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.



Asmat, Exhibitions, Graduate Student, Research, Students

Gretchen Burau: Among the Asmat: The Schneebaum Perspective

Gretchen Burau is the Curator for the exhibition “Among the Asmat: The Schneebaum Perspective,” on view in the Gallery of the Anderson Student Center from September 4 to December 20, 2013.  Mrs. Burau is the third graduate student to develop an exhibition for the American Museum of Asmat Art at the University of St. Thomas.



Before applying to St. Thomas I was unfamiliar with Asmat, having spent most of my academic career focused on Western art.  After learning about the AMAA@UST’s extensive collection of Asmat Art, I decided to enroll in Dr. Julie Risser’s “Presenting Pacific Collections” course in Spring 2012.  It was my first semester at St. Thomas and I was thrilled to be exposed not only to Asmat culture and art, but also individuals who aided in the preservation and commissioning of many objects now owned by the AMAA.

While researching for my final paper, I came across the work of artist and anthropologist Tobias Schneebaum, who first came to Asmat in summer 1973. It was during this time that he became involved with the Catholic mission and was introduced to Bishop Alphonse Sowada and Father Frank Trenkenschuh. Through this encounter, Schneebaum came to live and work in Asmat, eventually becoming the Assistant Curator of the Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress in Agats, Indonesia.  One of Schneebaum’s finest contributions to the museum can be found in the skillfully executed drawings he made for Asmat Images, published in 1985. His illustrations were among the first published documentations of Asmat art and were instrumental in making the objects accessible to interested individuals who might not have had direct access to the art.

Through these drawings, Schneebaum would gain a detailed understanding of repeated imagery and was eventually able to decipher specific symbols and their meanings. Consequentially, he formed connections that helped tie certain villages and specific artists to their art, which was carefully recorded for the museum. The importance of the images has increased with time, as many of the cataloged pieces were made for ceremonial purposes and were not designed to endure after fulfilling their ritualistic tasks. As the years passed, many of these artifacts have deteriorated due to insects and the harsh jungle climate. Thankfully, Schneebaum’s drawings remain to attest to a distinctive art style made by a culture that today is rapidly changing.


Tobias Schneebaum, Drawing of Spirit Mask

Tobias Schneebaum, Drawing of Spirit Mask


Beside drawings, Schneebaum wrote several books, including Where the Spirits Dwell, highlighting his time in Asmat.  His autobiographies were written with an artist’s sensibility, as shown in Secret Places: My Life in New York and New Guinea, where Schneebaum recorded:

Asmat bewitches me.

I often feel possessed there, but what it is that possesses me is unclear. The forest churns up my insides when I am in the midst of immense trees in soggy soil, vines, and plant life that exude odors of decay. The forest continually draws me into conjuring up dreams of living naked, hunting wild boar and cassowary, birds and possum, and spending days in blinds awaiting whatever animal would come, killing it, skinning it, roasting it, eating it.

At times when traveling with no one but my paddlers, I sit in the canoe or lie down on my pandanus mat in the men’s house and allow my mind to wander at will. I am impressionable: I am a million miles or more away. I am on some star of Orion or perhaps it is Sirius, brightest of them all. Perhaps I become one of the daughters of Atlas in the cluster of the Pleiades, or I am in some distant nebula, hurling myself headlong into the Void, through the night sky, a meteorite of myself landing easily on a star.

Throughout my life, I have been searching for a way to connect with other human beings. Suddenly, I find myself in a forest among the Asmat, living in their world of spirits, where I lose my insecurities and am content.

What brought me to this stage in the history of my life? Where did I go right? How did I finally choose a path out of oblivion, the path itself so marvelous to behold? I would not change that path even if it were possible to do so. (1)

Because of his tireless efforts, many museums, including the American Museum of Asmat Art @ UST and The Metropolitan Museum of Art have more diverse Asmat collections, with rare objects not to be found elsewhere. While traveling, Schneebaum was careful to record pertinent information: “I wrote in my journal several times a day; I put down everything I could remember of the trip from Agats and began taking notes on whatever I saw in the house: the sago bowls of wood and leaf in the racks, the digging sticks, the drums and spears and bows and arrows. I recorded the way the house was constructed, the number of adults and children; I made a plan of the fireplaces, with the names of those who sat and slept there, and I tried to make out how the food was divided, a complex subject I was never able to understand.”(2)

Tobias Schneebaum, Biwar Laut, Sasco, 1973

Tobias Schneebaum, Biwar Laut, Sasco, 1973

As a practicing artist, I had a natural affinity for Schneebaum’s drawings and observations.  His work provided an avenue for me to access Asmat art and after completing Dr. Risser’s course, I was curious to learn more about the culture.  I applied for the Assistant Curator assistantship at the AMAA and was fortunate to receive the position, quickly going to work on the fall 2012 exhibition, “Building the Collection: Recent Gifts and Purchases.”  Having previously curated two-dimensional art exhibitions, this experience exposed me to sculptural objects and the challenges related to their mounting, transportation, and presentation.

