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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.

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Elizabeth Kindall: Chinese Geo-narratives in Berlin

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

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

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

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

Tiger Hill pagoda.  Photo: author.

Tiger Hill pagoda. Photo: author.

 

Mount Zhixing being quarried.  Photo: author.

Mount Zhixing being quarried. Photo: author.

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

 

Taihua Monastery II.   Photo: author

Taihua Monastery II. Photo: author

Taihua Monastery II.  Photo: author.

Taihua Monastery II. Photo: author.

 

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

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

Modern Plaque Commemorating Yibiwanqing.  Photo: author.

Modern Plaque Commemorating Yibiwanqing. Photo: author.

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

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

Faculty, Graduate Student, Research, Students, Uncategorized

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

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

Victoria Young

NOLA trip group photo in front of New Orleans Cathedral

NOLA trip group photo in front of New Orleans Cathedral

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

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

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

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

Students at Piazza d'Italia.

Students at Piazza d’Italia.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

Books, Faculty, Publications, Research, Uncategorized

Mark Stansbury-O’Donnell: The Point of View for Art and Architecture

Mark Stansbury-O’Donnell is completing a book on the history of Greek art that will be published by Wiley-Blackwell in summer 2014.  This entry recounts one of the projects for the book during his trip to Athens in Feb. 2013.

When art historians get pictures to illustrate their research and work, we often rely on photographs that provide the best view of an object or building.  For vases in museums, this usually means a straight profile shot showing the shape of the object and its decoration with as much focal depth as possible.  Buildings are a bit harder since they have multiple sides and being taller than the average person, harder to see in their entirety unless you have an elevated view.  For photographing the Parthenon in Athens, for example, many pictures are made from the Hill of Philopappos to south and west of the Acropolis.  From here, one has a clear view of the elevation of the west and south sides of the Parthenon.  One can also see the Erechtheion in its entirety, including the Caryatid porch, and, when not covered with scaffolding for restoration, the Propylaia and the Temple of Athena Nike.  From this vantage point, the entire Periklean program of Classical Athens is clear to see.

Photo: M. Stansbury-O'Donnell

Photo: M. Stansbury-O’Donnell

 

The problem is that this vantage point is one that very few people, today or in the past, visited.  It is a high spot visible from the rest of the city, which is why the Roman Gaius Julius Antiochus Philopappos built an elaborate monument there that can be seen throughout Athens.  It was a place to be seen, but not to look from.

In writing my book, I have tried to emphasize the experience of the ancient viewer, and this means reconsidering what the ancient viewer could actually see.  Shots like the first picture do not reflect a typical Athenian point of view.  There is a place just to the north, however, that was a common vantage point for ancient Athenians: the Pynx.  Today, this is a site that is little visited, mostly because it is just a large open bowl on a hill due west of the Acropolis.  It is important, however, as the place where the ekklesia, the body of 6000 citizens who voted met as the Assembly of democratic fifth-century Athens.  Here they heard speeches and made political decisions, voting on war, peace, public projects, and laws, among other things.

From the Pynx, one has a very different view of the Acropolis and Parthenon.  Looking east from the Pynx, one sees full on the gateway of the Propylaia and the Temple of Athena Nike (victory), clearly an important factor in decisions on war.  The Parthenon spreads out to the right and to the left the north porch of the Erechtheion, where the most important cults like the sacred olive tree of Athena were housed.  From this view on the Pynx, one cannot see the buildings individually as an art historian would look at them for an analysis, but one would see them as Athenians were used to seeing them, while they were carrying out one of their most important roles as citizens.  Undoubtedly, this was one goal for the Periklean building program, to make, as Perikles said, the citizens of Athens look upon their city and become lovers of that city.

Photo: M. Stansbury-O'Donnell

Photo: M. Stansbury-O’Donnell

 

I realized after I had written about this in several different chapters that I myself did not have a good photograph of the Acropolis from the Pynx.  My photos were either too blurry or hazy or cloudy to use for publication, and that was true of some other photos I had that were made from the point of view of the Athenian rather than the art historian.  In February, I had to spend several days in different parts of the city, working around the weather, to get the six or seven good photos that I needed for the book.  Of course, the Parthenon now has a giant crane on rails in front of it as they work on restoring the building, but that is good for another point in the book, the preservation of the past.

 

 

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Welcome to the Art History department blog.

We are pleased to initiate a blog for the Art History department that will highlight student and faculty research.  Our departmental newsletter has featured a few projects in each issue, but this is only a small portion of the activity going on in the department.  For this blog, we are asking individuals to write a 500-1000 word reflection on current projects and include pictures of the places or works that they are studying.  Look for a new entry at least once a month, starting with February 2013.

Mark Stansbury-O’Donnell, Professor and Chair of Art History

The Winton Guesthouse, designed by architect Frank Gehry