Graduate Student, Uncategorized

Rebuilding, Re-educating, Re-imagining

Dakota Hoska is an art history graduate student and took our summer course, “What is Native American Art,” taught by Dr. Jill Ahlberg Yohe, Assistant Curator of Native American Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Dakota was also a recipient of our Native American Art History Fellowship, made possible with support from the University of St. Thomas College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office. 

 

What drew you to the study of Native American art through a graduate art history course—both personally and professionally?

As a Native person, the image that comes to mind when I reflect upon my cultural existence is that of a large Jenga tower, with many structural components missing. I feel the voids, the emptiness left by those missing pieces. One by one I’m trying to recreate those pieces and slide them back into my tower, knowing I’ll stand stronger if I can reclaim them.

All of my studies, my artwork, my job and my personal energy go into rebuilding what was lost and what was taken.  Courses like the Native American Art History class offered by St. Thomas are building blocks, helping to replace those same missing pieces.

Unfortunately, my story is not unique.  Many Native Americans are missing large parts of their cultural history—including information related to their artistic heritage, because many of their artistic endeavors were closely tied to their traditions and practices. Those traditions and life ways were attacked on multiple fronts.  The stated goal was to obliterate a Native person’s cultural identity and to assimilate them into the culture of the conqueror.

This class and others like it are important on a personal and professional level for Native students like myself, but also for Non-native students.  They help to build appreciation and equanimity for the beautifully rich cultural and artistic histories of Native Americans, while schooling Euro-Americans on alternative modalities and motivations for making. Additionally, they bring awareness to beautiful works of historic art that were almost lost, while showcasing progressive Native artists who rely on a broad array of influences—traditional, European, political, familial—to produce works unlike others known in the Western canon.

What research project did you pursue and why do you think this research is important?

For my research project, I chose to delve into the career of one of the most prolific, political and popular Native American Art figures of our time—Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. I was interested in her because within the artistic world, she was hit with a double “handicap”:  She is Native and she’s a woman.

The Red Mean, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Nation, 1992, Acrylic, Newspaper collage, Shellac and Mixed Media on Canvas, 90 X 60 in., Smith College Museum of Art

The Red Mean, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Nation, 1992, Acrylic, Newspaper collage, Shellac and Mixed Media on Canvas, 90 X 60 in., Smith College Museum of Art

I was inspired by Jaune’s steady commitment to her artistic calling as well as to her Native community. I learned a great deal in my research about Jaune’s choice to continually engage her audience in important dialogues around the issues of being Native, of being a woman in a male-centric field, and of being a committed environmentalist.  I came to respect her deeply as a person of great strength and character, who continually chose her path, when others tried to tell her she had no choice.

Because of the research I completed on this artist, I was able to advocate for greater representation of her artwork in an upcoming exhibition I am assisting with. (I work as a research assistant at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.) I have also been inspired, within my own artistic process, to utilize more printmaking and collage in my work. Finally, throughout her career Jaune never forgot her ties to her community.  The struggle between the Western world and our own cultural heritage is real and Native artists deal with this struggle in a spectrum of ways, from creating work that is completely culturally embedded to striving for only Western recognition in their careers.  I respect the balance Jaune found on that spectrum.

3) How will this course continue to have an impact on you moving forward? 

For me, this course will be one of the most important I will take at St. Thomas as I strive to focus my Art History studies on Native American Art History.  I wish I had many more courses along these lines to choose from. Unfortunately, these classes can be few and far between in all institutions of higher learning, which gives me an even deeper appreciation for the importance of this class. I’m always thankful when I find something that so directly relates to my future aspirations.

The House of Little Moon, Dakota Hoska, 2015, Monoprint, 19.5 X 24 This work discusses my journey back to my birth family, the Little Moons.

The House of Little Moon, Dakota Hoska, 2015, Monoprint, 19.5 X 24
This work discusses my journey back to my birth family, the Little Moons.

Faculty

Living in China: Some FAQ 

Dr. Heather Shirey, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Art History, spent the spring semester at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Her semester is China was made possible by support from the Fulbright-Terra Foundation Award in the History of American Art.  This is the final of three blog posts from Dr. Shirey. 

Dr. Shirey responds to some FAQ about her semester in China. 

Wow, China. How is your Chinese? Fortunately for me, no one really expected me to speak any Chinese at all. Therefore, the bit I can speak made me a huge success. “I am an art history professor at Tsinghua University” flowed off my tongue easily because I said it so often. I had moderate success with casual conversations with other adults at the playground, although I occasionally had to call on my children to help me out. I can order food and get around an unfamiliar city with the help of a translation app. People in China are generally exceedingly patient with foreigners and very open to any attempts to communicate, no matter how feeble.  I’d describe my skills as “low functional” in that I could probably go about living the rest of my life in China at the survival level, but I would struggle to develop deep social relationships that didn’t rely on English. That said, I am nearly illiterate, as I can only read a few hundred characters, if that. The day before we left, reading started to kick in—I noticed that I was suddenly able to read some street signs! But then it was time to go home. I enjoyed the daily struggles and triumphs of communicating in Chinese and I aspire to continue my studies now that I am back in Minnesota.

The Brooks-Shirey family at Tiger Leaping Gorge near Lijiang

The Brooks-Shirey family at Tiger Leaping Gorge near Lijiang

Where did you live? My grant provided us with housing on the campus of Tsinghua University. The campus itself is huge and there are many beautiful natural areas.  The apartment we lived in was simple, and much larger than we expected—we even had office space in the apartment. It was a 5th floor walk-up so we got a lot of extra exercise!  The other residents of the building block we were all Chinese and we normally did not encounter other foreigners in our neighborhood. We had a lovely fruit and vegetable market nearby, making life very convenient. It was about a 15-minute walk to the nearest subway station, so although we were sheltered by the tranquility of campus, we were also well connected to the rest of Beijing.