As the academic year progressed, I assisted with Rachel Simmon’s exhibition “Wowipitsj: Man, Myth, Legend.”  While working on these two shows, I continued to research Tobias Schneebaum and discovered that the University of Minnesota’s Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection houses his personal papers.  Purchased from Schneebaum by University Libraries in 2004, the collection contains 33 boxes of personal correspondence, illustrations, and other materials related to various aspects of Asmat Art.  Most notably, the collection contains a drawing Schneebaum made of Amandos Amonos, the main carver of the wuramon or soulship owned by the AMAA@UST.


Drawing of Amandos Amonos by Tobias Schneebaum

Drawing of Amandos Amonos by Tobias Schneebaum


Wuramon/Soulship - AMAA@UST

Wuramon/Soulship – AMAA@UST


These curatorial experiences combined with academic research led me to propose an exhibition of AMAA@UST art objects, illustrations, text, and video related to Schneebaum’s time in Asmat.  “Among the Asmat: The Schneebaum Perspective” is a comprehensive showing of AMAA@UST art related to the work of Tobias Schneebaum. Arguably the most ambitious Asmat exhibition to be shown in the Gallery, it features twelve shields, two large carved crocodiles and many other objects that have not previously been on view at the University of St. Thomas.

I plan to use the Asmat-related information and experiences I have acquired over the past two years to prepare for my final qualifying paper in the M.A. program.  Recently I contacted the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has a Schneebaum archive that includes his personal documents and art objects.   I hope to travel to New York during the next academic year to do research for my final research project and to provide the AMAA@UST with additional materials related to the Asmat.


(1) Tobias Schneebaum, Secret Places: My Life in New York and New Guinea (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000), 3.

(2) Tobias Schneebaum, Where the Spirits Dwell (New York: Grove Press, 1988), 39.


Faculty, Graduate Student, Research, Students, Uncategorized

Victoria Young et alia: On Site in New Orleans. Art History Beyond the Classroom.

This past spring of 2013, I taught a graduate seminar on the history of the built environment in New Orleans. The class was a natural progression from my own research on Frank Gehry and his domestic work, as tenants have recently moved into a Gehry-designed duplex in Brad Pitt’s Make it Right Foundation in the Lower Ninth Ward, an area decimated by the wall break in the Industrial Canal at the time of Hurricane Katrina. I realized last fall, however, that student interest in going to New Orleans was great when I was conducting advising sessions (in my role as Director of Graduate Studies) so I decided to put some things together for those wanting to make the trip. Students paid their own way to NOLA and spent time during the early part of spring break week researching their own projects. The latter portion of the week was spent in group activities. The Art History Department supported this trip by funding a five-hour long bus tour of the Lower Ninth Ward homes led by the Make it Right Foundation’s executive architect, John Williams, a long time New Orleans designer. I also arranged a walking tour for students to lead, a visit with a local preservationist, as well as a tour of a local cemetery. Here’s a look at our experiences as seen through the eyes of three of the students on the trip!

Victoria Young

NOLA trip group photo in front of New Orleans Cathedral

NOLA trip group photo in front of New Orleans Cathedral

On the Ground in New Orleans: Architectural Walking Tour  By Ava Grosskopf

The first class gathering of the trip was a walking tour of New Orleans. The tour took nearly four hours and spanned the French Quarter, the Mississippi riverfront and the Central Business and Warehouse Districts. We began at the famed Café du Monde and ended at the World War II Museum. Each of the nine students on the trip was assigned a specific building or public space to research and share their knowledge with the class in a brief five-minute presentation on site.

Dr. Young presented us with a challenge to do the research of the location we were assigned but not to visit the location beforehand., so that we would incorporate into our five minute presentation our reaction to the site upon seeing it for the first time. The most common effect to this directive was that many of us found ourselves reacting to how much smaller a building was than we expected. It seems that New Orleanians have become very adept at making small spaces look much larger than any photo depicted. As a result, the city holds an immense amount of American history in only the few square miles we covered on the tour.

A number of the other buildings intrigued us on the walk, particularly those we had studied in class. The discussions about these structures were enjoyable and interesting. Although the walking tour was not directly related to my research topic, Planter’s Grove, it did provide exposure for the class as to how the landscape of New Orleans is laid out, and how the residents interact within it.

Students at Piazza d'Italia.

