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Research Travel

Research Travel, Senior Paper, Students, Undergraduate Student

Cultural Heritage Protection at the Aga Khan Museum

Justine Lloyd is an undergraduate Art History major and is currently working on her senior paper. She was awarded the Art History Department Undergraduate Research Grant to help make travel for this project possible.

This January, I had the opportunity to travel to Toronto with the Art History Department Undergraduate Research Grant.  The focus of my trip was to gather information for my senior research paper—a testament to all that I have learned as an Art History student here at the University of St. Thomas.  The focus of my project is on the widespread, systematic destruction and looting of the ancient Syrian city, Dura-Europos.  Because the protection of the artifacts within the city is important for both the art history field and the millions of people that have called Syria a home, I am also investigating possible solutions to the existing damage and ways to prevent further destruction.  Certain information about Dura-Europos has been difficult to find, as the site is located in a conflict-stricken area and the destruction and looting has been a fairly recent occurrence.  As so, the Art History Department Undergraduate Research Grant allowed me to gather material in a way that was otherwise inaccessible to me.

Tomb Relief
Palmyra, Syria, 123 CE
Limestone, carved
With permission of the Royal Ontario Museum © ROM.

I spent two nights in Toronto, giving me a full day to explore the Aga Khan Museum, which is dedicated to Islamic art and Muslim culture.  Its current exhibit, Syria: A Living History, contains several works of art and cultural artifacts that are similar to those being destroyed in Dura-Europos, including floor mosaics, temple reliefs, eye idol figurines, and stele.  For the first time, I was able to see Syrian art outside of a textbook or journal article.  I took part in a guided tour of the exhibit and spent some time browsing on my own, and can say without a doubt that it was one of the most striking exhibition layouts I have ever seen.  The high ceilings, dim lighting and dark-colored walls were both dramatic and intriguing.  This exhibit has been so popular that the Aga Khan decided to extend its showing from February to March.

Stele with Depiction of a Prayer
Tell Halaf, Syria, 10th–9th centuries BCE
Basalt, carved
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Vorderasiatisches Museum,
Photo: Olaf M. Teßmer.

Eye Idol
Syria, ca. 3200 BCE
Gypsum, carved
With permission of the Royal Ontario Museum © ROM.

The most valuable part of my time in Toronto was meeting with a curator of the Aga Khan, ‪Dr. Filiz Cakir Phillip.  As someone who was involved closely with the exhibition, Dr. Phillip was able to further my knowledge in Syrian art and aid in forming my case study of Dura-Europos.  We discussed the transitional process of artifacts from archaeological sites to museums, which is relevant in discourse related to cultural preservation of at-risk sites.   Dr. Phillip was also well versed in Syrian Antiquity Law, which was information I was having difficulty finding in English.

I am confidant that the information and resources I gained in Toronto will contribute to my development of a strong senior paper.  I am so grateful to have received the Art History Department Undergraduate Research Grant which made this entire experience possible.

Graduate Qualifying Paper, Graduate Student, Research, Research Travel, Students

An Exploration of the Irish Holy Wells of St. Brigid

Clare Monardo is an art history graduate student currently completing her qualifying paper on the Irish Holy Wells of St. Brigid. She was awarded the Art History Department Graduate Research Grant to help make this project possible. Clare will present her paper at the Fall 2016 Graduate Student Forum on Dec. 16th.  

This summer I was fortunate to be able to travel around Ireland for three weeks researching the holy wells of St. Brigid in Ireland, which is the topic of my qualifying paper for this program. I have been exploring the St. Brigid’s holy wells for two years now and had hit a wall due to a lack of photographs and site-specific records, prompting this trip.

A sign marks St. Brigid’s Well, Killare, County Westmeath. In order to access the holy well, which is located in a copse of trees, visitors must walk through a field of grazing sheep. Photograph taken by author on June 4, 2016.

