, and Memory: Contexts in American Art of the Inland and Maritime Frontiers

The research I will conduct at the Smithsonian Institution will form the third chapter of my dissertation, which as a whole offers a new understanding of the metaphysical goals espoused by certain Abstract Expressionists and those associated with the Club by elucidating the context of the postwar religious discourse and its intersections with radical politics. I reposition the prevalent shift by artists and intellectuals away from activist politics after World War II by exploring how the artists transformed their once overt politics into a discussion of metaphysical themes. Skepticism toward the metaphysical content claimed by these artists coupled with the empty religious rhetoric employed during the Cold War kept scholars from understanding the historical role that religious attitudes played in shaping postwar abstract art.

This chapter will argue that the Club was not a monolithic vehicle for Abstract Expressionism, and while it nurtured some of the Abstract Expressionists like Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, it was in fact the breeding ground for a stringent critique of what came to be seen as Abstract Expressionist metaphysics. Alternatives espoused by John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and Ad Reinhardt were no less political and, in fact, often followed similar anarchist lines, but they were embedded in the ideas of Zen and Eastern thought. The aim of this chapter is to demonstrate how in the hostile, conservative Cold War environment metaphysical and religious ideas were called upon to provide several outlets for more radical political beliefs.

Jamie Jones

Predoctoral Fellow, Harvard University

American Whaling in Commerce, Culture, and Memory: Contexts in American Art of the Inland and Maritime Frontiers

From the time when whaling flourished as one of America’s chief industries until long after whale oil became obsolete, whaling has served as an impetus for telling stories. This fellowship at the Smithsonian will allow me to continue work on my dissertation, an extensive study of whaling stories told in narrative, image, museum, and performance. My project documents those stories starting just before the Golden Age of American whaling in the early nineteenth century and continuing through the early twentieth century, when the then-obsolete industry became a popular subject of public commemoration. Within this time span, I inquire into and compare the kind of stories whale fishermen and their avid observers told about whaling when it was still a vibrant industry, and those that curators, tour guides, and historians told after its decline. My study thus has two main targets: first, contemporary stories told by whale-fishermen and those who observed them at close hand; second, retrospective commemorative ones told in richly diverse media, from newspapers to history books to museums to performances to painting. My research at the Smithsonian will take two forms: 1) intensive study at my sponsoring institution, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, in nineteenth-century maritime and landscape art as a context for understanding images of whaling, and 2) wide-ranging exploration of the National Museum of American History and the National Anthropological Archives, both of which hold important archival and object-based collections in whaling.

Scholars have given considerable attention to the rise and fall of the whaling industry, and to life on board whaling ships. Stories about whaling, however, were not located in a closed-circuit conversation about whaling alone. What goes unexamined is the way they participated in contemporary anxieties and curiosities about work, travel, war, gender, politics, and memory. In uncovering and tracing the memory of the American whaling industry, my dissertation seeks to answer questions about the cultural life and afterlife of economic ventures, and about the production of historical memory and forgetfulness.

Jason LaFountain

Predoctoral Fellow, Harvard University

A History of New England Puritan Art

In this dissertation, I argue that art (i.e. “artificing,” or techné) is a, if not the, central theoretical preoccupation of English and American Puritan intellectuals. I begin my analysis during the late sixteenth century in England and end during the years surrounding the death of Cotton Mather (d. 1728) in New England. In the first chapter, I explore John Calvin’s theology of the “living image,” underlining Calvin’s emphasis on human beings as Godmade pictures and as greater than all images that are manmade. The second chapter focuses on the English Puritan William Ames and technometria, a model of the arts crucial to the development of New England Puritanism. In this chapter, I address Ames’s concept that “art” constitutes the idea or practice of “being a good Christian,” which he terms eupraxia. The third chapter interrogates the imitation of Christ as it undergirds the conceptualization, production, and reception of both “artwork” and various kinds of material objects, especially books, funerary monuments, and pictorial portraits, in Puritan culture. In my fourth chapter, I call attention to a counter-discourse in Puritan writings in which the actions of ministers are defined not as “artificing” but in terms of image curatorship and conservation. I examine the masculinist ideology of Puritan “edification” in the fifth chapter. The sixth and final chapter treats the New England Puritan Cotton Mather’s hitherto unrecognized late-seventeenth-century reading and revision of Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists (Florence, 1550). Working with and then radically against Vasari’s Roman Catholic iteration of Western art history, I show that Mather created an early version of American art and architectural history in the Magnalia Christi Americana (London, 1702). The works of the Puritan artists and architects Mather describes therein are not material things—they are not paintings, sculptures, or buildings—they are, instead, “artful” (i.e. technical) actions contributing to the creation of a new Christian society in the British colonies of North America.

