The University of St. Thomas
The official blog of the Department of Art History at UST

An Award for Flipper

Published on: Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

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.


AMAA Celebrates National Museum Day

Published on: Friday, September 26th, 2014

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.



MacAulay Steenson: First Ladies of Minnesota

Published on: Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

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

Published on: Sunday, December 1st, 2013

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.

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

Published on: Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

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.



Gretchen Burau: Among the Asmat: The Schneebaum Perspective

Published on: Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

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.


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

Published on: Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

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




Amanda Lesnikowski: Entering the Museum World as a New Graduate

Published on: Monday, April 29th, 2013

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.


Amanda Lesnikowski: Rembrandt’s Two Lucretias

Published on: Monday, April 29th, 2013

Amanda Lesnikowski is a senior art history major who will graduate in May 2013.  Her senior paper and presentation, on Rembrandt’s paintings of Lucretia, was presented at a research conference at Baker University in Kansas and a symposium at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  Her senior presentation will be on May 17.

When the senior paper began popping up in conversations about a year ago, everyone kept telling me not to “reinvent the wheel.”  At the end of my junior year, I knew that I wanted to elaborate on a paper I had already written, but I was not sure what that paper would be.  During the fall 2012 semester I was enrolled in Robert Ferguson’s Baroque and Rococo course. We were required to choose a work from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and use it as the basis for all of our research.  Portraits having a special place in my heart, I claimed Rembrandt’s 1666 Lucretia. The semester went quickly, and my final paper only left me with more questions and bigger ideas than answers.

It was at this point that both Robert and I knew this paper had more potential than just a final classroom essay.  After asking him to be my advisor, we began brainstorming what new questions we wanted to answer. This process left us with two areas of study: theatricality and family in Rembrandt’s two Lucretias (see images below). Rembrandt is known by scholars as having included great amounts of theater into his paintings, whether it be live gestures, the implication of speech, or even his application of lighting. When it came to family, Rembrandt had a very colored history. He saw his family as one of the most important parts of his life, and it was often seen in his art.


Rembrandt, Lucretia, 1664. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


Rembrandt, Lucretia, 1666.  Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Rembrandt, Lucretia, 1666. Minneapolis Institute of Arts.













Through further research, we discovered another important part of Rembrandt’s art: the tronie. A tronie, a Dutch word for face, is used as a term to describe a combination of portraiture and history painting. Here is an excerpt of my paper detailing Rembrandt’s invention:

Rembrandt “combined theory and practice” and invented the “tronie,” a combination of portraiture and history painting.(1)   Martha Hollander spoke highly of the seventeenth-century, Dutch history painting. She explains the genre’s power and the ability to move an audience: “History painting was an opportunity to tell a story on a grand scale, combining anecdotal and archaeological details with displays of eroticism, violence, and powerful emotion. Successful compositions required strong stage-managing skills.”(2)  As seen in these two portraits of Lucretia, the background is bare, almost completely faded to black. Hollander attributes this to Rembrandt’s style: “Rembrandt’s method, demonstrated in his history paintings [. . .], is to imply, rather than describe, a space.”(3)   This pushes the actor, or subject, to the front of the stage. Rembrandt clearly saw his studio as a stage, where the model’s purpose was to perform.(4)

Rembrandt’s depiction of St. Bartholomew is a wonderful example of the tronie (see below). The painting, from 1661 and now at the J. Paul Getty Museum, is apparently a character study, but is converted into a history painting by adding a single prop: the knife. Rembrandt uses the prop to bring the audience full circle. The knife allows the audience to complete a mental image, one of a man everyone knows. Without the knife, this would just be a portrait, albeit of a particular person. The man in the painting gazes out towards his audience with a look of contemplation. Holding his head in his left hand, his emotions are hard to classify. His look of self-reflection is a feeling anyone could relate to. Like the Lucretias, Rembrandt’s lighting emphasizes the subject’s face. It is here that the viewer is drawn first, and only then, down his right arm and along the draped fabric where they observe that he is holding a knife. Now they identify that this man is St. Bartholomew, the martyr who was skinned alive.


Rembrandt, St. Bartholomew, 1661. J. Paul Getty Museum.

Writing this paper has taught me how to be a better art historian, a stronger writer, and a more eloquent speaker.  I have had the opportunity to present my paper three times: at the ACTC and Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) symposium, at the Baker University Art History Conference, and at the St. Thomas undergraduate symposium. I was honored to be asked to speak at the ACTC/MIA and represent St. Thomas. I am so grateful that the department chose me. I heard of the Baker University conference through a department e-mail. I sent in a five hundred word abstract and title, then a few weeks later heard I was chosen to speak. I traveled to Kansas at the end of April to present along with other undergraduate researchers.

The undergraduate symposium at St. Thomas is also a celebration as well as a presentation. It is a wonderful opportunity to show your peers and professors what you have been working on the past year, and to hear your friends speak and to get their opinion on your own work.

