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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!


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, Faculty, Graduate Student, Presentations, Research, Students

Other Worlds: The Natural and Supernatural in Andean Art

William Barnes is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Art History.  His research interests include the Pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas, particularly those in Mesoamerica and the Andes.  His principal research focus is upon the imperial Aztecs of Central Mexico and how their art intersects with ritual and the Mesoamerican calendar.  He is currently teaching a course on the art of Mesoamerica, to be followed in the fall by a course on the early colonial art of Latin America.

Other Worlds: The Natural and Supernatural in Andean Art

Other Worlds: The Natural and Supernatural in Andean Art

On a cold day in November, a number of UST graduate students accompanied me to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) to talk about ancient Andean art and culture with a wonderfully receptive group of MIA docents and guides. For the most part, the students were presenting research they had undertaken in their 2014 spring semester graduate seminar entitled “New Research in the Ancient Andes.” Instead of standing behind a podium and reading from notes while PowerPoint slides fly by behind them, Katherine Joy, Zach Forstrom, Clare Monardo, and Nicole Sheridan were free to walk around gallery 255 and point to concrete examples of Andean art while discussing their salient features and historical context. Not only were they able to address the actual objects from their graduate studies, they also discussed what initially drew them to the works and why they were chosen for this installation — as they, along with eight of their graduate colleagues, had actually curated the gallery 255 installation from the extensive Andean works held in the MIA’s collection. Entitled Other Worlds: The Natural and Supernatural in Andean Art, the installation, on view until April 26, was almost entirely the work of that spring seminar class.

(Left to right): Nicole Sheridan, Dr. Andy Barnes, Zach Forstrom, Katherine Joy, and Clare Monardo

(Left to right): Nicole Sheridan, Dr. Andy Barnes, Zach Forstrom, Katherine Joy, and Clare Monardo

The graduate students selected works related to a number of important themes that the seminar discerned during their study of the broad scope of artistic production in the ancient Andes. These included “Andean Elites and Rulers,” “Feasting and Ritual,” and “The Natural and Super-Natural Worlds,” the final being the category from which the installation title was drawn. In the grouping of their chosen works, the seminar participants intended to show how Andean art was used to illustrate social differentiation, aspects of ritual and political obligation, and the role that depictions of the natural world and the supernatural realm played in legitimizing political authority and maintaining balance and harmony between all levels of the Andean cosmos.

The works are strategically placed so that the viewer can physically walk one through the central ideas of the exhibit’s organizers. On the title wall hang two textiles, a central art form of the Andes whose design cues informed almost all other art forms and designs of the region. When worn, these textiles served to distinguish its wearer from other individuals in the region or communities. The one to the left is a 19th century Aymara llacota (a mantle worn by both men and women) likely woven on a traditional backstrap loom, while the other is a much earlier Huari elite tunic, likely worn by a member of the ruling class. Its elaborate design contrasts with the simplicity of the later Aymara piece, with its stylized depictions of Huari men bearing puma or jaguar-like attributes. The small hats worn by many of these figures are the very same as the MIA’s example 8th-10th century CE Huari four-cornered hat placed in the vitrine right in front of the work.

A Moche fineline pot is next to the small four-cornered hat. This pot depicts one of the famous Moche messengers who, aside from wearing animal inspired costumes, seemed to have served a role in carrying communications between Moche cities in the north coast of Peru (1-700 CE). From this central point in the gallery one can turn to investigate works that depict feasting and rituals, the objects of ritual (that allowed one to contact the supernatural), as well as depictions of super-natural creatures themselves.

I, and all the participants in the seminar, would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to Dr. Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers, Curator of African Art and Department Head, Arts of Africa and the Americas, along with his curatorial staff, registrar Kenneth Krenz, and the collections and exhibit design staff for the help they provided in putting together this installation. Despite the challenges it posed for them, this entire exercise wound up being a wonderful opportunity for our graduate students to develop a museum installation in such a hands-on and practical manner.



Conference Presentations, Presentations, Research, Students

Amanda Lesnikowski: Rembrandt’s Two Lucretias

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

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

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


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


Rembrandt, Lucretia, 1666.  Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Rembrandt, Lucretia, 1666. Minneapolis Institute of Arts.













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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

(3) Hollander, 67.

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


Conference Presentations, Graduate Student, Presentations, Research

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

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

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

Slide from Presentation

Slide from Presentation


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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy Gzhel University

Photo courtesy Gzhel University


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

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

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

Ivanova Presentation Slides