Graduate Student, Research, Research Travel, Students

A Month in Virginia: Examining Nineteenth-Century Mammy Dolls

Nicole Sheridan is an art history graduate student completing her second year. She was awarded the National Endowment for the Humanities We the People Fellowship in African American History, for study at the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.

In January 2016, I had the privilege of conducting research in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia with the support of a National Endowment for the Humanities “We the People Fellowship in African American History and Culture.”

Residency cottage

Residency cottage

Living room of the colonial style residency cottage

Living room of the colonial style residency cottage

I began this project in my spring 2014 graduate seminar on the African Diaspora, taught by Dr. Heather Shirey. One of our assignments involved creating a research grant proposal, and we were encouraged to seek out actual funding sources from external institution. Dr. Shirey provided students with examples of grant proposals, including both those that had been accepted and declined. These examples helped me recognize differences in writing style, language, and clarity of expression in relation to the projects’ feasibility. I realized I needed to write a proposal that was forward and bold. I decided to investigate a topic that combined two interesting subjects: the historical mammy, and nineteenth-century doll representations.

Once I had identified an appropriate funding source, I perused the webpages of the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library and Archives, as well as the Dewitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. I realized that connecting my project to the holdings of the institution’s on-site resources would be essential in arguing my claim to travel to this particular location. During my search, I was intrigued by an online collection featuring toys, in particular a mammy doll with a head composed of a walnut. This struck me as a peculiar material for a doll held in a museum, so I decided to investigate.

Mammy Nut Doll, c.1840-1899 Hickory nut, leather, wire, textiles, horse hair, paint Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum

Mammy Nut Doll, c.1840-1899
Hickory nut, leather, wire, textiles, horse hair, paint
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum

The term mammy refers to a racist stereotype of the household slave responsible for childcare, cooking, and cleaning. Her image is recognizable as an obese female with jet-black skin, large lips and eyes, a head turban, an apron, and colorful calico clothing. This nineteenth-century archetype manifested in the image of Aunt Jemima at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago through the actress Nancy Green. Early on, I had a hunch that the use of such a humble material was linked to creators of low economic status, and that a black doll was more likely made by an adult or child of color. Thus, I was puzzled by a notion of African Americans participating in creating the mammy stereotype. Centering my project on this doll, which exhibits characteristics of the mammy figure and use of material culture, I devised a research topic that explored a number of issues, including the history of the mammy figure, nineteenth-century dress of indoor slave staff, mammy doll characteristics and constructions (with and without nut heads), and children’s culture of the nineteenth century including child slavery, play, and doll types. Through this contextual research, I also sought to understand the involvement of African American women and children in creating mammy dolls. Visiting local archives was helpful in providing empirical materials including extant mammy dolls, and photographs of dolls and nineteenth century mammies.


Mammy with baby, July 1868 Courtesy of the Valentine Richmond History Center

Mammy with baby, July 1868
Courtesy of the Valentine Richmond History Center

At times difficult to swallow because it is so painful, the history of the mammy figure, including black culture apart from and including whites, was fascinating as the stories of past lives seemed to leap from the pages. My research illuminated the horrors of slavery as well as evidence of intense courage and perseverance. As a developing art historian, reading slave narratives affected me both personally and professionally.

The month long fellowship program also gave me the opportunity to deliver in a public forum. For this presentation, I provided the background for my topic, outlined the goals of and resources for my project, and shared my research questions. There was a great turnout of guests who shared my curiosity in the topic and added to a lively discussion.

The most difficult aspect of the fellowship was being away from home for a long period. Thankfully, the staff at Colonial Williamsburg were welcoming and helpful. Early on, Ted Maris-Wolf, the head of research initiatives for the Rockefeller Library, assisted me in locating relevant local resources. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct research alongside Linda Bergmuten, the Head Curator of textiles and costumes. Linda provided me with extant high-class dress materials as well as working women’s dress, aiding with the analysis of garment dating, and edifying the accuracies and divergences from actual mammy dress. This information proved beneficial in providing me with further clues to distinguish clothing differences between women slaves working outdoors and that of indoor slaves, in which the mammy was included.

19th c. working women’s shirt, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

19th c. working women’s shirt, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Jan Gilliam, the Associate Curator of the toy collection, granted me access to examine the mammy doll as well as other relevant black dolls held in the collection. Viewing the mammy nut doll in person provided me with information the photograph could not illuminate. For example, the doll was smaller than I had imagined, perhaps slightly larger than dollhouse dolls. In hopes of revealing clues to the doll’s construction, Linda and Jan performed a fabric analysis of the interior of the doll’s body. After struggling with the tiniest of tweezers to acquire interior material through the back leg, Linda was not able to extract an example. Though initially disappointing, it did in fact reveal that the interior is quite likely wound around a skeleton made most likely of wire. In addition and as a surprise to both the curators and myself, there was a note tucked inside the doll’s blouse, providing yet another clue towards understanding this particular doll.


Curators performing the fabric analysis, which led to finding a note tucked inside.

Curators performing the fabric analysis, which led to finding a note tucked inside.