Crawford Alexander Mann III

Terra Foundation for American Art Predoctoral Fellow, Yale University

When in Rome: Italian Travel and the Pursuit of the Ideal Male Body in Antebellum American Art

In the first half of the nineteenth century, travel to Italy confronted American tourists and artists with new concepts of gender and sexuality and new visual ideals for the male body. By analyzing the work of four American painters and sculptors—Washington Allston, Horatio Greenough, Thomas Cole, and Thomas Crawford—in relation to the artistic and sexual life of Rome and the oeuvre of their European contemporaries, my dissertation elaborates the ways in which concepts of beauty, morality, and intellect were collectively understood and publicly defined through idealized images of male bodies in high art. Exposure to Rome’s homosocial academic model of artistic practice and to the city’s visual and sexual decadence prompted American artists to consider the diverse social and political meanings located along the male gender spectrum, from androgynous boyhood to adult masculinity, visually relating these to competing models of pedagogy, friendship, citizenship, and artistic identity. Utilizing the critical terms of gender studies and queer theory to reinterpret the works of art produced within this rich international context, I argue that such efforts to reconcile European and American aesthetic ideals challenged the cultural forces codifying gender roles and governing the depiction and appreciation of homoerotic beauty during the Romantic period.

Holly Markovitz

Douglass Foundation Predoctoral Fellow, Boston University

Reframing the Frontier: Rephotography, Repetition, and Return

“Reframing the Frontier: Rephotography, Repetition, and Return” examines the ways in which contemporary artists use techniques of rephotography to rethink historical meanings and mythologies of the American landscape. One hundred years after the first photographers documented the American landscape, artists began to retrace their steps and re-record their views. From the late 1970s until the present, artists have used rephotographic practices to assess changes in the land over time and to reconsider the status of the frontier as an American legacy.

This dissertation will analyze the work of four contemporary photographers, Mark Klett, Robert Adams, John Pfahl, and Deborah Bright, who photograph significant landscapes from American history in order to create a visual and theoretical dialogue with the past. The projects of Klett, Adams, Pfahl, and Bright demonstrate four different expanded “rephotographic” methods; I will introduce the categories of “literal,” “conceptual,” “sublime,” and “political” rephotography to enrich and enhance the genre’s traditional definition. In 1984, Mark Klett’s Rephotographic Survey Project repositioned rephotography from a geographic tool of measurement to a fine art practice. More recently, the landscape photographs of Adams, Pfahl, and Bright challenge and rework the nineteenth-century frontier mythology.

Leo Mazow

Senior Fellow, Palmer Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania State University

Thomas Hart Benton and the American Sound

Plantae, Animalia, Fungi: Transformations of Natural History in Contemporary American Art examines the ways in which contemporary artists—including Cy Twombly, Mark Dion, Walton Ford, Fred Tomaselli, and Roxy Paine—have engaged the visual traditions of natural history, such as guidebooks, field scrapbooks, and curiosity cabinets. Such investigations help us understand the epistemological shift in the sciences from the classical age to the modern, from natural history to biology. Twombly’s prints and collages of fungi, Dion’s ecologically charged installations, Ford’s Audubon-inspired watercolors, Tomaselli’s tableaux of botanical specimens, and Paine’s species-specific mushrooms, poppies, and trees demonstrate a renewed artistic interest in the paradigms of natural history. For such artists, natural history invokes a mythology, a kind of obsolete science, recalling outmoded practices of ordering external attributes.