A sign marks St. Brigid’s Well, Killare, County Westmeath. In order to access the holy well, which is located in a copse of trees, visitors must walk through a field of grazing sheep. Photograph taken by author on June 4, 2016.

Holy wells are noteworthy settings because, in addition to being semi-man-made places of prayer and contemplation out in nature, many of them are believed to cure physical ailments in addition to spiritual ones. Almost every town in Ireland has at least one holy well, with some counties having upwards of one hundred, for a total of approximately three thousand wells in the country as a whole. The landscape in which holy wells reside shows an amalgamation of pre-Christian and Christian practice and have been enhanced by man-made additions such as signs, well-houses, paved paths, shrines, and the Stations of the Cross.

Stations of the Cross at St. Brigid’s Well in Cullion, County Westmeath. A path allows visitors to circumambulate the well while praying the Stations of the Cross. Photograph taken by author on June 4, 2016.

Stations of the Cross at St. Brigid’s Well in Cullion, County Westmeath. A path allows visitors to circumambulate the well while praying the Stations of the Cross. Photograph taken by author on June 4, 2016.

Throughout the course of my research I have come across one hundred holy wells dedicated to St. Brigid in Ireland, not all of which are still in use today. I was able to visit ten of these holy wells while in Ireland, along with local libraries, historical sites, and the Solas Bhríde center in Kildare run by Brigidine nuns. My qualifying paper focuses on four sites, located throughout the country: two wells in Tully, County Kildare; one in Ballysteen, County Clare; one in Faughart, County Louth. These four holy wells were chosen because of their popularity, the fact that they are still venerated today, and because the greatest amount of information regarding the Irish holy wells of St. Brigid focuses on these particular sites. Some of the holy wells that I visited were clearly marked and had road signs pointing the way, making them easy to find. Others, however, were not so obvious, leading to lots of extra driving around (which was already somewhat stressful as it’s on the opposite side of the road from what we’re used to!) and eventually having to ask for directions from locals. These included the St. Brigid’s Well in the Faughart graveyard and another located down the road from Raffony Graveyard.

 A stone beehive hut encloses St. Brigid’s Well in Faughart, County Louth, and there are steep steps going down to the water. To the left of the well are clootie trees. Photograph taken by author on June 12, 2016.

A stone beehive hut encloses St. Brigid’s Well in Faughart, County Louth, and there are steep steps going down to the water. To the left of the well are clootie trees. Photograph taken by author on June 12, 2016.

 

Tucked into a hillside down the road from Raffony Graveyard is St. Brigid’s Well, Raffony, County Cavan. Photograph taken by author on June 10, 2016.

Tucked into a hillside down the road from Raffony Graveyard is St. Brigid’s Well, Raffony, County Cavan. Photograph taken by author on June 10, 2016.

Two holy wells associated with St. Brigid, known as St. Brigid’s Well and St. Brigid’s Wayside Well are located in Tully, County Kildare. Both of these sites are still visited today, but the popularity of the Wayside Well has diminished in recent decades with the renovations of the nearby St. Brigid’s Well.

St. Brigid’s Wayside Well in Tully, County Kildare. Stone steps lead down to the murky and stagnant water, and a small amount of clooties and other items point to this well still being a place of veneration. Photograph taken by author on May 30, 2016.

St. Brigid’s Wayside Well in Tully, County Kildare. Stone steps lead down to the murky and stagnant water, and a small amount of clooties and other items point to this well still being a place of veneration. Photograph taken by author on May 30, 2016.

Ritual is an integral part of the holy well experience and it can involve not just the holy well, but also sacred trees and stones. Oftentimes trees nearby holy wells have pieces of cloth, called clooties, tied to their branches, marking them as being venerated. When visiting a holy well the afflicted takes a piece of his or her clothing and ties it to the tree with the belief that the disease which is plaguing them will be transferred from their body to the tree.

Located at the back of the axial site is St. Brigid’s Well. To the left of the well is a clootie tree with colorful ribbons and pieces of cloth tied to its branches. Tully, County Kildare. Photograph taken by author on June 1, 2016.