I also had the privilege of meeting the other research fellow, Kristin, whom had recently received her PhD in History from Washington University. Dr. Condatta-Lee was conducting research for the first chapter of her book, exploring foreign imports brought with early Irish settlers to New Orleans. It was great getting to know her and supporting each other in our research quests.

Exploring the town of Colonial Williamsburg with fellow Kristin (on right)

Exploring the town of Colonial Williamsburg with fellow Kristin (on right)


A major ambition of the project was to define my research in terms of how exactly I was to utilize the little extant evidence of this area of folk material culture. This was begun through seeking out extant dolls that fit the criteria of a mammy figure, which proved more difficult than I had imagined. Not all dolls of black women could be included in my taxonomy of extant mammy dolls unless they displayed qualities distinctive to the image of an indoor worker. This type of doll exists in very small museums and private collections. Likely, the topic of mammy dolls has not received attention namely because of such difficulty in accessing extant dolls. For this reason, I will be extending this research into an independent study to add onto my taxonomy of dolls and in hopes of sharing my findings. Willingness to travel and openness to new professional experiences build a well-rounded graduate education and enrich your current skills. Grand aspirations come within reach when paired with extra effort and determination.


Exhibitions, Faculty, Graduate Student, Presentations, Research, Students

Other Worlds: The Natural and Supernatural in Andean Art

William Barnes is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Art History.  His research interests include the Pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas, particularly those in Mesoamerica and the Andes.  His principal research focus is upon the imperial Aztecs of Central Mexico and how their art intersects with ritual and the Mesoamerican calendar.  He is currently teaching a course on the art of Mesoamerica, to be followed in the fall by a course on the early colonial art of Latin America.

Other Worlds: The Natural and Supernatural in Andean Art

Other Worlds: The Natural and Supernatural in Andean Art

On a cold day in November, a number of UST graduate students accompanied me to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) to talk about ancient Andean art and culture with a wonderfully receptive group of MIA docents and guides. For the most part, the students were presenting research they had undertaken in their 2014 spring semester graduate seminar entitled “New Research in the Ancient Andes.” Instead of standing behind a podium and reading from notes while PowerPoint slides fly by behind them, Katherine Joy, Zach Forstrom, Clare Monardo, and Nicole Sheridan were free to walk around gallery 255 and point to concrete examples of Andean art while discussing their salient features and historical context. Not only were they able to address the actual objects from their graduate studies, they also discussed what initially drew them to the works and why they were chosen for this installation — as they, along with eight of their graduate colleagues, had actually curated the gallery 255 installation from the extensive Andean works held in the MIA’s collection. Entitled Other Worlds: The Natural and Supernatural in Andean Art, the installation, on view until April 26, was almost entirely the work of that spring seminar class.

(Left to right): Nicole Sheridan, Dr. Andy Barnes, Zach Forstrom, Katherine Joy, and Clare Monardo

(Left to right): Nicole Sheridan, Dr. Andy Barnes, Zach Forstrom, Katherine Joy, and Clare Monardo

The graduate students selected works related to a number of important themes that the seminar discerned during their study of the broad scope of artistic production in the ancient Andes. These included “Andean Elites and Rulers,” “Feasting and Ritual,” and “The Natural and Super-Natural Worlds,” the final being the category from which the installation title was drawn. In the grouping of their chosen works, the seminar participants intended to show how Andean art was used to illustrate social differentiation, aspects of ritual and political obligation, and the role that depictions of the natural world and the supernatural realm played in legitimizing political authority and maintaining balance and harmony between all levels of the Andean cosmos.

The works are strategically placed so that the viewer can physically walk one through the central ideas of the exhibit’s organizers. On the title wall hang two textiles, a central art form of the Andes whose design cues informed almost all other art forms and designs of the region. When worn, these textiles served to distinguish its wearer from other individuals in the region or communities. The one to the left is a 19th century Aymara llacota (a mantle worn by both men and women) likely woven on a traditional backstrap loom, while the other is a much earlier Huari elite tunic, likely worn by a member of the ruling class. Its elaborate design contrasts with the simplicity of the later Aymara piece, with its stylized depictions of Huari men bearing puma or jaguar-like attributes. The small hats worn by many of these figures are the very same as the MIA’s example 8th-10th century CE Huari four-cornered hat placed in the vitrine right in front of the work.

A Moche fineline pot is next to the small four-cornered hat. This pot depicts one of the famous Moche messengers who, aside from wearing animal inspired costumes, seemed to have served a role in carrying communications between Moche cities in the north coast of Peru (1-700 CE). From this central point in the gallery one can turn to investigate works that depict feasting and rituals, the objects of ritual (that allowed one to contact the supernatural), as well as depictions of super-natural creatures themselves.

I, and all the participants in the seminar, would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to Dr. Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers, Curator of African Art and Department Head, Arts of Africa and the Americas, along with his curatorial staff, registrar Kenneth Krenz, and the collections and exhibit design staff for the help they provided in putting together this installation. Despite the challenges it posed for them, this entire exercise wound up being a wonderful opportunity for our graduate students to develop a museum installation in such a hands-on and practical manner.