The introduction, “Securing Passage and Setting a Course,” lays the historical groundwork of natural history within the visual arts, and examines why contemporary artists have used naturalist images of flora and fauna to interrogate such contentious issues as global warming, the war on drugs, and DNA analysis. Chapter two, “Plantae (Vegetable Values): Embarking on the Voyage,” focuses on artists who enlist plants as subjects and media, thereby recollecting such naturalists as Linnaeus and Darwin. A third chapter, “Animalia (From Man to Zoophyte): Recording and Observing Fauna,” addresses the fate of naturalists from Lamarck and Cuvier to Audubon in contemporary art. Chapter four “Fungi: Navigating a Route Home,” considers mycology as an intellectual nexus for artists Robert Morris, Twombly, Tomaselli, and Paine, as well as the composer John Cage. Finally, “Natural History—Concluded: Transforming the Specimens,” explains how the work of artists who have transformed naturalist motifs in the contemporary era point toward a new paradigm in which the discrete classifications of similarities and differences may be collapsed into a symbiogenic view of the natural world.

Frank Mehring

Terra Foundation for American Art Postdoctoral Fellow, Free University Berlin

Transatlantic Encounters with the Colors of Democracy: The Life of the German-American Artist Winold Reiss (1886–1953)

The Munich-educated German American Winold Reiss (1886–1953) was an enormously versatile artist of American modernism and a fascinating figure in transatlantic encounters. In addition to his commercial ventures into interior designs, his oeuvre was unique in its artistic attention to the people of “all” races. However, Reiss’s multifaceted work has been relegated to the footnotes of American art history. Reiss entered the United States at a time when his plea for racial tolerance was measured by his German background. Later, in the wake of the Nuremberg racial laws, the deplorable connection between the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi ideology made Reiss’s efforts to promote the recognition of African American, Chinese American, Indian, Japanese American, and Mexican culture particularly problematic. His national identity does not fit in the picture of ethnic pride. What could a German artist, who emigrated to the United States in 1913, possibly have to say about racial tolerance, equality, and the future of American democracy? The groundbreaking exhibition “To Color America: Portraits by Winold Reiss” at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in 1989 sparked a renewed interest in the transnational dimension of Winold Reiss’s life and artistic accomplishments. One of the greatest challenges concerns the transatlantic tensions that shaped his identity as a German American and his artistic vision in the United States. Despite the shortcomings of American democracy, which he reflected upon in his private letters and diaries, Reiss was not discouraged about the American experiment of freedom. Instead, he modeled himself into a representative American in the Emersonian sense. Through his art, he actively promoted cultural relativism and made a courageous plea for racial equality. A biography, which traces Reiss’s life, work, contacts, inspirations, and conceptions of American democracy represents a pressing desideratum in American art during the first half of the twentieth century. My research project Transatlantic Encounters with the Colors of Democracy: The Life of the German-American Artist Winold Reiss (1886– 1953) will close this gap.

Leta Ming

Predoctoral Fellow, University of Southern California

Performing Counterculturalism: San Francisco Conceptual Art, 1969–79

My dissertation investigates the humorous, simplistic actions that characterized San Francisco conceptual art in the 1970s. I focus on artists associated with and exhibitions that took place at the Museum of Conceptual Art (MOCA), an alternative space founded by artist Tom Marioni that served as an incubator for experimental art throughout the decade. I argue that the Bay Area’s distinction as the national epicenter of the counterculture provides the necessary context in which to understand its comical, actionbased version of conceptualism. Countercultural ideologies decried post-industrial America’s rational, capitalist order, and yearned for a life free of societal repression. My study demonstrates that the seemingly inane actions of San Francisco conceptualism represented articulations of a countercultural ethos that rejected the dominant American ideal of productivity and prized strategic uses of regression into childlike states.

By focusing on the Bay Area, my dissertation sheds light on a prolific and dynamic movement in art history that has been neglected by art historians, and moreover, it challenges the received notion of conceptual art as dry and sterile. Unlike works from New York that were presented and interpreted as serious or high-minded, San Francisco conceptualism foregrounded notions of stupidity and ridiculousness, demanding that we recognize the humor that resides not only in California art, but also in much canonical conceptual art.

Nancy Palm

Predoctoral Fellow, Indiana University

Unsettling Identities: Indian Iconography in Thomas Cole's National Landscapes

Throughout his career, Thomas Cole frequently included representations of Indians in his landscapes, typically portraying them as marginal figures blending into the wilderness almost to the point of invisibility. I argue that this practice both naturalized the displacement of indigenous peoples and contributed to the construction of pervasive Indian stereotypes. My dissertation project comprises a reexamination of Cole’s landscapes in the context of Indian imagery, Indian policy, and attitudes concerning White-Indian relations in order to position his work within a broader cultural practice of constructing Indian identities, a process that reflected the anxieties and desires of EuroAmerican society more than it revealed an understanding of Native American cultures.