How did your kids like China? Our children, ages 6 and 11, enrolled in an international school where English was the primary language of instruction. They made friends from all over the world, and I think they really got the travel bug as a result. Now they are always planning trips to Malaysia, India, Micronesia, and Poland, and I know this is because of the great bonds they formed with kids from these places. Prior to the trip, my daughter spoke some Chinese as a result of having previously attended a Chinese immersion school. Her Chinese really kicked in when it came to day-to-day transactions. She loves to shop and she really mastered bargaining. She usually paid a quarter of the starting price of any given item at a market. My son was something of an international superstar. He has cute curly hair and big round eyes, and I think he looks something like an anime character come to life. Everyone wanted to take a selfie with him, much to his chagrin.  He did not speak any Chinese when we arrived, but he got to be quite competent in 5 months. He really wants to keep learning now that we are home.

What about the food? Since we lived in an apartment, we usually cooked at home. We had access to great produce at the local market. There was also a lovely stand with hand-made noodles just around the corner. There are markets that specialize in imported groceries all over Beijing. Food safety is actually a major concern for people in China, so there were some things, like milk, that we always bought imported. There are many great restaurants specializing in Western food in Beijing. We often ate Indian food and pizza. Interestingly, it took a trip to China for my kids to fall in love with the Caesar salad—who knew, but Pizza Hut in China has a fantastic Ceasar salad! As for Chinese food, our entire family absolutely loves hot pot. This is like a Chinese version of fondue, take away the cheese. Meat and vegetables are cooked in a delicious pot of boiling broth, accompanied by an amazing array of sauce options. Another favorite was dim sum in Guangdong Province and in Hong Kong. And street food in the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an. And Jianbing, a kind of savory Chinese pancake sold by street vendors. Ok, street food anywhere. And dumplings, dumplings everywhere and of every variety.

Given your busy teaching schedule, did you have a chance to travel? Yes! We actually visited 15 cities during the spring semester. Much of this travel involved university visits as part of the Guest Lecture Program (see previous blog post). However, we also did some travel just for fun. Before the trip I asked Elizabeth Kindall for her travel suggestions, and this led us to some cities that were not part of our formal lecture program. The Master of Nets Garden in Suzhou lived up to Elizabeth’s rave reviews, and the Chengdu Panda Base delivered a high dose of cuteness. I teach the terracotta warriors from Xi’an in class, so seeing the open pits and ongoing work of archaeologists was amazing. Some of the best moments while traveling are completely unplanned. Also in Xi’an, we just happened to visit the mosque at the time of the calling to prayer on the last day of Ramadan.  What an incredible moment. Just for fun, we went to Tokyo and visited the fish market and an amazing Buddhist temple. My favorite trip was to Taipei—such a green and beautiful city and amazing food!

Faculty

Lecturing in China

Dr. Heather Shirey, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Art History, spent the spring semester at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Her semester in China was made possible by support from the Fulbright-Terra Foundation Award in the History of American Art.  This is the second of three blog posts from Dr. Shirey. 

While I was based in Beijing for the spring 2016 semester, I was fortunate to have numerous opportunities to travel to many cities, including Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Chongching, and Taipei.  As part of the Fulbright Guest Lecture I visited universities and museums in order to present lectures and workshops on a variety of topics including public art, political portraiture, the ethics of art collecting, and race and representation in American art. Normally I presented lectures on topics that are the focus of my research. This was a valuable way for me to gain new perspectives into issues I have been engaged with for some time. From the teaching perspective, I also learned a great deal about art history programs in China and the job market for art history students.

Dr. Shirey with students and faculty at National Central University in Taipei, Taiwan

Dr. Shirey with students and faculty at National Central University in Taipei, Taiwan

Poster advertising Dr. Shirey’s lecture at Central Academy of Art in Beijing

Poster advertising Dr. Shirey’s lecture at Central Academy of Art in Beijing

At the Shanghai Museum, I was invited to deliver a series of lectures as part of the World Civilizations Lecture Series. The Shanghai Museum is the leading art institution in the country, so it was an honor to participate in this series. Since these talks were delivered to a general audience rather than graduate students, I chose broad topics that also allowed for connections to the museum’s collection. For example, I expanded a lecture on the museums and collecting in West Africa to also engage with collecting practices that had shaped the Shanghai Museum. These talks were fun because the audience was so broad, and this resulted in an incredible range of topics emerging in the question and answer period. I was asked to respond to questions on everything from ancient Roman archaeology to contemporary American politics. At the end people lined up for my autograph, something that does not happen every day in the life of an art history professor!

Audience questions at Central Academy of Art, Beijing

Audience questions at Central Academy of Art, Beijing

During the course of these lectures, I typically met with graduate students who had already developed an interest in American art. The students were very eager to learn and engage in discussions. Many of these institutions—such as Central Academy of Art in Hangzhou and Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts–have very strong programs that include a focus on Western art, American art specifically. The faculty have experience doing research in Europe and North America, and this is highly beneficial to the students. Some schools have strong, sustained connections with North American universities, providing great opportunities for exchanges. I think these long-term scholarly relationships are absolutely necessary as we seek to create a broader community of scholars focused on American art.