Graduate Student, Research

Understanding Herbert Bayer’s Colorado Enviroment

Kate Tucker is an art history graduate student completing her qualifying paper on Walter Paepcke’s patronage of Herbert Bayer’s design initiatives at the Container Corporation of America and the Aspen Institute. She was awarded the Art History Department Graduate Research Grant to help make this project possible. Kate will be presenting her qualifying paper research at the Art History Graduate Forum on May 22.

Picture 1: Herbert Bayer

Picture 1: Herbert Bayer

Herbert Bayer lived in Colorado for 28 years [Picture 1]. During this period he was able to employ his Bauhaus training through a total design of the Aspen Institute and advance the visual communication initiatives at the Container Corporation. Walter Paepcke, chairman of Container Corporation, was the patron that convinced Bayer to move to the small town of Aspen. Together they made the location into a culturally thriving resort destination. To further understand Bayer’s design work produced during this period, I recently took a trip to Denver and Aspen. This was made possible through a travel research grant provided by St. Thomas. The grant provided funds for airfare to Denver, and a rental car and lodging in Aspen. Without this grant, the trip would not have been possible.

Picture 2: Herbert Bayer Archive and Collection at the Denver Art Museum

Picture 2: Herbert Bayer Archive and Collection at the Denver Art Museum

Picture 3: Bayer’s World Geo-Graphic Atlas

Picture 3: Bayer’s World Geo-Graphic Atlas

The first stop on the trip was to the Herbert Bayer Archive and Collection at the Denver Art Museum [Picture 2]. The museum holds over 8,000 pieces of art and extensive documentary material on the artist. One of the things that most interested me in the collection is the original paste-ups from Bayer’s World Geo-Graphic Atlas [Picture 3]. This atlas was published in 1953 for Container Corporation after a five-year undertaking. The book, which had a limited release of 30,000 copies, was produced as a memento for Container Corporation’s customers and shareholders. It contains over 1,200 individual and unique charts, diagrams, detail maps, and pictures. The collection of paste-ups reveals the early sketches of the finished project of the atlas. Pencil drawings were later fulfilled in the final rendering [Picture 4]. Bayer developed a system of agricultural markers on these paste-ups that would be fine-tuned in the final version [Picture 5]. The paste-up’s pages reveal the overall layout and the tight spaces for text, which Bayer would write and edit himself to maintain its cohesive order and focus on the visual images.

Picture 4: Bayer’s World Geo-Graphic Atlas

Picture 4: Bayer’s World Geo-Graphic Atlas

Picture 5: Final Version of Bayer’s World Geo-Graphic Atlas

Picture 5: Final Version of Bayer’s World Geo-Graphic Atlas

I spent a lot of time at the museum looking through scrapbooks of Bayer’s wife, Joella. She also compiled photo albums that included pictures ranging from Paepcke, Bayer, and Gary Cooper socializing in Aspen [Picture 6], to a lively party called “Come as Your Neurosis.“ [Picture 7]. While the scrapbooks revealed how Bayer was perceived and praised for his contributions, the photo albums show the jolly side to Bayer’s life in the mountains.

Picture 6: Paepcke, Bayer, and Gary Cooper

Picture 6: Paepcke, Bayer, and Gary Cooper


Picture 7: Come as Your Neurosis

Picture 7: Come as Your Neurosis

After Denver, I drove three hours to Aspen. The mountain drive is beautiful and along the highway there are a series of ski towns, while Aspen is far off the main drag. The travel made it clear that back in the 1940s, Aspen was a place of new discovery. Paepcke was the one who brought attention and enthusiasm to the revival of the town.

Picture 8: Kaleidscreen

Picture 8: Kaleidscreen

I stayed at the Aspen Meadows. The first thing I saw as I approached the retreat center was Kaleidscreen, one of Bayer’s art installations [Picture 8]. I was surprised by how small it looked against the background of the Aspen Institute and mountains. My impressions from photos had been greatly misled. As I entered the lobby, Bayer’s presence was felt throughout [Picture 9]. Every corner was filled with original Bayer artworks, posters from the “Great Ideas” advertising series at Container Corporation, even Bayer’s universal type was used at every opportunity, including in the bathrooms [Picture 10].

Picture 9: Lobby

Picture 9: Lobby

Picture 10: Example of Bayer’s universal type

Picture 10: Example of Bayer’s universal type

Bayer designed the majority of the buildings on the Aspen Institute campus in the 1950s in the vein of Bauhaus and International Style. Paepcke selected Bayer to design the environment for his pet project. Prior to my visit I was skeptical about how much of Bayer’s original designs would still be present over a half of decade later. I was pleasantly surprised at the clear intention to restore and maintain the spaces in their original mid-century modern design. Bayer’s use of primary colors from his Bauhaus days was still intact, as seen on the mural outside of the health center [Picture 11]. Even the sgraffito mural outside of the Koch Seminar Building looked as it did when it was first installed [Picture 12]. There has been a clear vision to maintain the design of these buildings through restorations, even long after Paepcke and Bayer’s death. There is a sense of timeless serenity felt at the Aspen Institute that speaks to the cohesive vision the Bayer applied to the space.