Research always brings more questions than it does answers, but, hopefully, your own paper is able to answer someone else’s question. Attending these symposiums has been inspiring, humbling, and exciting, but they have prepared me for my next steps as an art historian.


(1) Simon Schama, Rembrandt’s Eyes (New York, 1999), 660-663.

(2) Martha Hollander, An Entrance for the Eyes: Space and Meaning in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art (Berkley, 2002), 16.

(3) Hollander, 67.

(4) Svetlana Alpers, Rembrandt’s Enterprise (Chicago, 1988), 58.


Olga Ivanova: The Pictorial Photography of Alfred Stieglitz: Validating Photography through Painting.

Published on: Friday, April 5th, 2013

Olga Ivanova presented her paper on Alfred Stieglitz at a conference in Gzhel, Russia in November 2012.  The paper was delivered in Russian and based on research in a graduate seminar taught by Craig Eliason.

My first presentation of a research paper at an academic conference was in Russia, and I found this experience both rewarding and challenging.  I came across the listing for the Conference in Gzhel, Russia in early October 2012 and I was quite surprised to see that they were still accepting submissions.  The Conference was to take place on November 22-23.   The organizing committee accepted my paper and proved to be very resourceful about getting me into the program and answering all my questions in a timely manner.  My main concern was about the presentation style and their technical capabilities.  I was assured that most presenters use PowerPoint and stick to a script, which was a relief to me for presenting a paper in Russian.

Slide from Presentation

Slide from Presentation


I presented research that I had started in Craig Eliason’s graduate seminar, American Painters of the Gilded Age.  Though the conference mentioned it was “international,” they requested that I present in Russian.  I was eager to take on the challenge of translating my paper.  While I speak Russian fluently, I don’t have a strong technical vocabulary in art history, and I had to consult dictionaries and various art publications in Russian in order to make appropriate translations of terms.  Another limitation was that I could not practice my presentation and get feedback on it since no one in the program spoke Russian (I would strongly encourage everyone to present to faculty and colleagues before a conference).

Gzhel is located about 60 kilometers outside of Moscow and I took an early morning train to get there on time. I was given very detailed instructions and had no problem finding the university.  Gzhel University is famous for it unique style of ceramics that is painted solid white with distinctive blue designs, all made by hand.  Together with other guests, I was given a tour of the University’s art gallery and the studio where the ceramics are produced.  After a welcoming speech, the conference broke into sections.  There were fifteen presenters in my section, fourteen on Russian art. I was scheduled to be tenth, but the Dean unexpectedly gave me the honor of presenting first.  I was the only international student who had travelled from far away, and it was their way of showing their appreciation for my interest.  Believe it or not, but I was really thankful for this gesture, after my initial shock.  Since I did not expect to be presenting right away, I was somewhat relaxed.  Though I am genuinely terrified of public speaking, I felt calm and confident during the presentation and I was asked a number of questions, mostly about the logistics of conducting the research in the USA.  I think it was a combination of various factors that made my presentation successful: I put a lot of effort and time into the research and translation, which added to my confidence during the presentation, and I was frankly excited to share it with other art historians and to hear their opinions.    I was thrilled to see that my presentation was received so well, and more thrilled that I was awarded a second place prize in my section.

One difficulty was that during my presentation, I couldn’t control my PowerPoint from a remote at the presenter’s stand and had to ask the tech guy to switch the slides for me as I was presenting.  I found that distracting, especially because I tend use transitional slides in the middle of sentence.  Other presenters, however, were used to present in this manner of calling for the next slide rather than using a remote control.

The scope of topics at the conference was broad, but they were mostly concentrated on the art of the 20th century, so my photography research fit nicely.  I found that the Russian presentation style was more casual and many presenters didn’t follow their script.  This did make some presentations rather longer than scheduled, unfortunately.  Overall I found that Russian art historians conduct brilliant research, and I was happy to make some contacts.

Photo courtesy Gzhel University

Photo courtesy Gzhel University


After the presentations, I socialized with other presenters and the organizing committee during the reception hour.  I met many fascinating people who were interested to learn about UST and its art history program.  One day, I hope to see some of them at our own annual Graduate Art History Symposium.

In addition to participating in this conference, I conducted research at the Russian State Documentary Film and Photo Archive at Krasnogorsk (outside of Moscow) and at the State Archive of Documentary Films, Photographs, and Sound Recordings (St. Petersburg). I collected some important resources that will serve as a foundation for my Qualifying Paper this spring.  I look forward presenting my research at the UST Graduate symposium in May.

Since my Powerpoint presentation was in Russian, I doubt this information will be practical.   Nevertheless I am attaching a PDF below of my presentation for your review.  I am happy to discuss it further if anyone is interested!

Ivanova Presentation Slides