Campus architecture at China Academy of Art, Hangzhou

Campus architecture at China Academy of Art, Hangzhou

Library at Sichuan Fine Arts Academy, Chongqing

Library at Sichuan Fine Arts Academy, Chongqing

In China, art history programs usually exist within fine arts schools. The top fine arts programs have beautiful campuses. In the case of the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, all of the buildings on the Xiangshan campus were designed Amateur Architecture Studio under the direction of Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu. Wang Shu, the first Chinese-national architect to receive the Pritzker Prize, is also the Dean of the School of Architecture at CAA. The campus architecture is such a harmonious blend of traditional styles and materials with modern design. This beautiful campus is perhaps rivaled by the Sichuan Fine Arts Academy in Chongqing. The photograph here is of the library, designed by Tanghua Architect and Associates, which appears to float on a lotus pond. I imagine living and working on these beautiful campuses must be inspiring!

Faculty

Art History Graduate Students at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China

Dr. Heather Shirey, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Art History, spent the spring semester at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Her semester in China was made possible by support from the Fulbright-Terra Foundation Award in the History of American Art.  This is the first of three blog posts from Dr. Shirey. 

Just as classes at the University of St. Thomas were getting underway in the spring 2016 semester, I was packing up my family to move to China. With the support of the Fulbright-Terra Foundation Award in the History of American Art, I spent five months at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Tsinghua is one of China’s top universities, and entry into the art history graduate program is extremely competitive. The students at Tsinghua have worked very hard to earn a spot in the program, and they are confident, ambitious, and highly capable.

Dr. Shirey introducing material on the first day of Methods and Theories in Art History

Dr. Shirey introducing material on the first day of Methods and Theories in Art History

I was assigned to teach two graduate-level courses at Tsinghua. The first was Methods and Theories—a course I enjoy and feel comfortable with after teaching it several times here at UST. In this course we applied various theories and methods to gain an understanding of some canonical works of art from the United States, such as Grant Wood’s American Gothic, a painting the students found fascinating due to the context of the Great Depression. The second course focused on Modern and Contemporary art with an emphasis on African American art from the 20th century.

Students preparing for a discussion in Methods and Theories

Students preparing for a discussion in Methods and Theories

My ability to communicate in Chinese is limited—I can order dinner and carry on a simple conversation with other parents at the playground, but when it comes to speaking in an academic context, I am lost.  Fortunately for me, though, one of the goals of the Fulbright program is to help students improve their skills in English through academic work. For that reason, I taught entirely in English with occasional assistance from a student interpreter.

Graduate student Wei Haoyu holding one of his own published articles

Graduate student Wei Haoyu holding one of his own published articles

There was a great deal of variation amongst the students in terms of language abilities. I had some students who could read, write, and speak English with near-native fluency. Impressively, these students were very prepared to engage with the material at a sophisticated level. They wanted and deserved to be challenged to think critically and to write at a high level that would be accepted by academic audiences internationally. At the same time, there were also students in the class with more basic levels of English-language competency.  As would be expected, these students tended to focus on basic comprehension rather than on a critical analysis of the material. It was challenging to meet the needs of these diverse students in one class. Breaking into smaller groups for discussion activities, using peer-to-peer teaching, and harnessing technology like We Chat helped us overcome some of these difficulties.

Group portrait of the Methods and Theories students as well as faculty member Chen Anying

Group portrait of the Methods and Theories students as well as faculty member Chen Anying

Students were very interested in studying the art of the United States. Some of our best conversations focused on the role of public art in the United States as compared to China. Contrasting approaches to memorialization in China and the US, for example, led to some striking conversations. The topic of race and visual representation was also very productive. China is increasingly involved in economic and political relationships with African nations, and I think there is a problematic tendency in contemporary Chinese popular culture to summon a body of negative stereotypical imagery that emerged in 19th century America and apply it to the representation of contemporary African people. My students in China were often unfamiliar with the history of this imagery, and so together we developed a framework for critiquing negative stereotypes that appear in popular visual culture.

Students engaged in small group discussion

Students engaged in small group discussion

Art History graduate students in China, like their peers in the USA, sometimes feel tired, overworked, and concerned about their future job prospects. There are many highly educated, qualified job candidates entering the job market, and wages in the fields of museums and education are lower than in other careers. As in the United States, Tsinghua graduate students often seek internships and study abroad opportunities to help prepare for a competitive job market.  At the same time, contemporary Chinese art is increasingly popular in the global market, and the country is also experiencing a great deal of growth in museums and other educational and cultural institutions. Students generally feel optimistic about the future because of this.

Research, Undergraduate Student

Hanover, MA: A Little Portion of Saint Francis

Solena Cavalli-Singer is an undergraduate Art History major and recently presented her senior paper,  ‘Intent vs. Function: Portiuncula Replications and their Departure from Assisi.’  She was awarded the Art History Department Undergraduate Research Grant to help make this project possible.

I had no idea what to expect as I headed to Hanover, Massachusetts. All I knew was that I was there to see a chapel, one that had been carefully constructed to match its original counterpart in Assisi, Italy. The chapel, called the Portiuncula (Latin for “portion of land,”) was inspired by the Portiuncula restored by Saint Francis in 1209, which currently resides inside the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. Saint Francis’ chapel has also become the inspiration for several other replications throughout the United States. I was fortunate enough to receive a grant so that I would be able to visit the replica in Hanover and use my research to aid in my Senior Paper.