Picture 11: Mural

Picture 11: Mural

Picture 12: Kate outside of the Koch Seminar Building

Picture 12: Kate outside of the Koch Seminar Building

Bayer’s design of the Aspen Institute has been carefully carved into its natural landscape. His work in Aspen inspired the visual communications at Container Corporation. The beauty of the atlas speaks to Bayer’s love of nature and freedom to find design solutions when given the opportunity from a wealthy patron. The trip to Colorado solidified my understanding on how the interdependence between Paepcke and Bayer correlated with the design initiatives at the cultural retreat and corporation.

Students, Study Abroad, Undergraduate Student

A Semester in France

MacAulay Steenson is a junior at St. Thomas, majoring in Art History and recently returned from a semester spent studying abroad. She is also an active member of the Department of Art History, working for our Visual Resources Library.

This past fall I was lucky enough to study in Paris. I may not have seen the Sistine Chapel or waited in line to see the Mona Lisa, but my semester abroad strengthened my love of art.

Since middle school, I have wanted to study in Paris, and this past semester lived up to all my highest expectations. I left Minnesota in late September to spend the next three months living, studying, and exploring France. Traveling with a program that began with two weeks in Cannes, my time consisted of mornings filled with French grammar and afternoons taking the train to different small towns along the coast of France. I visited the Roman ruins in Nice, as well as Vintimille and Monaco, and explored the medieval village of Eze, which has become a garden full of cacti.

Paris, banks of the Seine

Paris, banks of the Seine

In mid-October, we arrived in Paris and I began my academic classes. I continued taking French language courses and started two art history classes. One of my classes was on Parisian architecture and every week we spent class outside or in museums. Many of the lectures were given on the steps of that day’s subject, whether it was the Church of Saint-Sulpice or on one of Haussmann’s boulevards. Attending class at the Louvre was one of the highlights of my semester.

While I would like to say that my time in Paris was spent with an academic focus, the more truthful answer is that the novelty of living in Europe occupied most of my time. I went to around three different museums in Paris every week and made an effort to walk to as many places as I could. I loved the exhibits I saw at the Jeu de Paume and the Musée d’Art Moderne on Garry Winogrand and Sonia Delaunay. My favorite museum was the Musée Marmottan Monet, which had an amazing exhibit on how Monet came to paint “Impression, soleil levant.” I found that my favorite area of the city was the Marais, and spent many afternoons reading in various cafés. My favorite place to study was the Swedish Institute; their almond lemon cake is delicious!

Johnnay and I at the Lennon Wall in Prague

Johnnay and I at the Lennon Wall in Prague

My weekends were spent traveling. I quickly discovered that the best part of Europe is the cheap airline tickets. I went to London, Normandy, Prague (to visit fellow art history department employee Johnnay Leenay), Copenhagen and Marrakech. All of these places surprised me by how different one was from the others, and none took longer to reach than a flight from Minneapolis to Chicago. My favorite places were Copenhagen and Marrakech and the latter was the most beautiful place I visited. Before traveling to Marrakech I didn’t know much about the history of the city. The most fascinating part of it was how old many of the buildings and structures are, and that they are still in use today, servicing the same things that they were 800 years ago. The buildings were incredibly beautiful and an aesthetic for light, color and beauty was reflected throughout the city. Bahia Palace in particular had amazing tile work and painted doorways that exemplified the Moroccan patterns and colors that I saw in other parts of the city.

Nyhavn in Copenhagen

Nyhavn in Copenhagen


Ourika Valley, just outside of Marrakech in the Atlas Mountains

Ourika Valley, just outside of Marrakech in the Atlas Mountains

I am excited to be home, but I cannot wait to continue to travel and explore new cities. I gained a fondness for being outside of my comfort-zone and discovering places that are new to me. The great thing about studying art is that it can take you all over the world, and my list of things-to-see is constantly growing. Maybe next time I will pay Michelangelo a visit.


Exhibitions, Graduate Student, Research

A Foray into Provenance Research

Rachel Goldstein is an Art History graduate student. She is researching the provenance of artworks in the University of St. Thomas’ Art Collection for her graduate assistantship.

As the first Department of Art History Provenance Research Assistant, I have been honored to help organize and articulate what provenance means to the University of St. Thomas. I was introduced to the idea of provenance as a young child living in England. My parents are avid silver and antique collectors who opened the world of hallmarks and provenance to me. Like a painting with a noted provenance, a piece of silver carries a hallmark, which indicates its purity, origin, and manufacture. Later on I experienced provenance through my work at a family owned and operated auction house where I learned how an object gains value and what makes an object valuable. My third experience with provenance was working at the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD, Dresden State Art Collections) in Dresden, Germany. The SKD prides itself on being at the forefront of international provenance research and collaboration. I was lucky to have a front row seat to the new and innovate aspects of provenance research and study within the international realm.