In the context of national expansion, Cole’s portrayals of ideal American scenery presented the idea of a vast and seemingly unpopulated North American continent open for geographic and economic development. However, Cole’s vehement disapproval of the spread of Jacksonian democracy complicates this aspect of his works. Targeted federal warfare against Native Americans was part and parcel of Jackson’s agenda, and continuing to examine the Indian presence in Cole’s landscapes will allow me to position Cole’s works within a larger context of how Native Americans were perceived and how their presence was visually and politically “managed” throughout the nineteenth century. While Cole has received extensive scholarly attention, as have visual representations of Native Americans, the dialogue and exchange between these two seemingly unrelated genres of American art have yet to be considered. I argue that racialized meanings in Cole’s visual representations of the landscape and its native inhabitants would have been understood implicitly in relation to contemporary concerns and assumptions about Native Americans. As the United States developed geographically and politically, stereotyped Indians continued to emerge as symbolic representations of the Native American race, and my objective is to situate Cole’s landscapes in this unsettling process.

Jody Patterson

Terra Foundation for American Art Postdoctoral Fellow, University College London

Modernism for the Masses: Painters, Politics, and Public Murals in New Deal New York

This research project will be the first comprehensive scholarly study to address the relations between modern art, leftist politics, and the New Deal federal art initiatives in New York City during the turbulent years of the Great Depression. While this period in American art remains largely associated with the dominance of figurative works and the promotion of what was perceived as a tradition of native realism, the art scene was considerably more factional and complex than canonical narratives indicate. Significantly, the use of an abstract visual vocabulary was not nearly so marginal as current art-historical scholarship continues to suggest, nor were the relations between modernism and realism as polarized as standard formal and theoretical assessments maintain.

The purpose of this project is to explore the ways in which artists with varying degrees of commitment to the left, such as Ilya Bolotowsky (1907–1981), Stuart Davis (1894–1964), Arshile Gorky (1904-1948), and Balcomb Greene (1904–1990), negotiated a rapprochement between modernist aesthetics and leftist politics within a complex cultural field deeply divided by contending ideologies. Specifically, it will examine these relations with respect to public muralism, an art form that underwent a significant transformation during the decade, emerging as a vital manifestation of revolutionary popular art and serving as an exemplary means for bringing art to the people.

In an effort to offer some corrective to the inadequacy of received notions of 1930s public art, the primary goals of my research are three-fold: to analyze the ways in which artists embraced and/or contested the political mandates of the Communist Party, the Popular Front, and the New Deal state in order to achieve a rapprochement between modernist aesthetics and leftist politics; to offer an alternative to the still widespread tendency to treat modernism and realism as antipodes on the aesthetic spectrum; and, finally, to examine the ways in which both Roosevelt’s New Deal and the Communist Party’s Popular Front were politically and ideologically able to accommodate the development of modernism, particularly within the context of the Work Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project.

Janneken Smucker

James Renwick Predoctoral Fellow in American Craft, University of Delaware

From Rags to Riches: Amish Quilts and the Crafting of Value

My dissertation asks how individuals, communities, and institutions constructed the value—monetary, aesthetic, and emotional—of Amish quilts during the late twentieth century. Amish quiltmakers and entrepreneurs, cultural brokers from the art world, and consumers eager to own their own piece of authenticity all participated in the processes that crafted the value and meaning of these objects. As articles of familial affection, as works of art, and as commodities that helped draw millions of visitors each year to tourist havens known as “Amish Country,” quilts have enjoyed status, appreciation, and high monetary value. Amish quiltmaking, once an activity of communal production, became a market-driven process influenced by interior decoration trends, modern art exhibitions, shrinking agricultural acreage, tourism, and international refugee migrations. By studying the appeal of and the market for these objects, this dissertation will also reveal one manifestation of the late-twentieth-century search for authenticity through consumption.