The Portiuncula in Hanover resides on the Cardinal Cushing Centers campus, a school for individuals with intellectual disabilities. It is a prominent fixture on the campus, and in the town, because it is also the site of Cardinal Cushing’s resting place. The building is small, yet impressive, and one cannot help but be in awe when looking at it. In fact, the day I visited the sun was shining so brilliantly, illuminating the fresco above the entrance, that it was as if Saint Francis himself was overjoyed that I had come to see this piece of him.

After viewing the chapel, I was given free rein of the archives, located in an ­old dorm room that was in desperate need of organization. Newspaper clippings, photo albums, and old brochures filled up more than half of the room, but there was no true order to anything. Of several things I was sure: first, although I have never been in an archive before, I was certain that most people are not able to mill about and view what they please as I was able to do. Second, given the disorder of the room, I had no clue where to begin, and third, the most important thing was that I needed to leave with a floor plan of the Portiuncula. I spent well over an hour digging through various filing cabinets. The things I came across! Financial plans, newspapers detailing crimes associated with the Center, even a drawer full of relics with their original certificates – I felt as if I were reading someone’s diary, digging into their dark and complicated past.

Letter from architect, Frank Tarzia, during construction

Letter from architect, Frank Tarzia, during construction

I gathered all the information I could, but still had no luck with the floor plan. This was particularly concerning because I did not know how else I would obtain the dimensions of the chapel. After giving up and deciding that I would have to just contact various sources associated with the building to get the measurements, I began to pack up and head out. Then something happened that could only be considered a miracle. Three steps from the exit, I felt the urge to turn around. As I turned, I noticed a paper bag full of rolled up pieces of paper in the back corner of the room. I don’t know if it was pure coincidence, or perhaps Cardinal Cushing and Saint Francis really want me to write this paper, because those rolls of paper ended up being the original blue prints of the chapel – a gold mine! I almost cried tears of joy. Thirty minutes later, with all of the necessary information in my possession, I left Hanover with a smile on my face and excitement to piece together all of my research.

Original blueprint of the Portiuncula

Original blueprint of the Portiuncula

 

Archive, Graduate Student

Establishing the Voorsanger Architects Digital Archive

The preservation of artistic and architectural legacies through the creation of physical and digital archives is of great significance to the future of art history. The Department of Art History is pleased to have reached an agreement to sustain the field of architectural history with the creation of an archive of the work of Voorsanger Architects PC of New York City. (www.voorsangerarchitects.com). Under the leadership of visual resources curator Christine Dent and faculty member and architectural historian Dr. Victoria Young, graduate students will be involved in the creation process of the archive from the ground up. Our first graduate student assistant for the project, Hanna August-Stoehr, documents her role in the earliest phases of the Voorsanger Architects Digital Archive.

VADA CDM banner laye#46B311

I began my work on the Voorsanger Architects Digital Archive as a newly minted graduate student in the University of St. Thomas Art History program. During my interview with Christine Dent, Visual Resources Curator, I received an introduction to the project and my duties. I would organize and digitize the collection, finally entering the materials into the Art History database, Qi, and ContentDM. The ultimate goal was to allow interested art and architectural historians easy access to architectural planning materials, diagrams, drawings, and renderings. As I looked through books, familiarized myself with projects, and took about a whole notebook’s worth of notes on my first day on the job, I learned that Bartholomew Voorsanger’s architectural designs capitalized not just on the client’s design requirements, but on their close connection to natural materials and forms. The more I learned, the more enthusiastic I became about the part I was going to play in these preservation efforts.

Contrary to my initial impressions, I would not immediately become a slave to the scanner. Before any digitization of the massive collection could happen, an accurate inventory of the archival materials was required. Architectural Historian, Dr. Victoria Young, had received an alarming number of boxes from Voorsanger’s New York office. I began my work by organizing the materials from an ongoing Voorsanger Architects project, the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. As my parents had just returned from a trip to New Orleans that had included a visit to that same museum (they thought it fantastic), I was very interested in learning about the background of the architectural design choices.

National World War II Museum, New Orleans, LA (2010)

National World War II Museum, New Orleans, LA (2010)

 

I began by organizing everything by date, assessing the contents of each three-ring binder and folder, and then I described it all in a very detailed notebook, which I would later spend a good several hours transferring to Microsoft Word. My dedication to the project became fully certified after I spent an afternoon reading a full report on the varying qualities of a specific type of cement chosen for the foundation of the National WWII Museum. After weeks of organizing collections, I finally started digitizing.

Asia Society and Museum, New York

Asia Society and Museum, New York

 

It started with some really dirty slides of the Asia Society, located in New York City. I cleaned the slides up, popped them into the scanner, and dug back into my memory to remember how to scan! After this long process, Christy (who is very patient!) talked me through the delicate process of entering these scans into the digital archive. I learned Library of Congress name and title headings, what tags to capitalize, what to leave in lowercase, and which lists needed to be separated by semi-colons, and which by commas.

 

Finally, after learning all this, I was asked to assist in a graduate student digital archiving workshop. Fortunately, I was in charge of teaching students how to scan and do minor image touch-ups, and not showing them how to enter data into the archive. I had a great time meeting my St. Thomas colleagues and showing them a few Photoshop tricks.

Several weeks later, Bartholomew Voorsanger came to visit. In one exhaustive afternoon, we walked him through our databases, showed him our sorting systems, and prioritized which projects would be uploaded in the next few weeks. After a long conference call with his New York office, we went out to lunch. Though only a few steps in the long process of archival digitization had been completed, each played a vital role in the development of the next. As I look back on my small part, I am grateful for the opportunities that working on the Voorsanger Architects Digital Archive provided me. This April I am headed to New York City…and my itinerary is already full of visits to Voorsanger Architects designed buildings.