Located at the back of the axial site is St. Brigid’s Well. To the left of the well is a clootie tree with colorful ribbons and pieces of cloth tied to its branches. Tully, County Kildare. Photograph taken by author on June 1, 2016.

 

A small bridge passes over the stream at St. Brigid’s Well in Tully, allowing visitors to access the clootie bush on the right and the statue of St. Brigid on the left. Photograph taken by author on May 30, 2016.

A small bridge passes over the stream at St. Brigid’s Well in Tully, allowing visitors to access the clootie bush on the right and the statue of St. Brigid on the left. Photograph taken by author on May 30, 2016.

In addition to clooties, it has become quite common for visitors to leave a variety of other objects at holy wells. St. Bridget’s Well in Ballysteen, County Clare had the largest accumulation and assortment of items that I came across during my trip. Not only were there prayer and memorial cards, but also religious statues and images, rosaries, photographs, flowers, religious medals, an empty vodka bottle, a pair of children’s shoes, and a sparkly hula-hoop.

At St. Bridget’s Well, Ballysteen, County Clare, access to the holy water is gained by entering a whitewashed well-house that surrounds the well and proceeding down a dark and narrow passage. Multiple layers of votive offerings have built up inside the well-house. Photograph taken by author on June 8, 2016.

At St. Bridget’s Well, Ballysteen, County Clare, access to the holy water is gained by entering a whitewashed well-house that surrounds the well and proceeding down a dark and narrow passage. Multiple layers of votive offerings have built up inside the well-house. Photograph taken by author on June 8, 2016.

By going on this research trip I not only was able to access local sources that had been unavailable to me previously, but I also gained a better sense of how one is supposed to move through and use the space of holy well sites. Information from both types of visits will help me understand how ritual and space affect and inform one another at the holy wells of St. Brigid in Ireland as I continue to move forward with my qualifying paper.

Graduate Qualifying Paper, Graduate Student, Research, Research Travel

Pictish Stones

Sandy Tomney is an art history graduate student completing her qualifying paper research on the Pictish Stones found within Scotland. She was awarded the Art History Department Graduate Research Grant to help make this project possible. 

Hundreds of carved stones and stone fragments have been found within Scotland’s landscape.  Many of these sculptures are attributed to the peoples known as the Picts who lived in northern Britain during the early historic period.  Art historians and archeologists have been studying these monuments for several hundred years and are still working towards better understanding Pictish art and society.  Recently, on a trip to Scotland, I had the opportunity to examine some of the monuments and their find sites first hand.

St Orland’s Stone is an example of an early historic Pictish monument. (photos by author, 2016)

St Orland’s Stone is an example of an early historic Pictish monument. (photos by author, 2016)

Due to the large number of Pictish stones that have been found, I decided to use iconographical similarities to limit my investigation of the stones.  The ten monuments that were to be examined are carved with quadrupeds that have clawed feet, long legs, long tails, long duck-like noses, large eyes, and profiled bodies.  It just so happened that each of these monuments was originally found near Scotland’s east coast.  Each was discovered south of the Cairngorms and slightly inland from the coastline among agricultural land.  With the exception of the Forteviot Church Stone, each of the other monuments was originally found north of the River Tay.

Example of quadrupeds with clawed feet, long legs, long tails, long duck-like noses, large eyes, and profiled bodies found on Meigle No. 4. (Photo by author, 2016)

Example of quadrupeds with clawed feet, long legs, long tails, long duck-like noses, large eyes, and profiled bodies found on Meigle No. 4. (Photo by author, 2016)

Aberlemno No. 2 still stands in the local kirkyard. During the winter months it is covered with a protective box. (Photos by author, 2016)

Aberlemno No. 2 still stands in the local kirkyard. During the winter months it is covered with a protective box. (Photos by author, 2016)