Rachel Goldstein

Rachel pulling the print out of storage

My assistantship at St. Thomas began with my reading of the American Alliance of Museum’s Guide to Provenance Research. Currently considered the bible of provenance research, this book examines the large responsibility one has when researching the provenance of a work of art or artifact of historical importance. The book also outlines best museum practices, which information to include, whether written or digital, within the records of provenance and what an object can tell you about its history.

After studying the book, I began to search the websites of local, national and international museums, and cultural institutions to discover what provenance information and data the museums were availing to the public on the Internet. This activity was to give me a better understanding of what terminology is used, the presentation of written provenance, and allowed me to gain an understanding of how much provenance information is disseminated to the public.

Fantail Pigeon. Milton Avery

Fantail Pigeon, 1955, Milton Avery, Woodcut, 2012.001.027, Dolly Fiterman Collection

It was then time to begin my provenance research. To begin, the curator allowed me to choose one artwork out of five possibilities from the University’s Art Collection. I chose Fantail Pigeon, 1953 by Milton Avery. It is a woodblock print in black and brown on Japanese rice paper and is the 24th print of 25 in its series. The first task was to study the piece and record its physical characteristics: size, condition and subject. After recording these findings on a form, I started to and am still researching Milton Avery, his career, the history and creation of Fantail Pigeon and the other woodblock prints in the Fantail Pigeon series.

I was able to find the Milton Avery Papers in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian. These ‘Papers’ are digitized files which were donated to the Smithsonian by Milton Avery’s widow Sally Avery, an artist whose artwork we also posses in the collection at UST. I have been taking notes and studying these archives in order to understand the conditions of Avery’s work, the dissemination of his work and his relationships to the gallery owners who sold his works and museum curators who organized exhibitions of his work. I am still in the process of finishing this part of my research. Provenance research can be slow at times, but it allows you to delve into the interesting and colorful world of the artist.



An Award for Flipper

Craig Eliason is an Associate Professor in the Department of Art History. His research focuses on the history of printing types, and particularly on the strategies and vocabularies used to classify their designs. He is currently teaching a course on the history of typography and type design. His scholarly research on type design goes hand-in-hand with his efforts as a practicing type designer.

On this past Thanksgiving day, the Morisawa Corporation announced the winners of its 2014 Type Design Competition. This Osaka-based font and printing company sponsors a periodic juried competition, inviting entries of new typefaces from type designers all over the globe. There are categories for kanji fonts (used for written Japanese) and Latin fonts (our familiar abc’s). The judges were among the most eminent names in type design. The main competition, the Morisawa award, was given to type designs showing “creativity and excellence in design.”

I was pleased to learn that two fonts from a typeface family I have created, called Flipper, were awarded Honorable Mention by the judges. My work was thus one of six designs distinguished from the hundreds of entries for a prize in the Morisawa Award Latin category (and the only selected entry from a U.S. designer). A trophy is being sent from Japan, and there was even a cash prize (which sounded like a truly extravagant sum until I looked up the yen/dollar exchange rate)!


I started designing typefaces in 2008, when I realized that my research agenda–studying the history of type design–would benefit from the immersive experience of undertaking such design myself. The design skills I have developed have, without question, sharpened my ability to assess design decisions made in historical typefaces. My skills in this specialized realm of design developed slowly, since much of the process was self-guided and remained a part-time project; but I steadily improved. My second design project was a conceptual typeface that I called “ambicase.” Each of its letters combined the traditional upper- and lowercase forms of that letter. Unlike my inaugural project, this one was good enough to release to the world, so I established a foundry, Teeline Fonts, and started selling licenses for the fonts. Ambicase Modern, and its ultra-bold brother Ambicase Fatface which came along a year later, are odd enough that their versatility (and thus their market potential) is limited, but they did earn a feature article in the typography journal Codex.


The project that won the Morisawa distinction, Flipper, started in September 2013, right here on the St. Thomas campus. Walking through the quad, my eye was caught by the cornerstone in the Murray-Herrick building. It reads “1960,” not in the pseudo-medieval inscribed letters that are so prominent on campus, but rather in strikingly modern glyphs. What most interested me was the pattern of thick and thin parts of the bowls (the rounded parts of the figures): while in most glyphs we are used to seeing the thickest parts of the bowls on the sides and the thinnest parts on the top and bottom, these figures had it the other way around–“flipped”! Could I build a whole typeface around this idea? I imported the photo of the zero into my font editor software and traced it, called it an “o,” and started building an alphabet.


Though that “o” has been almost untouched since, I have discovered that this unconventional pattern of thicks and thins (often called “reverse contrast”) poses difficulties if it is to be massaged into a workable type. I came up with a system of occasional serifs and flared stroke endings which combined to normalize the alphabet into a readable and attractive design. Along the way I’ve solicited feedback from peers in the type world at every opportunity: by signing up for a “type-crit session” at an Amsterdam type conference, for example, or getting peer review from English type pros at a pub during my study-abroad trip to London last J-term. In the meantime, I have expanded the weight range, too. This resulted in, at one end, a super-bold font that emphasizes the cartoonish energy of the reversed contrast. At the other extreme, the thinnest weight reduces the contrast pattern to a very subtle effect, producing a friendly and airy impression. It was these thinnest weights (upright and italic) that were singled out by the Morisawa judges for the honorable mention.