 

Faculty

From Bali to Budapest: Travel and Lecture as International Study Leader

Barbara Horlbeck is an Adjunct Instructor for the Department of Art History. She is an arts and culture professional and, in her work as Study Leader for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Smithsonian, she travels internationally and provides a wide range of lecture programs on the arts. She obtained her masters degree in art history from the University of St. Thomas in 2003.

Several years after I obtained my masters degree in art history, I was given an opportunity to teach an Asian art history course as adjunct at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University. The experience opened the door to a decade of teaching a wide selection of courses, both face-to-face and online, at a number of Minnesota colleges and universities. But little did I know that the time I spent researching topics and developing courses would be the foundation for a passionate and varied career as an arts and culture professional! Today, my work includes not only teaching but also developing and giving Seminars and lectures on the arts, providing tours at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, helping business executives understand the cultural legacy in the regions where they seek relationships, and, in an unexpected but deeply satisfying turn, working as International Study Leader for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Smithsonian.

Barbara Horlbeck was Study Leader on an educational travel program on the Mediterranean coast of Spain this past year with a group from the National Trust, Archeological Association of American (AIA), and Harvard University. The program included time at the Alhambra, the location of research on the calligraphic inscriptions that were a part of Barb’s masters’ qualifying paper at UST.

Barbara Horlbeck was Study Leader on an educational travel program on the Mediterranean coast of Spain this past year with a group from the National Trust, Archeological Association of American (AIA), and Harvard University. The program included time at the Alhambra, the location of research on the calligraphic inscriptions that were a part of Barb’s masters’ qualifying paper at UST.

This opportunity arose in an interesting way. Several years ago, at the Charleston Library Society in historic Charleston, South Carolina, I gave a two-day Arts and Influences Seminar, “Arts of China.” One attendee was from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. During a break, he approached me and said, “We have a tour going to China next year with guest lecturer Julie Nixon Eisenhower. She will speak on the role her father played as president in the opening up of China. We would love to have you speak on the region’s legacy in the arts. Might you be interested?” Well, everyone knows the definition of a second and my response was short of that – immediate and affirmative! So, the following year, I traveled with Julie and David Eisenhower (and many other equally fascinating people) through Beijing and Xi’an to tour their historic wonders, to Wuhan’s Mao Zedong’s Villa and the Hebei Provincial Museum with its world-famous collection of antiquities, to the top of breathtaking Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), a World Heritage site and source of 1,300 years of inspiration to poets and painters, and, of course, to Shanghai, home of one of my favorites spots, the Shanghai Art Museum, and the city’s innovative architecture and neck-bending skyscrapers. And during our travels, I gave lectures on China’s prolific art and architectural masterpieces.

Barb with David Eisenhower and Julie Nixon Eisenhower in China in 2013 during the National Trust’s program “Ancient Kingdoms of China.”

Barb with David Eisenhower and Julie Nixon Eisenhower in China in 2013 during the National Trust’s program “Ancient Kingdoms of China.”

 

The UNESCO site Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) is filled with pine, bamboo and rock, all three the source of more than a thousand years of painting. The sweeping bamboo forest in the lower portion of the mountains, was the location the magical martial arts scenes from the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

The UNESCO site Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) is filled with pine, bamboo and rock, all three the source of more than a thousand years of painting. The sweeping bamboo forest in the lower portion of the mountains, was the location the magical martial arts scenes from the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

 

Chinese couples all over the world choose auspicious sites for their important wedding photographs. Here a couple, with the bride wearing the traditional, distinctive red dress, pose in front of Beijing’s historic Temple of Heaven.

Chinese couples all over the world choose auspicious sites for their important wedding photographs. Here a couple, with the bride wearing the traditional, distinctive red dress, pose in front of Beijing’s historic Temple of Heaven.

That first experience in China began an opportunity to travel several times a year to many points around the world as Study Leader with the National Trust and Smithsonian Journeys. These educational travel programs include numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites, tours though ancient ruins and contemporary markets, and explorations in a wide variety of museums, large and small. The nature of the travel itself has been equally varied. Our mode of transportation has included river cruise ship (six days on China’s Yangtze River), luxury train (the Eastern Oriental Express from Bangkok through Thailand and Malaysia to Singapore), a small ocean-going ship (from Normandy to the Isle of Iona in the Hebrides via Dublin and Wales) and, more recently, on the historic four-masted barque, Sea Cloud, along Spain’s Mediterranean coast (from Barcelona and Tarragona to Valencia and Granada).

Preparing for these programs is a huge amount of work but it is a process I adore. It may be hard to believe but, when it happened, I hated to see my graduate courses draw to a close! I adore digging and researching and discussing. I did then and I do now. So, the programs on which I lecture afford me the opportunity to research and dig deeply. The result is a wide range of lectures that are reflective of my travels: “Robert Adam: Scotland’s Master Architect and Designer,” “Masterpieces of Chinese Art: A Closer Look,” “Nature and Geometry: Architect Antoni Gaudi’s Eccentric Brilliance,” “Art and Light: Recording Battle and Beauty from Hastings to Trouville,” The Alhambra: Poetry from the Walls,” “The Malay Peninsula to Balinese Design: Arts and Influences,” “Masterpieces of Andalusia,” and “From Ayr to Iona: Faith, Stone and Design.” Future programs include travel by ship from Barcelona to Lisbon and to the North Sea with stops at Neolithic sites in the Orkney Islands and early Norse settlements in the Shetlands as well as by land in Eastern Europe to explore the rich architectural history of Prague, Bratislava, and Budapest. So my research continues!

