Kristina Wilson

Fellowship Type
  • Senior Fellow
Fellowship Name
George Gurney
  • Clark University
Mid-Century Modernism and the American Body: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Power

During my four-week fellowship, I plan to pursue two distinct, but related, research projects. Both are based in archival collections at the Smithsonian and grow out of my current book manuscript, Mid-Century Modernism and the American Body: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Power.

The first project involves consulting the papers of Freda Diamond, designer for Libbey Glass Company, housed at the National Museum of American History to understand two aspects of Diamond’s work. First, I want to know more about how she understood the proliferation of specialized stemware forms in the glassware industry. Typical newlywed buying guides suggested a minimum of six different types of stemware, implying a standard of etiquette that few wives could hope to achieve. Diamond, however, encouraged housewives to use forms for multiple purposes, and she may have advocated for greater liberation and modernity of forms within the industry itself. Second, I am analyzing the narratives of racialized whiteness that appear in many of her decal decorations, and I want to learn more about the process for developing those motifs: did they originate in the factory or in her studio?

The second project is a study of the impact of Ebony magazine on the careers of African-American painters in the late 1950s, using collections at the Archives of American Art. While researching Chapter 2 of my book, which compares the presence of Modern design, art, and architecture in Ebony and Life magazines during the 1950s, I discovered a 1958 Ebony article that documents the up-and-coming generation of “Leading Young Artists.” I plan to conduct research in the AAA on the artists featured in this high-production article, which has several pages of color portraits of artists with their paintings. These artists include Charles White, Hughie Lee-Smith, Paul F. Keene, Merton Simpson, and Norma Morgan. In keeping with Ebony’s editorial emphasis in the 1950s on individual achievement, the article claims that “[these] artists share in common a noticeable degree of emancipation from purely racial subject matter.” What impact (if any) did the Ebony article have on their careers? How did these artists conceptualize the role of race in their art in the 1950s, and did Ebony represent them appropriately? Finally, what is the place of abstraction in African American painterly practice at mid-century, according to both the article and the views of individual artists?