As a professor, most of my professional engagement takes on more traditional forms: searching in archives, delivering presentations, and publishing original research. My work as a designer is nonetheless valuable as a complement to my work as an art- and design historian. I am grateful for opportunities like the Morisawa competition to validate my type designs. I will take this award as encouragement to complete Flipper and to keep including creative work as a key way for me to understand the world of type design.


Asmat, Faculty

AMAA Celebrates National Museum Day

In honor of National Museum Day on September 27, I felt it would be appropriate to highlight St. Thomas’ own museum – the American Museum of Asmat Art (AMAA).  The AMAA is dedicated to the art and culture of the Asmat people, who live on the southwest coast of the island of New Guinea, which is directly north of Australia in the southwest Pacific Ocean. With more than 2000 works, the AMAA has the largest collection of Asmat art in the country. –Dr. Eric Kjellgren, Clinical Faculty in Art History and Director, American Museum of Asmat Art

The Asmat people have long been renowned as among the finest and most prolific wood sculptors in the Pacific Islands. In addition to wood, Asmat artists work in a rich variety of other materials, including fiber, feathers, bone, and shell, drawn from the rivers on whose banks they live and the tropical rainforests that surround their villages.

AMAA Gallery


Much of Asmat sculpture, like the towering ancestor poles (bis) and soul canoe (wuramon) on view in the Gallery in the Anderson Student Center, was originally created for use in religious ceremonies.  Many of these rites, in whole or in part, honored individuals in the community who had recently died and helped to send their spirits onward to safan, the land of the ancestors. Today, contemporary Asmat artists also create innovative forms of sculpture and other works for the global art market.

Man and a Dog in a Canoe, 2009

Man and Dog in a Canoe, 2009, Adam Saimas, Asmat people, Bismam region, Syuru village

Missionaries from the Crosier Fathers and Brothers, a Catholic religious Order, who worked in the Asmat region beginning in 1958, originally formed the AMAA’s collection.  The museum had two previous homes in Hastings, Nebraska and Shoreview, Minnesota.  In 2007, the Crosiers, wishing to place the collection in a setting where it would be used to educate students and the public about Asmat art and culture, gave it to the University of St. Thomas. The Gallery, located in the Anderson Student Center, opened in 2012 and presents items from the collection that are reflective of different aspects of Asmat art and culture. Today, the collection continues to grow and the AMAA forms an integral part of the university’s broader commitment to fostering respect and appreciation for cultural diversity and the artistic achievements of all of humanity and of the Department of Art History’s dedication to teaching global arts in context. The exhibitions regularly changed throughout the year, so be sure to check back often to experience new works from the AMAA collection.


The Gallery Hours

Monday-Wednesday: 10 am – 4 pm

Thursday: 10 am – 8 pm

Friday: 10 am – 2 pm

Saturday and Sunday: Noon – 4 pm


Please visit the AMAA website for more information.



Students, Undergraduate Student

MacAulay Steenson: First Ladies of Minnesota

MacAulay Steenson is a junior at St. Thomas, majoring in Art History and currently spending her fall semester studying abroad in Paris. She is also an active member of the Department of Art History, working for our Visual Resources Library.

Last Christmas, I was approached by the University of St Thomas Art History Department and the 1006 Society with a project concerning the Governor’s Residence First Ladies of Minnesota portrait collection. What I initially thought would be a simple research project quickly grew into a multifaceted exploration of the history of both the Residence and the state of Minnesota. An additional side project emerged, as I was asked to write the Governor’s Residence entry for the new SAH Archipedia website, an authoritative online encyclopedia of significant architectural structures throughout the United States.


I began the First Ladies project by deconstructing the portraits—removing them from their frames—to create digital versions of each, which will eventually be displayed online. From there, I started my initial research on the First Ladies themselves. Through an individual analysis of each lady, my research has provided a unique lens through which I could examine what was happening in Minnesota during their husbands’ time as Governor. For example, the first ten or so First Ladies moved to Minnesota from another state. Their stories are examples of the struggles that many new residents faced when creating lives in the very young state of Minnesota.

A webpage devoted to the First Ladies will be added to the Governor’s Residence’s website showcasing the research and stories I have found. I originally underestimated the role that these women played in Minnesota’s history and have learned that they were their husbands’ counterparts in every way. Their role provided them with flexibility and power that differs from the Governor’s and the way in which the first ladies exercised their position changed from woman to woman. Each woman took on the responsibilities of First Lady in their own way and I am interested to see how the role of the Governor’s spouse continues to change.




Elizabeth Kindall: Chinese Geo-narratives in Berlin

What if traditional Chinese paintings of identifiable places relate what the artists or patrons actually experienced at the site?  This seems a basic question.  Yet, it has not been a focus of study in Chinese landscape painting scholarship.  This query lies at the core of my research.  In my work, I argue that an entire subset of seventeenth-century paintings relates the visual experiences of traditional Chinese travelers and tourists.  I was offered the opportunity to present my ideas to an international group of scholars last spring in Berlin.

The DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) Research Group “Transcultural Negotiations in the Ambits of Art,” invited me to present a paper at their international conference “The Itineraries of Art.  Topographies of Artistic Mobility in Europe and Asia, 1500-1900,” at the Freie Universität Berlin, in late May.  The conference organizers sought to “investigate the role of itineraries and their crossroads in Europe and Asia as an organizing principle of artistic exchange.”  Over the course of three panels, the conference group examined various “itineraries of art” as channels of communication in order to “explore their implications as modes of artistic experience.”  I participated in Panel B, “Symbolic Itineraries and Topographies – Framing Roads and Routes.”

My paper focused on the seventeenth-century Chinese topographical paintings I have been researching.  Over the course of China’s three thousand years of painting history, artists developed a variety of ways to depict specific places, from individual scenes to journeys through landscape that involve several scenes, creating a panorama.  Scholars of Chinese art have discussed topographical paintings of this type as religious, political, social, cultural and stylistic narratives of their creators and audience.  In these readings, however, the painter or patron has served as the narrative focus, while the surrounding landscape has been interpreted as a backdrop through which the focal person moves.  My lecture reversed this priority.  I still examined the focal person as an important element of the work.  However, I identified the journey landscape as the active agent of the painting’s narrative.  I believe this reading to be useful because it allows the landscape to take center stage as the primary player within the painting.  Now it is the landscape, rather than the person, that narrates the journey and explicates its meaning.  I have labeled landscape journey paintings that lend themselves to this reading “geo-narratives.”

This new type of study requires a new methodological approach.  My talk, then, was as much about introducing this approach, as it was about presenting an argument about a specific artwork.  Art historians that focus on Chinese painting have traditionally developed their connoisseurship skills by studying a variety of paintings representative of certain artists and types.  Knowledge of various calligraphic writing styles to read inscriptions, and the ability to decipher the red seals affixed to paintings that identify its artists and viewers, are other foundational skills of the field.  In this century, scholars have also worked to place paintings within their religious, historical and literary contexts.  My reading requires on-site study of topography and a consideration of the viewing experience of such topography to the interdisciplinary art historical repertoire.  I locate and document the places depicted in the paintings I study.  For example, I have examined the famous sites of Suzhou, such as Tiger Hill 虎丘, as well as those that have been not only forgotten, but also abandoned, like Mount Zhixing 支硎山 to understand artists goals and patrons expectations in renderings of them.  My goal in such situations is to consider my own experience of moving through and seeing the geography of the sites in relation to their painted counterparts.  These journeys reveal an entire site-painting lexicon utilized by Suzhou artists to represent the unique somatic and visual experience of the topography, architecture and views of each site.  Paintings of Tiger Hill, for example, focus on the most well known sites at the summit of the mountain.  This has been understood for some time.  Only travelers sensitive to their experience of the mountain, however, note that the painted sites are illustrated facing the perfect location from which visitors might enjoy the many theatricals performed at the summit on festival days.

Tiger Hill pagoda.  Photo: author.

Tiger Hill pagoda. Photo: author.


Mount Zhixing being quarried.  Photo: author.

Mount Zhixing being quarried. Photo: author.

Remarkably, one is able to recreate many seventeenth-century journey experiences such as this throughout modern China.  For example, in my studies of the sites around Kunming, Yunnan in southwest China, I have been able to find many of the sites illustrated in paintings produced in the seventeenth century.  The famous Mount Taihua 太華山, for example, still boasts a monastery of the same name from which one may enjoy a view of the nearby lake lauded by countless visitors hundreds of year ago as “Endless Expanse of Blue” (Yibiwanqing 一碧萬頃).  A plaque commemorates the view today.  Understanding the implications of this extensive view allows us to read paintings that contain it differently.  My goal was to convince listeners that by comparing the experience of an actual site such as this with its painted counterpart scholars can better understand how topographical paintings narrate the distinctive vision of individual players and their place in the world.  A painter who illustrated the “Endless Expanse of Blue” from Mount Taihua, for example, conveyed not only the importance of this particular monastery in southwest China to the painting’s recipient, but he also implied an entire philosophical and literary tradition of sagehood keyed to expansive views.  Only viewers who had climbed Mount Taihua could understand all of the implications of the view from this site.


Taihua Monastery II.   Photo: author

Taihua Monastery II. Photo: author

Taihua Monastery II.  Photo: author.

Taihua Monastery II. Photo: author.


Endless Expanse of Blue view from Taihua Monastery.  Photo: author

Endless Expanse of Blue view from Taihua Monastery. Photo: author

Modern Plaque Commemorating Yibiwanqing.  Photo: author.

Modern Plaque Commemorating Yibiwanqing. Photo: author.