Students at Piazza d’Italia.


Make it Right: Touring the Lower Ninth Ward   By Soren Hoeger-Lerdal

During registration for spring 2013 courses, the prospect of a New Orleans spring break vacation to supplement our NOLA architectural history class was exciting, to say the least. When, in the spring, Dr. Victoria Young announced that the Department had won, via auction, a bus tour of the Lower Ninth Ward, an unparalleled adventure was added to an already crowded itinerary.

So when the Friday morning of our tour arrived, we began our venture at the offices of Architect John Williams, the principal architect of the Make It Right project and master planner of the entire Lower Ninth Ward. After a short but exceptionally informative and eye-opening presentation, accompanied by incredible images, we got on a bus donated by Tulane University. John first took us to the Global Green Homes, a LEED Platinum development focused on sustainability, replicability and affordability. Next, he took us to meet and pick up J.F. “Smitty” Smith, a slightly less than optimistic Lower Ninth Ward resident, who at times commandeered, to our delight, both the talking aspect of our tour as well as the very cooperative bus driver’s route (it was Good Friday, her day off, after all). In fact, one of the most eye opening and memorable aspects of the tour was an impromptu detour to Chalmette in St Bernard Parish, neighbor to the east of the Lower Ninth. Smitty called this area “Bush’s Children” due to former President Bush’s lobbying for the area’s recovery. The parish is near complete restoration and evidence of the hurricane was nowhere evident.

We then returned to the Lower Ninth and visited the House of Dance and Feathers, a museum-shed created by Ronnie Lewis preserving the history of Mardi Gras Indians and Lower Ninth residents. His vibrant optimism stands in direct opposition to Smitty’s, yet they have mutual goals and such stunning determination. Another shocking aspect of our tour was John explaining visually the actual lot sizes in the Lower Ninth Ward. At just 30 feet wide, the extent of the pure destruction can only be grasped on the site. Blocks, which were previously lined with wall-to-wall homes, are now lucky to have two occupied buildings; many blocks have none. Brick staircases that lead to nowhere, overgrown lots of grass and weeds, and still shuttered homes marked with the infamous “X” of the first-responders still dominate the landscape. John explained the significance of the numbers located in each quadrant of the spray painted “X”. Although number of dead was the bottom number, I think the most shocking to us all was the number located at the top signifying the date that the home was first checked. We were all left in disbelief to see many of the Lower Ninth Ward homes were not entered until nearly a month after the storm, some as late as October.

Our next stop was to meet “Johnnie” at the Bayou Bienvenue. John Taylor (everybody has a fun nickname it seemed) is the guardian of a platform that sits between his native Lower Ninth and his true home, the bayou. John told us stories about his childhood, when the now scattered baldcypress stumps were a full-grown forest in the freshwater bayou. He would spend days away from home at the bayou until his brother would be sent as a lone search committee.

Finally, we ended at the Make It Right project and no, there was no Brad Pitt sighting. After a brief history and walking tour, we were surprised and honored when John allowed us to tour an under construction home. This was especially special considering the first non-residents were allowed to tour the homes only three months prior. This was not due to secrecy, John said, they simply did not want to waste any time getting people back home. Although a few of us questioned the aesthetic longevity of the extremely modern style of the homes, the sustainability and green focused collection of homes is absolutely unprecedented and will unquestionably serve as a precedent for future neighborhood design. Simply stated, this was a dream tour.

This photo, taken by graduate student Lauren Greer, shows the new construction of the spot where the levees broke, flooding the Lower Ninth Ward. An attempt is being made to Landmark the spot, peculiar both for the timeframe (far too recent) and construction type (it is a concrete wall, after all).

This photo, taken by graduate student Lauren Greer, shows the new construction of the spot where the levees broke, flooding the Lower Ninth Ward. An attempt is being made to Landmark the spot, peculiar both for the timeframe (far too recent) and construction type (it is a concrete wall, after all).

The tour group with John Williams (center) standing in front of the Frank Gehry- designed Lower Ninth Ward residence. Photo by author.

The tour group with John Williams (center) standing in front of the Frank Gehry- designed Lower Ninth Ward residence. Photo by author.

While snapping this photo, Smitty smirked while asking me “Do you get it?” Of course it signifies that FEMA is in the doghouse for all Lower Ninth Residents. A visual defiance of the way the government handled their neighborhood. Photo by author.

While snapping this photo, Smitty smirked while asking me “Do you get it?” Of course it signifies that FEMA is in the doghouse for all Lower Ninth Residents. A visual defiance of the way the government handled their neighborhood. Photo by author.

