Public Engagement in Material Culture Institute (PEMCI): 2011 Abstracts
*indicates an institute-only participant
Tatiana Ausema. Preservation Studies
“Understanding modern art through the materials artists use”
Between 1960 and 1961, Morris Louis (1912-1962), a major Color Field painter, shifted the kind of paint he used, a shift that might partially explain changes in Louis’s style. During that period, paint maker Leonard Bocour sold Louis a custom-blended, pre-thinned paint to replace the tube paint the artist had been purchasing and thinning with turpentine. Sources do not agree, however, on how the formulation of the custom paint might have differed from that sold commercially by Bocour under the brand name Magna, but correspondence between Louis and the paint maker implies that beeswax in the commercial formulation caused the paint to separate when diluted and poured onto an unprimed canvas. This summer I will use specialized instruments at the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) to analyze paint samples from Louis’s works to establish if Bocour did, indeed, remove the beeswax from the custom formulation, and if the change in formulation might have contributed to a major stylistic change in Louis’s painting during this period. Using my work on Magna paint as a starting point, I hope to communicate how understanding the materials artists use can be an entry point to understanding modern art.
Sarah Beetham. Art History
“Sculpting the citizen soldier: Reproduction and national memory, 1865-1917”
My research examines the emergence of the citizen soldier monument in the decades following the Civil War. During that period, single figure statues, along with granite markers, obelisks, columns, and triumphal arches, proliferated in honor of the war veteran throughout American towns. A study of citizen soldier monuments presents the opportunity to understand the relations between sculptural form and the formation of national memory. Though these monuments were often criticized for their easy replicability and generic appearance, their very sameness may have been their most effective asset in connecting local traumas with national memory. The tall, straight specimens of white Victorian manhood rendered in granite and bronze encoded a battleground of ideas about why the Civil War was fought and how conflict should be remembered. These monuments include the early sculptural prototypes of James G. Batterson, Martin Milmore, and Randolph Rogers; the standardized output of foundries such as the McNeel Marble Works in Marietta, Georgia; Daniel Chester French’s Minuteman and the related phenomenon of Colonial Revival soldier monuments in connection with the nation’s centennial; and Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson’s Hiker, a Spanish-American War soldier monument so popular that it was reproduced nearly 50 times. Building on the scholarship of historians who have examined the Reconstruction era on a largely textual basis, I examine how the citizen soldier monument became one of the most important sculptural forms in the nineteenth century, and how sculpture’s unique ability to be copied became entwined with the monument’s meaning.
Sara Brown. Art History
“Images of devotion: The Calvinist church interior paintings of Emanuel de Witte”
My research investigates representations of communal worship in paintings of Dutch Calvinist church interiors by Emanuel de Witte (1617-1692). My research plan for this summer focuses on how the extant church furnishings, and De Witte’s representations of them, shaped and evoked Calvinist identity. Calvinist emphasis on the Word and rejection of Catholic devotional objects led to a fundamentally different material culture of the church grounded in scripture, and resulted in the reorientation of the church and its furnishings to accommodate the sermon and communal worship. The pulpit supplanted the altar as the centerpiece of the service, drawing attention to the preacher as the disseminator of God’s Word. Sound boards, multi-sided panels suspended above these pulpits, projected the preacher’s voice. In De Witte’s painting (fig. 1), the juxtaposition of the pulpit with the organ, another component of Calvinist material culture, suggests an analogy between the two motifs as instruments of God. Renowned Dutch intellectual Constantijn Huygens defended the organ’s capacity to promote community and teach scripture through song, asserting that music has the power to “move the soul”. De Witte’s work also illustrates the introduction of seating oriented to the pulpit (Catholics had stood and kneeled in these spaces), which accompanied the increased attention devoted to the sermon. While some members of the congregation paid for their pews, women brought finely carved portable chairs with them to the service. My project considers the significance of Calvinist church layout in facilitating worship, as well as the visual and symbolic role of material objects in communicating the sermon.
*Emily Casey. Art History
“An ocean of punch: Finding the American republic at sea.”
In 1784, the Empress of China became the first American vessel to join the international network of traders in China. Drawing together sources from material culture and literary history, my research examines how the newly independent country imagined itself at sea and among prominent European trading powers. The particular focus of my research is two types of punch bowls brought back on the Empress of China. Both were common export porcelain pieces in the European market; the addition of an American flag, and words naming the Empress raise intriguing questions about the early republic’s participation in a global empire of trade in the late eighteenth century. At home in American parlors, the bowls act as souvenirs of a place that is mentally and physically distant; filled with “an ocean of punch,” they stand in for the watery distance between America and China that the Empress has traversed and help Americans imagine their cultural and political place in the late eighteenth-century world.