Certainly, much has changed in China since the seventeenth century.  Some sites have been geologically and culturally altered by time.  Little original architecture remains.  Tourism, the government and commerce have touched every site in some way.  For these reasons I have not depended too heavily on the contemporary conditions of these sites.  Even so, many have been carefully preserved or reconstructed, and the relationship of the updated architecture with the geography can sometimes present a physical experience roughly similar to that enjoyed by seventeenth-century visitors.  Because care is also advisable in interpreting how a specific person or group received a certain view, I heavily qualify my visual experience of the sites with writings contemporaneous to the paintings.  I use commentaries by seventeenth-century writers of gazetteer entries, travel records and colophons to balance my own modern reception of these sites and cross-reference these with analysis of earlier and contemporary site paintings indicative of traditional viewers’ ways of seeing and experiencing such works.

Using this variety of research methods I have developed a new reading of paintings that illustrate specific places.  This reading takes these paintings to be “geo-narratives” that describe, through images and paratexts, a site-specific topographical journey in which the built and natural environment actively narrates the story and produces some kind of transformative effect on the viewer.  Geo-narratives relate a wide range of geographical experiences, from visits to specific scenic locations to tours through groups of sites. Geo-narratives were structured to recreate a journey, commemorate an event, honor an individual, raise funds for a site, evoke nostalgia for the past, illustrate a philosophy, even summarize a life.  The artists, subject matter and styles of geo-narrative paintings vary, but they all tell a structured journey-story through an identifiable landscape with an intended effect on viewers.

Faculty, Research

Heather Shirey: Pierre Verger, Carybé, and the Creation of Candomblé’s Iconic Imagery

Heather Shirey is an Associate Professor in the Department of Art History. Her research on Candomblé’s material culture has been published in African Arts and Nova Religio. Her current project focuses on Pierre Verger and Carybé, two non-Brazilian artists who settled in Salvador da Bahia in the mid-twentieth century. The public’s perception of Candomblé was in flux during this time period, and Shirey argues that Verger and Carybé were responsible for creating iconic representations of a religion that, up to that time, had been largely invisible in the public sphere. 

Candomblé is an African-Brazilian religion that emerged in the context of slavery in Brazil’s northeastern region.  Fearful that the religion would serve as a form of resistance and provide unification for the marginalized African-Brazilian population, the dominant culture sought to repress Candomblé.  The religion and its practice was criminalized and actively denigrated when it was acknowledged in the public sphere. Even well after the abolition of slavery in 1888, Candomblé remained largely hidden behind closed doors, invisible to the dominant culture.

Tati Moreno's Orixá sculptures on the Dique do Tororó in Salvador da Bahia.

Tati Moreno’s Orixá sculptures on the Dique do Tororó in Salvador da Bahia.

Attitudes toward Candomblé began to shift in the 1930s and 1940s, as Brazil sought to redefine its multi-racial history as a positive aspect of its national identity. This was made particularly evident in late 1940s, at which time popular magazines began to publish photographic images of initiates in trance and intimate portraits of Candomblé’s leadership. In the decades that followed, colorful paintings captured key ceremonial moments and conveyed the essence of Candomblé’s orixás (deities). These enduring representations of Candomblé were produced by Pierre Verger (1902-1996), a French documentary photographer, and Héctor Bernabó, better known as Carybé (1911-1997), an Argentine painter. Both men, foreigners with a passion for travel, settled in Salvador da Bahia, the stronghold of Candomblé in northeastern Brazil, in the mid-twentieth century. Over the next five decades, working in dialogue with one another, Carybé and Verger became deeply involved with Candomblé. They traveled widely both in West Africa and in Brazil, producing thousands of images that, I argue, form the canonical representation of the religion. These images tended to emphasize aspects of the religion that seemed exotic to the broader public.

In my current research project, I examine Verger’s photographs and Carybé’s paintings and sculptures in the broader context of efforts by their contemporaries to provide legitimacy to a religion that the dominant culture rejected as impure and dangerous. Anthropologists working in the 1930s-40s promoted Candomblé as a “pure” religion because of persistent connections to West African practices. Similarly, I argue that Verger and Carybé created a parallel, canonical visual representation of Candomblé. The two artists produced beautifully appealing images of Candomblé ceremonies, often drawing specific visual comparisons to Yoruba practices from West Africa, thereby codifying an image of Candomblé as a religion closely tied to West African traditions. In this way, Verger and Carybé opened the door to a world that was largely invisible to mainstream Brazilians, particularly beyond Brazil’s northeast.

Pierre Verger Foundation, Cultural Space (Fundação Pierre Verger, Espaço Cultural)

Pierre Verger Foundation, Cultural Space (Fundação Pierre Verger, Espaço Cultural)

Works by Verger and Carybé have had a lasting impact on the visual representation of Candomblé, as I seek to document through my research. Specifically, I argue that the two artists’ particular views of Candomblé continue to resonate in renditions of the religion in public art and popular culture, as well as self-representation within Candomblé communities. Today, representations of Candomblé are visible throughout the city of Salvador in the form of sculptures and paintings in the public sphere. I argue that recent works, such as Tatti Moreno’s Orixás (1998) located on the Dique do Tororó, are not just based on contemporary observations; these contemporary representations are also inspired by the works of Carybé and Verger.