The Alhambra’s Mirador, or viewing tower, was originally built with a majestic view of the landscape. A wall built by Charles V currently blocks that view but the detailed calligraphy, muqarnas, and arabesque created in stucco help make this site one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the world.

The Alhambra’s Mirador, or viewing tower, was originally built with a majestic view of the landscape. A wall built by Charles V currently blocks that view but the detailed calligraphy, muqarnas, and arabesque created in stucco help make this site one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the world.

 

Tirta Empul Temple, in the hills of Bali, was founded in the 10th century and dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. This sacred site with its cool, clear, spring-fed waters provides an important location in ritual and prayer for Hindus even today.

Tirta Empul Temple, in the hills of Bali, was founded in the 10th century and dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. This sacred site with its cool, clear, spring-fed waters provides an important location in ritual and prayer for Hindus even today.

 

The island of Iona, in Scotland’s northern Inner Hebrides, is the location where the monk Columba established a monastery in the year 563. This monastic center evolved to become an important site in Celtic Christianity. Its scriptorium produced many important documents, including the famous Book of Kells. Several Irish crosses, including St. Martin’s Cross seen here, were added to the site in the 9th century.

The island of Iona, in Scotland’s northern Inner Hebrides, is the location where the monk Columba established a monastery in the year 563. This monastic center evolved to become an important site in Celtic Christianity. Its scriptorium produced many important documents, including the famous Book of Kells. Several Irish crosses, including St. Martin’s Cross seen here, were added to the site in the 9th century.

The nature of my work as Study Leader includes what I consider to be an added bonus. The people themselves who travel with these programs are ones who are fascinating and who view life with a deep curiosity and a passion for learning. They are curious about the world, they seek to educate themselves, and, importantly, they want to understand more deeply the connections between what they are experiencing and their lives at home. I love getting to know these travelers whether visiting over dinner, riding in a zodiac, walking through the Gothic Quarter of cities, or keeping our footing during challenging ocean seas. I try to guide them in developing their understanding of the rich artistic legacy of our world while, at the same time, I work to put the arts and architecture we are seeing in their context.

At the end of the day, I realize that whether I teach an undergraduate who is exposed to the wonders of art history for the first time, give a tour at the art museum to a child or a specialist, develop a Seminar or lecture for adults on topics from Rembrandt to the Alhambra, help an executive in deepening cultural knowledge, or guide a traveler in his or her journey to understand our artistic and cultural legacy, at the center is a passion for placing the arts in their fascinating historical context. It is a very satisfying career.

 

Graduate Student, Presentations, Research, Students

Art and Contemplation Graduate Student Research Symposium

By Sam Wisneski, graduate student

After months of planning and preparation, the sixth annual University of St. Thomas graduate student research symposium went off without a hitch. Wearing the hat of both presenter and symposium co-chair, I had some jitters and excitement about both my paper and the symposium overall, and how it would reflect on the Department of Art History. I’ve always been impressed with the collegiality and the warm, welcoming atmosphere of our department, and I truly think we showcase those qualities best in settings like the annual symposium – and this year was no different.

The symposium kicked off with a keynote lecture about Pieter Bruegel’s Resurrection from Dr. Walter Melion of the Emory University Department of Art History. In the words of Dr. Craig Eliason, the lecture was a “thrill ride.” Who said art history can’t be an adrenaline rush? If you missed the keynote or you enjoyed it as much as Craig, you can (re-)watch it here.

The evening continued with a reception where graduate student presenters, professors and UST graduate students got a chance to mingle and enjoy a spread of some of the very best offerings – I quite enjoy those little caprese kabobs, though they are a little awkward to eat and the dessert bars, oh my!

Saturday started bright and early, with the presenters arriving at 7:45 a.m. and the first paper presented at 8:30 a.m. to a full house. The rest of the day went very smoothly. From the morning sessions, to the gallery talk in the American Museum of Asmat Art gallery, to the afternoon sessions, I think we showed off the very best of the Department of Art History at St. Thomas. The student presenters were incredibly professional and gave some wonderful presentations. As symposium co-chair, this wasn’t all that surprising based on the many excellent abstracts we received following the Call for Papers – but a strong abstract doesn’t guarantee a great presentation. This time around, it was the case that both the abstracts and the presentations were quite strong. Not only that, the range and breadth of topics was impressive too. This year’s paper titles can be found here.

2015 Symposium Presenters with Dr. Walter Melion

2015 Symposium Presenters with Dr. Walter Melion

Following each presentation, our audience, packed into Room 341, offered some insightful questions to our presenters. As usual, it was a warm atmosphere for collegial banter – both literally and figuratively; the room was smaller than past symposium locations so it was a little toasty at times. My fellow graduate student presenters handled their questions graciously and with enthusiasm.

The absolute highlight and nightmare scenario for me though, was the feedback offered by our keynote lecturer. Dr. Melion carefully read the presenters’ papers and crafted several incisive questions for each of us – some even down to the granular level of semantics. He then called upon us to respond to each question. Easier said than done. We all furiously scribbled and captured mere portions of each of his questions.

Sam presenting her paper

Sam presenting her paper, ‘Soul Food as Sacrament: Social Practice Artist Meditations on Nourishment’

I felt a bit like I was on an episode of the Food Network series Chopped. I had served up my paper to the judges, and now I was ready to be grilled. Publicly defending your work is a delicate task – especially when scholarship can be so personal. You’ve spent lots of time with your topic, and even the slightest criticism can sting. You have to achieve a balance somewhere between defensiveness and concession – standing up for your paper but acknowledging that your scholarship is never really done.