Cemeteries on Paper and In Person: Lafayette Cemetery #1  By Sandy Tomney

New Orleans has much to discover.  Our trip included an itinerary of an architectural walking tour, a tour of the lower ninth ward, a meeting with a preservationist, and a tour of Lafayette Cemetery No. 1.  All of the activities were based on concepts and themes we have been studying in class and each was interesting.  Since the research I am conducting concerns the Garden District’s Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 during the antebellum years, this trip was a great opportunity.  It gave me a chance to become more familiar with how the cemetery fits into its context.  Doing site visits at both St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and Lafayette also made it possible to compare two similar sites located in different parts of the city.  Our tour guide at Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 was affiliated with the organization Save Our Cemeteries.  He pointed out the four basic above ground interment types in the cemetery – wall vault, family, and society tombs, as well as the coping style grave.  He also explained how the family tombs functioned.  Another highlight was the explanation as to why family tombs were often found in groups of four.  Contractors and/or speculators would buy cemetery lots in groups of four, erect family tombs on them, and resell them as needed.  This helped to answer a question I had concerning the relationship between similar tomb styles located within the cemetery and the ethnicity of the families interred in them.  Since our guide is a resident of the neighborhood next to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, he ended our outing with a walking tour of the upscale area adjacent to the cemetery, with homes of John Goodman and Sandra Bullock among others.

Save Our Cemeteries guide Val Connolly explains how family tombs function.  Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans, LA, 2013.  Photo: Sandy Tomney

Save Our Cemeteries guide Val Connolly explains how family tombs function. Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans, LA, 2013. Photo: Sandy Tomney

Wall Vaults.  Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans, LA, 2013.    Photo: Sandy Tomney

Wall Vaults. Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans, LA, 2013. Photo: Sandy Tomney


Family Tombs.  Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans, LA, 2013.    Photo: Sandy Tomney

Family Tombs. Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans, LA, 2013. Photo: Sandy Tomney

Henry Dick Tomb.  Probably designed by J.N.B. DePouilly.  Italian Marble.  St. Louis Cemetery #1,  New Orleans, LA, 2013.    Photo: Sandy TomneyHenry Dick Tomb. Probably designed by J.N.B. DePouilly. Italian Marble. St. Louis Cemetery #1, New Orleans, LA, 2013. Photo: Sandy Tomney




Research, Students

Amanda Lesnikowski: Entering the Museum World as a New Graduate

Amanda Lesnikowski will be undertaking an internship at the Whitney Museum in New York after her graduation (see previous blog on her senior paper).  As she mentions in her blog entry, Amanda also received a research grant from the Luann Dummer Center for Woman last year.

When I declared my major in art history three years ago, I made my decision based on how I felt and not on my plans for the future. I had come to the conclusion that if I was going to spend four years studying one thing, I wanted to enjoy the courses and look forward to even the 8:00AM meeting times. Majoring in Art History is one of the best decisions I have made thus far in my life. It has made me a happier person, and it has helped me mix work and play.  As a future Curatorial intern at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, I am confident in saying that you can have an enjoyable major and still have a successful future.

One of the high points of my undergraduate work was how I spent the summer 2012, when I traveled to Alabama to meet and interview the quilters of Gee’s Bend. My research, The Freedom Quilting Bee in the 1960s and Today: The Quilters of Gee’s Bend as Artists, Merchants, and Activists, taught me a great deal about myself and about the world of research. It was one of the main reasons Claire Henry, curator at the Whitney, wanted to meet me.  I am very thankful that Dr. Heather Shirey guided me through the process of applying for a grant from the Luann Dummer Center for Women for the project, and later helped me to produce something I am proud to share with others.

Being able to add on-site research experience to my resumé has been indispensable and often came up in interviews when I began applying for internships the first semester of my senior year. Many institutions did not post internship possibilities until October, while larger institutions had deadlines as early as the first few weeks in January. I applied to the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney, the Frick Collection, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. I flew out to New York on two separate occasions for interviews. Because of my future with the Whitney, I will just describe my experience there.

After ranking the Whitney’s departments in order of my preference on the application, I was asked to interview with both the Registration and Catalogue/Documentation departments. This was exciting, but when I got there I was surprised with a third interview in the Curatorial department. I loved all three areas and felt very comfortable with the interviewers. When I first met Claire Henry, she told me that it was my research experience that impressed her. She is working on a catalogue raisonné of Andy Warhol’s original films. The first volume has already been published, but the Whitney is working with MoMA to compile a second publication. I will spend my time traveling with Claire uptown to MoMA and the rest of the time at the Whitney’s offices on Park Avenue South during my internships.

I cannot believe this wonderful opportunity I have been given. I know that my internship with the Whitney is only the beginning. I hope that at the end of my time there, I will find a more permanent place within the museum world.