I will explore exhibition and collection files to elucidate the Smithsonian’s role in promoting both the aesthetic and cultural value of these objects through exhibitions at the Renwick Gallery and through the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). I will also examine the phenomenon of making one’s own Amish quilt through published patterns and how-to books. In addition, I will investigate the early 1990s Smithsonian quilt controversy involving the licensing and reproduction of American quilts to a transnational corporation in order to explore consumer reaction to doubts about quilts’ authenticity. This issue relates to a similar controversy involving Hmong quiltmakers in the production of quilts marketed as “Amish.”

Jeannine Tang

Terra Foundation for American Art Predoctoral Fellow, Courtauld Institute of Art

Conceptual and Post-Conceptual Art in the Cold War

Conceptual and post-conceptual art practice during the 1960s and 1970s marked a transformative moment in American art, as the movement produced innovative models of labor, aesthetics, exhibition display, curation, dissemination, collection, and artist agreements. My dissertation theorizes conceptual and post-conceptual art as influenced by and responding to the zeitgeist of Cold War détente and rapprochement, as experienced through activism in the arts, analyses and deconstructions of American cultural identity, notions of the domestic in national and institutional spaces, concerns with information and communication systems, and positions of individual and artist subjectivity.

My fellowship research will focus on the politics underpinning conceptual and post-conceptual art’s more broadly utilized artistic methods and forms of display in relation to the period’s social politics and visual culture through a study of specific case studies. These will include the work of critics and curators supporting conceptual art, for instance Lucy Lippard and John Weber, and the work of artists such as Martha Rosler, Hans Haacke, Sol LeWitt, and On Kawara, among others.

Robin Veder

Senior Fellow, The Pennsylvania State University

Embodied Modernism: American Art, Exercise, and Dance, 1880–1940

Embodied Modernism investigates the contributions of exercise and dance to the aesthetics of modern art. This book project takes the philosophy, imagery, and influence of Arthur B. Davies—American artist, curator of the 1913 Armory Show, collector, and collections advisor—as the locus for exploring how body cultures shaped artistic modernism in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I argue that Davies’ engagement with contemporary exercise and dance shows that his classicized figures expressed modern sensibilities of body consciousness. In this period, the American and European body cultures of Delsarte expressive gymnastics, modern dance, and Mensendieck exercise looked to art history for models of the body beautiful. Their sensibilities interlaced philhellenic aesthetics with modern ideals and practices for achieving physical health, efficiency, and self-expression. Similarly, in his own artistic production, Davies channeled his appreciation of Greco-Roman art into modernist visual experiments. He did so by translating these conjoined art-historical and modern body culture sensibilities into the trans-historical “lift of inhalation” theory of art, through which he explored an embodied visual modernism.


Annemarie Voss

Predoctoral Fellow, Rutgers University

Incremental Remedies: Women Artists and Ecology since 1980

My dissertation is the first detailed investigation of the ecological approaches of contemporary women artists who aim to transform the natural environment with their work. I explore the production of artists who have significantly advanced the legacy of the Earthworks movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Whereas the earlier, primarily male, artists imposed human intervention on the land without much concern for environmental impact, the artists of this subsequent generation approach nature with goals of reclamation and restoration, and conceive of an art capable of transforming the environment in a positive way. Conversant in the science of biology and engineering, they collaborate with scientists and local communities to ensure that their work provides practical, long-lasting solutions to problems resulting from short-sighted, consumerdriven economic forces. I maintain that these artists seek to counter late-capitalist, postindustrial neglect of the environment, using art as a means by which to imagine new relationships between humanity and the natural world. Informed by theories of interdependent ecosystems, these artists create works that posit mutually sustainable relationships while also promoting awareness of land exploitation for the purpose of profit.

Miranda Wallace

Postdoctoral Fellow, Queensland Art Gallery

A Time of Images: Photography and Film in American Art since 1970

My research concerns the role of photography and film in American art since about 1970, and is an integral part of a wider project to assess the significance of the American minimalists’ encounters with, and reactions to, these time-based media. It examines the way certain key artists of the period (Carl Andre, Mel Bochner, Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris et. al.) understood the aesthetic role and signifying processes of photography and film, and seeks to use the outcomes of this research to provide a new framework for interpreting photographic or film-based work made from the 1970s to the present day.