The monuments have similar iconography, but visiting their find sites revealed a topographical connection between the stones as well. Seven of the find sites visited were near rolling fields of barley and other grains.  This landscape differs greatly from the more mountainous regions to the west and north. The eighth and most northerly Dunfallandy Stone’s find spot was near Killiecrankie along the floodplain of the River Gary.  The River Gary cuts through the southwestern tip of Cairngorm National Park.  Although the area’s landscape is in transition from rolling hills to mountains, similar to the other find spots, much of the land is dedicated to agriculture. Of the stones that were visited, only St. Orland’s Stone found in a field near Forfar and the Aberlemno stones situated along the local road and in the local kirkyard potentially remain in their original find spots.  Most of the monuments have been moved into museums or churches to avoid further deterioration that may be caused by the elements.

The village of Meigle is surrounded by productive agricultural land such as this barley field. (Photo by author, 2016)

The village of Meigle is surrounded by productive agricultural land such as this barley field. (Photo by author, 2016)

The River Gary near the Dunfallandy Stone’s find site. (Photo by author, 2016)

The River Gary near the Dunfallandy Stone’s find site. (Photo by author, 2016)

The trail to the remote St. Orland’s Stone in Angus. ((Photo by author, 2016)

The trail to the remote St. Orland’s Stone in Angus. ((Photo by author, 2016)

Visiting the small museums not only allowed me to view the stones in the study, but also provided a chance to see other Pictish stones. Seeing Strathmartine No. 3 on display at The Meffan Museum and Gallery in Forfar allowed me to better discern details on the stone that photographs just could not capture.  In addition to Strathmartine No. 3, the museum was exhibiting the stones found nearby at Kirriemuir.  About twelve miles from Forfar is the Meigle collection of twenty-six monuments that is housed in an old school house.  The Meigle Museum had on exhibit three of the monuments that were on the list of those to see.   Viewing the monuments allowed for a better understanding of the scale of the stones and how they might function within their original cultural landscape.  Although their collections did not include any of the monuments on my list, I also visited the St. Vigeans Stones and Museum as well as the Museum of Perth.  Both museums are located within the region and the monuments they exhibit may be useful as comparisons.

Strathmartine No. 3 on display at the Meffan Museum and Gallery in Forfar. (Phots by author, 2016)

Strathmartine No. 3 on display at the Meffan Museum and Gallery in Forfar. (Photo by author, 2016)

Originally found just outside of Aberlemno, the Woodrae Castle Stone was one of the stones on the list that was a “must see.”  It is now on display at the National Museum of Scotland, and a trip to the Edinburgh museum provided an opportunity to personally observe the details on the amazing stone.  The museum trip also permitted me to view an array of other Pictish stones, as well as, Celts a major joint exhibition between the National Museums of Britain and Scotland.  Although the museum in the busy city felt like another world after exploring the country side, it was well worth the detour.

The Woodrae Castle Stone at the Scottish National Museum, Edinburgh. (Photo by Robin Tomney, 2016)

The Woodrae Castle Stone at the Scottish National Museum, Edinburgh. (Photo by Robin Tomney, 2016)

Overall the trip allowed me to visit the find sites of all ten monuments and actually see eight of the ten stones.  In addition, it was helpful to see other Pictish stones that did not have the same iconography as those in the study.  The field information that was collected was helpful and greatly added to the research I am currently conducting.

Research, Research Travel, Senior Paper, Students, 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

 

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!

 

Exhibitions, Graduate Student, Research Travel

Long Now Exhibition: A Trip to San Francisco Part II

Alex Kermes is an art history graduate student and works as a graduate exhibitions assistant.  He is currently developing an exhibit site in coordination with Dr. AnnMarie Thomas of the Engineering department that combines technology, art, design, and culture. This space is scheduled to open fall 2015.

Pixar

Firmly in possession of the Rosetta Disk, centerpiece to our exhibition on the Long Now’s projects, we set out early on our second day in San Francisco to Pixar. As you can see, we were guided along by some friendly faces!