Though difficult, opportunities to present and defend your work are formative. As scholars, we aren’t producing work in a vacuum, so outside insights are critical and I very much valued the thoughtful responses Dr. Melion provided for each of us. I think my fellow graduate student presenters, overall, felt the same way. In hearing feedback from presenters, I think we achieved both a welcoming and critical environment to consider this year’s symposium theme, Art and Contemplation.

I’d like to offer a special thanks to everyone who made this year’s symposium a success – while it didn’t quite take a village, it certainly took lots of support from our department as a whole: graduate student volunteers, the faculty co-chairs, Dr. Heather Shirey and Dr. Craig Eliason, and my co-chair Dakota Passariello, as well as the generous support of those in attendance. Thank you!

 

Graduate Student, Research, Research Travel, Students

Uncovering Joshua Johnson’s Baltimore

Alex Kermes is an art history graduate student completing his qualifying paper on the 19th century painter, Joshua Johnson. He was awarded the Art History Department Graduate Research Grant to help make this project possible. Alex will be presenting his qualifying paper research at the Art History Graduate Forum on December 18.

Joshua Johnson, the topic of study for my Qualifying Paper, is an enigmatic figure since so much of his life is unknown. Few details have trickled down from decades of scholarship on Johnson, who is considered the first African American portraitist in the U.S. I experienced this enigma firsthand while conducting research on him, and felt the department’s travel grant would help me uncover a great deal more.

Johnson lived and worked in Baltimore, actively painting portraits of middle and upper class clientele from the late-1790s to mid-1820s. Although he owed much to the influence of painters around him, he devised a style all his own. His paintings are characterized by thin layering of oil paint, minimal shading on his subjects (often children), and frequent use of props.

The third largest city in the U.S. during this period, Baltimore had an active African American population, both slave and free. Citizens interacted with a diverse population, and my research has focused on how Johnson responded to such diversity – in spite of the limited sources. The travel grant helped me understand Johnson as a person, living and working as an artisan in a time defined by slave and free status.

The reality of slavery sunk in while I dug deep into the sources in the Maryland Historical Society’s (MHS) library archives. While there, I read a manifest from the 1780s containing all sorts of transactions in Baltimore, including the legal documentation that set Johnson free from slavery. On one hand, it was an important record to look at closely as it assigned the conditions for which Johnson would become free, while on the other hand, these same pages contained transactions for horses, livestock, and ships in the harbor. This provided a disheartening reminder about a significant segment of America’s history.

Still, the MHS provided me with a wealth of details that helped me piece together a personal history of Johnson’s life. I looked at newspaper advertisements of other artisans and city directories that listed Johnson’s various residences throughout his life in the 1800s.

As an art historian, it was important that I see his work in person and up close, and there are far more of his paintings in Baltimore than the St. Paul-Minneapolis area. The Maryland Historical Society is home to a few, though they have a strict photography policy, and other can be found at the Baltimore Museum of Art. I spent time at both to examine Johnson’s works, and simply because both are quite fabulous museums.

While drafting the prospectus for my qualifying paper, one of the major comments I received stressed the importance of bringing his works forward in my discussion. My focus had drifted too far into Johnson’s context that his actual paintings took on a seemingly secondary role. Studying his works in person changed that remarkably. The subtle ways he handled his paint differ throughout the periods of his career, making it possible to identify a Johnson work from 1804 versus one from 1814. This spoke a great deal to me about the work he received during this period and how he was able to hone his craft.

Joshua Johnson, James McCormick Family, 1804-5, 50 x 69 in., Maryland Historical Society, oil on canvas (left); Joshua Johnson, Rebecca Myring Everette and her children, 1818, 55 x 58 in., Maryland Historical Society, oil on canvas (right)

Of course, Baltimore is culturally and historically significant, which meant on my free evenings (the MHS is open only until 5:00), I saw the U.S.S. Constellation parked in the harbor, poked my head in the Walters Art Museum which was located next to the MHS, and wandered the Baltimore Museum of Art’s galleries.

I certainly could have completed my Qualifying Paper without this research travel grant. Yet, studying Joshua Johnson’s Baltimore in person has given me tremendous insight into his life and what his career in painting was all about. Walking along High Street, close to the harbor, I could almost sense where Johnson might have lived and worked in the first decade of the 19th century. I truly built a personal connection to Johnson and his work by studying him on my Baltimore trip, and it increased my quality of research. My Qualifying Paper has already greatly benefited from every additional page of notes I took while in the archives and viewing his paintings and digging through the Maryland Historical Society’s archives – progress that I could not have made without the travel grant. Visiting Baltimore has made him much less the enigma he was when I began my research.

Asmat, Faculty, Graduate Student, Presentations, Research, Research Travel, Students

Of Note

‘Of Note’ is a new series showcasing what members of the Department of Art History have been up to and will be published at the start of every semester. If you have something that you would like included in the next post, please send it to Marria Thompson.


Dr. Andy Barnes

This summer I undertook a driving tour of the lowland Maya region of Mexico. While crossing through the states of Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas, my trip included stops at Tulum, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Merida, Campeche (city), Palenque, and Calakmul. Pictured here is the textile inspired façade of one of the structures in Uxmal’s grand Nunnery Complex (ca. AD 900) and Structure II, Calakmul (begun before AD 100 and enlarged considerably over the following seven centuries). Calakmul, in Campeche State, is one of the largest Maya sites, which flourished between AD 600-900.  Structure II, standing over 15 stories tall, is one of the largest pyramids in the Maya region (it is somewhat larger than the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan).