The research is aimed at producing a scholarly article based on a chapter of my Ph.D. thesis. This will focus on a number of American minimalist or post-minimalist artists who, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, took a surprising and significant interest in the late-nineteenth-century “proto-cinematic” serial photography of Eadweard Muybridge. The holdings of the Archives of American Art include important primary materials, particularly interviews with relevant artists, which will inform and complete this research. The article will establish certain historical and conceptual principles that will inform a broader research project currently in development through the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, Australia.

Work undertaken during the fellowship would include not only archive-, library-, and art object-based research, but also professional discussions with relevant curators at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum to enhance my knowledge of, and exposure to, curatorial strategies for exhibiting film and video.

Short-Term Visitor Awards at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

John Fagg

The University of Nottingham


Betsy Fahlman

Arizona State University

Marc McClure

Lees McRae College

Other Smithsonian Fellowship Appointments in American Art

Emily Bills

Postdoctoral Fellow (at Archives of American Art), Woodbury University 

Esther McCoy: Selected Writings of an Architectural Advocate

Esther McCoy is among the most important figures to shape the field of architectural history and criticism in the twentieth century. Since her book Five California Architects was published in 1960, she has been recognized for bringing the contributions of Southern California architects to international attention. McCoy’s design interests and her architectural activism extended far beyond the California border, however, a fact largely forgotten by the architectural community. I intend to rectify this oversight by assembling a judicious selection of McCoy’s journalism and previously unpublished interviews, lectures, and essays into a compilation of selected works. These writings will be divided into themed chapters and fronted by editorial entries with a substantial introductory essay written by myself.

The selection of writings and the introductory essay will emphasize three key areas of inquiry. First, McCoy’s role in shaping the reception of Southern California architecture is indisputable; thus an important part of this project is to assemble a longoverdue collection of her seminal articles on that subject. However, I will seek to temper the current tendency to compartmentalize McCoy’s writings under the rubric of “localism” by situating her work within the larger intellectual trajectory of modern architecture and the sociopolitical conditions to which it, and she, responded. Second, I will emphasize McCoy’s lifelong dedication to radical politics, a seminal but wholly overlooked part of a larger conversation about architecture and the political left in the United States. Like many of her colleagues, McCoy fought to end McCarthy-era attacks on modern architecture’s social justice initiatives and promoted historic preservation over injurious “slum clearance” programs. Finally, I will relate McCoy’s wide-ranging influence to the power women critics have had in shaping the reception of modern architecture, a subject yet to receive scholarly attention. As my project ultimately makes clear, McCoy not only established the historical trajectory in which Southern California’s architectural avant-garde is still located, she also interrogated the major issues impacting twentieth-century design.


Thomas Folland

Predoctoral Fellow (at Archives of American Art), UCLA

Robert Rauschenberg's Combines and a Queer Neo-Avant-Garde: 1954–59

I am interested in investigating and identifying a number of important papers, records, and interviews that pertain to Robert Rauschenberg’s works of the 1950s as well as the milieu in which he worked. This milieu included a number of artists and writers: John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Cy Twombly, Larry Rivers, Jasper Johns, Frank O’Hara, and Andy Warhol. Typically Rauschenberg’s work has come under the rubric of the “neoavant-garde.” I am interested in exploring what I will term a “queer neo-avant-garde.” This suggests a different trajectory than the one posed for the neo-avant-garde, which concerned itself with the institutional problematic of the work of art. What constitutes Rauschenberg’s and others’ work as a queer neo-avant-garde is a shared resistance to dominant cultural models of subjectivity via renewed avant-garde strategies.

Letha Clair Robertson

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

The Art of Thomas Hicks (1817–90)

With a career that spanned five decades, Thomas Hicks was a prolific artist who created hundreds of paintings. Although he was certainly recognized by his contemporaries, Hicks’s reputation has suffered since the early twentieth century. Since 1910, only one article has been published about the artist. This dissertation will be the first thorough study of Hicks’s portraits. The primary focus will be the work for which Hicks was best known in his lifetime, his portraits, especially of politicians, authors, artists, and other mid-century luminaries. My goal is to resituate Hicks within the history of American portraiture by considering his portraits in comparison to those by his contemporaries and by investigating the complex relationships among artists, writers, and politicians in mid-nineteenth-century New York.