Cars at Pixar

Cars at Pixar

Dr. Thomas with Allen from Pixar

Dr. Thomas with Allen from Pixar

At Pixar we met Allen, a visual effects specialist. Their offices were deep in the creation of their next film, Inside Out. While we got to learn a lot of what goes in to developing their movies, most of it was off-limits to our prying eyes (and, naturally, to photographs as well). Nevertheless, the place was fantastically interesting as well as iconic.

While visiting Pixar seems tangential to the development of an engineering exhibit, it provided us a glimpse into how design and culture can come together. A significant amount of research into fields like history, psychology, and art go into the creative process of every Pixar film. I was particularly interested in the amount of background research that informed the basis of their upcoming movie (which deals with child psychology).

Pixar restroom sign

Pixar restroom sign

The striking thing to me about Pixar was the high coordination of visuals that go into branding the place. Seldom do I take pictures of restroom signs (like I said, I was limited on what I could photograph), but the silhouette of Pixar’s beloved Woody character tells visitors something about this building. Everything was Pixar-oriented, providing a constant reminder of the world of Pixar and all their characters in it.

Exploratorium

Our last stop on this trip was pure inspiration. The Exploratorium is San Francisco’s hands-on museum dedicated to all things scientific. Our tour guide was Dr. Thomas’s friend Lenore, who showed us many of the interesting parts of the museum, highlighting the exhibits that deal with mechanics and optics (and art).

 

We also took a “tour” of the Tactile Dome: a walkway/maze/path in complete darkness, which can be navigated only by touch. Of course it is a little difficult to take pictures in total darkness, so I left the iPad locked away while we bumped into each other for 15 minutes, making our perplexed way through the Dome.

It is worth noting the star-power present in our group. We noticed Dr. Thomas’s project Squishy Circuits on display at the Exploratorium!

Dr. Thomas’s Squishy Circuits

Dr. Thomas’s Squishy Circuits

We then headed to the airport for our return – it was a short trip, but well worth it for the amount of inspiration we received for our upcoming exhibit. The tech industry might not resonate with the “history” part of “art history,” but art historians constantly study the overlap between culture and creativity, which turned out to be my greatest takeaway. We will do everything we can in our exhibition space to highlight the exchange and overlap of art and technology, with the end goal that we too can inspire visitors the way we were while in San Francisco.

Please watch for our exhibit space to open on the third floor in the new Facilities and Design Center this fall! We are looking forward to sharing what art and culture can do for science and technology to our St. Thomas audience.

 

Exhibitions, Graduate Student, Research Travel

Long Now Exhibition: A Trip to San Francisco Part I

Alex Kermes is an art history graduate student and works as a graduate exhibitions assistant.  He is currently developing an exhibit site in coordination with Dr. AnnMarie Thomas of the Engineering department that combines technology, art, design, and culture. This space is scheduled to open fall 2015.

Collaborative projects between Art History and Engineering are few and far between. It was no surprise then that as a graduate art history student traveling to San Francisco’s tech industry with Dr. AnnMarie Thomas from the School of Engineering, I understandably encountered a number of raised eyebrows. The art historical value of lasers and 3D printing may not be overtly obvious at first, but the departments of Art History and Engineering have big plans to bring these concepts together. It has been my pleasure to collaborate with Dr. Thomas over the past couple months on the development of an exhibit space in the new Facilities and Design Center, located on the University of St. Thomas St. Paul campus. This space has been designed with the intention of showcasing objects that straddle the fine lines between art and technology.

Our inaugural exhibit will focus on the projects from the Long Now Foundation, which was also what brought us to San Francisco. The Long Now Foundation, headquartered in California, has for many years been developing projects focused on long-term thinking and responsibility (also the theme of the exhibit) – in particular, their 10,000 Year Clock and Rosetta Disk. The 10,000 Year Clock is a monumental object designed to keep accurate time for the next 10,000+ years. On the other end of the scale, the Rosetta Disk is a nickel disk less than 3” across. The disk contains translations of over 1,500 world languages which have been micro-etched with laser and can only be read with a microscope. Through generous donor support, the University of St. Thomas has acquired a copy of the Rosetta Disk, which will be exhibited along with pieces from the 10,000 Year Clock. The exhibit is slated to open during the 2015 fall semester.