Dr. Craig Eliason

This summer I attended the Granshan Type Design Conference in Reading, England. The theme of the conference was “global design in practice,” and the program included a terrific presentation by Korean calligrapher Kang Byung-in. Then, that evening, the conference moved to the University’s typography department, where sheets of paper were set up for a giant-scale, joint calligraphy demonstration by Kang and English calligrapher Timothy Donaldson. The packed room watched as the two men went at it with all manner of pens and brushes, showing off both craft mastery and a little clownish rivalry. The demonstration ended with both artists dipping their hands directly in the ink, making handprints on the paper, and then shaking hands.

Calligraphy demonstration

Calligraphy demonstration


Dr. Eric Kjellgren

In August, I traveled to Australia at the invitation of the National Gallery of Australia and the Oceanic Art Society to give a presentation at the Art of the Sepik River Forum held in conjunction with a newly opened exhibition of art from the Sepik River in northeast New Guinea at the gallery in Australia’s capitol city of Canberra.  My paper Hidden “Hands”: Searching for the Artist in the Arts of the Sepik River explored the idea that works by individual artists can be identified within the arts of the Sepik River, something that has not previously been done for this art-rich region of New Guinea.

 Eric Kjellgren with Pacific Art Curator Crispin Howarth (left in navy blue blazer) and members of the Oceanic Art Society examining works at the National Gallery of Australia

Eric Kjellgren with Pacific Art Curator Crispin Howarth (left in navy blue blazer) and members of the Oceanic Art Society examining works at the National Gallery of Australia


Dr. Heather Shirey

This summer I presented a paper at the Transatlantic Dialogues conference in Liverpool. Liverpool’s Lord Mayor hosted a reception for attendees as a special event during the conference. This reception took place at Liverpool’s beautiful, 18th century Town Hall. By complete accident, I arrived at the reception a half an hour early, along with a friend I had made at the conference. After overcoming some initial suspicions due to our early arrival, the building director invited us to take advantage of the special opportunity to visit the building, which is only open to the public once a month.  Learning that we were art historians, he suggested that we wander through the ground floor rooms to see the city’s art collection. On our unguided wanderings, we first stumbled into the Council Chamber, where the Lord Mayor himself happened to be visiting with a few of his constituents. He very kindly invited us to try out the seat reserved for the mayor in the council room. I think a room like this would be just spectacular for our seminars!

Heather seated in the Liverpool Town Hall Council Room

Heather seated in the Liverpool Town Hall Council Room

Next we stumbled across a portrait of John Archer, said to be (although this is debated) Britain’s first mayor of African Descent. Born in Liverpool, Archer traveled to the United States and Canada before being elected Mayor of Battersea in 1913. The painting, by Paul Clarkson, incorporates references to African American intellectual and cultural movements: Archer rests his arm on a copy of The Crisis, the official publication of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people, and a poster advertising the Fisk Jubilee Singers hangs behind his head. I am interested in the ways that Archer himself evoked symbols of the battle for civil rights in the United States in his own political career. I also want to learn more about the position of Archer in Liverpool’s contemporary interpretation of the city’s racial dynamics. The city of Liverpool and its many citizens amassed tremendous wealth during the eighteenth century due to the city’s important position as a port during the height of the transatlantic slave trade. Just down the road from the Town Hall is the International Slavery Museum, which grapples with this aspect of Liverpool’s history. It is worth noting that this painting was installed in the Town Hall only within the last decade. What does this current interest in John Archer tell us about Liverpool’s evolving understanding of its past?

Portrait of John Archer

Portrait of John Archer

 


Margaret George, graduate student

Summer, travel, and art are intertwined in my vocabulary. As I prepared for this fall’s Contemporary Architecture class, I was excited to spend some time this summer in Buffalo, New York . The city has some wonderful architecture in its downtown including a pretty spectacular building by Louis Sullivan, the Prudential Guaranty Building, designed in 1894-85 (left image). The stone and detail on the building were just beautiful – almost exquisite. An architectural contrast was a Rem Koolhaas’ 21st century building (CCTV Headquarters) in Beijing that I also saw this summer (right image).  “Big Boxer Shorts” as the locals call it – you can figure out why.


Amanda Lesnikowski, graduate student

I never truly appreciated the saying “kill two birds with one stone” until I found myself in a masters program and a full-time job at the same time. This summer, while working under the direction of Dr. Heather Shirey, I completed an independent study that focused on the development of an African American Art Teacher Resource guide for elementary school teachers. I began by selecting five artworks from the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s permanent collection. I researched the artists and their artworks, then aligned state academic standards with a set of open-ended questions to create a resource guide that can be used by teachers across the state. It was an amazing feeling to watch my two ‘jobs’ become one.

Clementine Hunter, The Wash, 1950s, Oil on board, 18 x 24 in. (45.7 x 61.0 cm)

Clementine Hunter, The Wash, 1950s, Oil on board, 18 x 24 in. (45.7 x 61.0 cm)


 

Dakota Passariello, graduate student

This June I began an internship at the Thrivent Financial Collection of Religious Art. In the past few months I have been working with the collection and its curator, Joanna Lindell. Thus far, I have been exposed to and have learned a tremendous amount about the multifaceted world of curatorial work. Some of my tasks and experiences so far have included assisting the curator with planning an exhibition layout, writing and fabricating object labels and exhibition panels, and attending meetings related to upcoming events and plans for the gallery. Thrivent has a truly special collection that is globally recognized; yet I think the collection is largely overlooked by our own community. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend coming to check out the gallery! It’s free!