This dissertation will be organized thematically, with separate chapters focusing on politicians, authors, artists, and other luminaries such as actors and explorers. Each chapter will utilize a key painting as a centerpiece for a larger discussion about related works. Hicks’s portraits of Edward Hicks, Stephen C. Foster, Elisha Kent Kane, Edwin Booth, and American writers will be a central focus of this examination. I will consider issues of patronage, multiplication of images, and the role of popular culture in portraiture at mid-century. Because of Hicks’s involvement with political, artistic, and literary circles of New York City, I will utilize an interdisciplinary approach. Ultimately, I hope that this dissertation will provide a deeper understanding of art production, patronage, and their functions in the mid-nineteenth century.

Jonathan Frederick Walz

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

Anti-Mimetic Portraiture and the American Avant-Garde, 1912–27

Between 1912 and 1927 in the United States, the genre of portraiture—heavily invested in mimesis since ancient times—became a meaningful proving ground for new aesthetic theories and practices. While some avant-garde American portraitists employed an abstract, non-mimetic but still “iconic” style (following semiotic categories established by C. S. Peirce), others jettisoned representation altogether. This second group of artists, whose output forms the core of my dissertation research, employed innovative antimimetic strategies to proclaim a more radical modernity. By deliberately abandoning iconic signification in favor of “symbolic” (Peirce again) forms of reference within the genre of portraiture, which to this time had seemed inextricably bound to the conventions of mimesis itself, these early American modernists produced remarkably original and extremely demanding images of their contemporaries.

Melissa Warak

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

Sound Exchange: Interactions of Music and Art, 1955–69

My dissertation will explore the roles of music and eastern mysticism in the work of artists engaged in different forms of media and either jazz or twentieth-century composition during the 1960s. By conducting a series of somewhat interdisciplinary case studies, I hope to show the breadth of artistic occupation with music and spirituality in the United States during this period.

The first case study will analyze the content of the eight volumes of the German musical periodical Die Reihe (1958–1966), a primary vehicle for new ideas on sound and technology, and the ways that artists responded to these ideas. Read by many American artists, Die Reihe often touched upon themes present in the work of the avant-garde, including improvisation, chance operations, and meditation. Secondly, I will examine the ways in which jazz and new music played roles in the “Op” paintings of Larry Poons (1962–68) and the geometric abstraction of the Park Place Group (1963–67). As a former composer, Poons responded to music by “composing” grid-like works on paper and canvas using a musical system; by contrast, the Park Place Group of ten artists combined visual and sonic systems to create multisensory events and installations. My third chapter will investigate the ways in which jazz improvisation and eastern mysticism become manifest in the early work of composer and key Fluxus performance artist La Monte Young. My fourth case study will look at the sonic properties of the sound-producing sculptures of Greek artist Vassilakis Takis, whose often-minimalist objects combined his interests in Buddhism, physics, analog technology, time, and sound waves through the use of various metals and magnets.

Francine Weiss

Predoctoral Fellow (at National Portrait Gallery), Boston University

Visual Verses: Modern Collaborations of American Artists and Poets, 1921–46

During the interwar period, a number of American artists sought to establish and celebrate national imagery; this imagery took two forms—either agrarian/rural landscapes or urban/industrial landscapes. In the spirit of modernist experimentation, these artists concomitantly extended the boundaries of their respective media of painting and photography by collaborating with poets. In carrying their visual media into the realm of “image-text,” these painters and photographers expanded the expressive possibilities of their media. Many studies dealing with collaborations of artists and poets focus on poets inspired by, or describing art in poetry (termed “ekphrasis”), but this project approaches the subject from the converse direction—from the perspective of artists creating images for, or inspired by, poetry. For the photographers in this dissertation, creating images for poetry posed a unique challenge, and they met that challenge by eschewing literal illustration and instead creating images evocative of poetic texts. Both the painters and photographers in this project offer compelling interpretations or accompaniments to poems as they all refused merely to illustrate verse and strove to work in a more interpretive and innovative manner. Chapters include Charles Demuth’s paintings “illustrating” William Carlos Williams and his poetry (1920s), Walker Evans’s images for Hart Crane’s book-length poem “The Bridge” (1930), Edward Weston’s photographs for the Limited Editions Club’s modern reprint of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1942), and Andrew Wyeth’s paintings influenced by the poetry and sensibility of Robert Frost (1940s). Ultimately this dissertation will deal with both the individual art objects and verses, as well as the historical context of these collaborations and the nature of images and texts as purveyors of cultural meaning.