Autodesk

Our first visit was to Autodesk, a design company specializing in 3D CAD software which they convert into amazing 3D printed sculptures. Our guides Dawn and Christy were supremely helpful along the way. It was a bit tricky to wrap my head around how they transformed computer designs into 3D objects, but I definitely noticed the breadth of cultural influences at work in the minds of the folks working there. A number of object designs were based on airplanes, action figures, and sea monsters. The sheer capabilities of the place were flat-out cool. They are able to print using multiple materials, multiple colors, or multiple sizes.

Autodesk objects on view

Autodesk – objects as art

One thing I noticed was that the objects were treated like works of art, as witnessed through the way that they were labeled and exhibited throughout their offices. For me, this was important because it shows the interest the company takes in the cultural-technological crossover that design is capable of. Moreover, it affirmed my belief that there are ways to bridge the supposed gap between art and technology, and inspired Dr. Thomas’s and my aspirations for our own exhibit space.

Other Mill/Other Machine

Other Machine - interior

Other Machine – interior

Our second stop was an old pipe organ factory. It has recently been converted into the manufacturer of Othermill, a product of the company Other Machine. They even used old wooden organ pipes as shelves.

Othermill at Other Machine

Othermill at Other Machine

This Othermill is a milling machine the size of a microwave that uses CNC (computerized numerical control) to “create 2D and 3D objects out of durable materials, such as wood, metal, plastic, using digital designs.” People utilize the Othermill to create things from relief stamps to circuit boards – how, I don’t know, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating to me. Dr. Thomas’s friend Simone tried in vain to help me understand. Regardless, she was a wonderfully enthusiastic tour guide during our visit.

The Interval

The Interval

The Interval

Ultimately, the reason we embarked on this trip was to meet personally with the minds of the Long Now Foundation and bring home the exhibit’s new copy of the Rosetta Disk. The brainpower of the Foundation was represented by Dr. Laura Welcher and Dr. Alexander Rose.

At The Interval, the foundation’s event space (and bar), they showcased a number of projects they’ve worked on. One of the coolest was a tall metal contraption known as The Orrery. An orrery is a model of the solar system that predicts the positions of planets – and the one at the Interval is huge and immensely cool to look at.

Alex with The Orrery

Alex with The Orrery

We met up with Alexander and Laura for a lengthy discussion on the numerous ideas they had about their work and how it could be exhibited. Their input was incredibly insightful. Over the course of two hours at the Interval, we talked about scope of the Foundation’s projects and ways in which we could apply it to our exhibit space. It is one thing to display objects and hang labels next to them, but it is another thing entirely to find sophisticated ways to provide viewers of our exhibit opportunities to participate and learn about the ideas being presented. Dr. Welcher’s and Dr. Rose’s suggestions gave us so much to consider while planning our first exhibition of the Long Now Foundation’s projects that we are eager to unveil to the public. Much, much more will follow as our project progresses!

On the left in this picture is Dr. Welcher passing a prototype of their current project in front of Dr. Rose (details of this project are closely guarded for now).

On the left in this picture is Dr. Welcher passing a prototype of their current project in front of Dr. Rose (details of this project are closely guarded for now).

We then collected our Rosetta Disk and concluded our day with dinner. That was the first day of our trip. We still had Saturday in San Francisco, which included some extremely fruitful and inspirational trips as well, but those will be covered in a second part to my blog post.

 

 

Graduate Student, Research, Research Travel, Students

A Month in Virginia: Examining Nineteenth-Century Mammy Dolls

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

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

Residency cottage

Residency cottage

Living room of the colonial style residency cottage

Living room of the colonial style residency cottage

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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