Kyle Meikle. English
“Deconstructing Ishmael Reed’s Radio/Ishmael Reed’s deconstructing Radio”
What does it mean to be multimodal? Ishmael Reed (born 1938) begs such a question in the title of his 1969 novel Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down, a text written (in the author’s own words) “in an oral way like radio.” Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down exists somewhere between airwaves and pages; the novel rehearses the very questions of difference—or lack thereof—between old and new media that preoccupy us in 2011. This project seeks to place Reed’s novel in the wider historical context of the old/new media divide by first locating the text in the material culture of late 1960s/early 1970s radio and then attending to an unproduced, unpublished screenplay adaptation of the novel authored by Reed himself, currently held in the University of Delaware’s Special Collections. If Reed’s screenplay, as well as his novel, raises issues concerning form and format—of the novel, of radio and of film—then what can or should we as scholars, students or curators do with that screenplay today? Both of Reed’s texts simultaneously evoke material and digital mediums/media, and in doing so they serve as loci for thinking through what multimodal literacy meant almost half a century ago and what it could possibly mean in the 2010s.
Ellen Moody, WUDPAC (Winterthur/UD Program in Art Conservation)
“Outdoor sculpture: Degradation and maintenance”
Outdoor sculpture has long been an important cultural asset. Found in
museums, parks and squares all over the world, it can at once enliven a
space and create a sense of community. By definition, it is also at the mercy
of outdoor elements. Without regular maintenance, metal corrodes, stone
crumbles, and surfaces oxidize when touched by human hands. This summer I will assess different protection strategies for outdoor sculpture and develop treatment and maintenance procedures. The research will be carried out at the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Netherlands, home to one of the largest modern outdoor sculpture gardens in the western hemisphere, and at the Netherlands Cultural Heritage Agency, which oversees the country’s public art. Using case studies both in the Museum and on the street, this project will address the degradation of outdoor sculptures made of metal, stone, and ceramics, materials that dominate the sculptural landscape. The results of this research will contribute to the preservation of outdoor sculpture, an urgent topic in the field of art conservation. But of course, this is only half the equation: increasing public awareness is equally crucial for the protection of our outdoor sculptures, whose survival depends as much on communal understanding and respect as it does on routine maintenance.
Crista Pack. WUDPAC
“What’s the white stuff? Identification and analysis of efflorescence on Alaska indigenous objects”
At the Alaska State Museum (ASM) in Juneau, Alaska, I will develop methods to identify white substances that the state’s cultural caretakers have found on various organic objects. For example, a Tlingit hide armor at the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka, Alaska was discovered to have a white crystalline efflorescence. Without correct identification, this could be misidentified as mold, salts, or even pesticides. However, records indicated the hide was treated with leather dressing in the 1960’s – suggesting the white efflorescence may be stearic acids exuded from the oily residues. Without easy identification methods, caretakers may risk endangering both the cultural artifacts and themselves as they clean and house affected objects. My project will include uploading high quality images and our research findings to ASM’s e-Bulletin, the primary goal of which is to disseminate information statewide in easy-to-understand language. I plan to present a lunchtime talk, participate in the museum’s monthly web-chat, and develop a weblog. The ultimate goal of this project will be to bring vital information to those who need it most, using the speed and convenience of web-based technology.
*Addie Peyronnin. Winterthur Fellow in American Material Culture
“Cultural and spiritual significance of sacramental silver given by a patron to St. Mark’s Church in Philadelphia”
After the death of his wife in 1900, Rodman Wanamaker, a son of Philadelphia department store founder John Wanamaker, commissioned a collection of sacramental silver and a silver altar now still in use at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in the city. My research centers on both the materiality and the broader cultural and spiritual significance of this silver. In addition, I will investigate the Lady Chapel that Wanamaker had built within the church as both a memorial to his wife and her burial place. In their design and craftsmanship, the Wanamaker gifts reflect the ideals of the Ecclesiological Society, which grew out of the Oxford Movement in 1830s England and called for greater liturgical solemnity and ritual within the Anglican Church. Wanamaker’s commission went to the London firm of Barkentin and Krall, successors to the silversmiths originally commissioned by the Ecclesiological Society in the late 1840s. The Wanamaker commission raises several questions about the status of the Episcopal/Anglo-Catholic Church in America and its relationship with the church in England, the legacy of the Oxford Movement, the relative social and artistic status of silversmiths in America and London, and the preferences of church patrons and benefactors, questions I hope to explore in my research.
Dawn Rogala. Preservation Studies
“Materials and techniques of abstract expressionist painter Hans Hofmann”
*Kati Schmidt. Winterthur Fellow
“Arts & Crafts in the great outdoors”
In 1912, Thomas Plant, a shoe magnate with a rags-to-riches story, built an Arts & Crafts-style castle on a peak overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. My research project will be an in-depth study of Plant’s Lucknow Mansion at Castle in the Clouds in Moultonborough. An eccentric personality, Plant used his extraordinary wealth to create the house of his fantasies on the landscape of his dreams. Throughout the history of the property — before Plant purchased it, during his tenure there, and even today — the land has been a popular outdoor recreation area, a destination for driving, camping, hiking, boating, and horseback riding. My research both on site and in the literature about the house, including that published by Plant, aims to explore the history of outdoor recreation, particularly the activities at Castle in the Clouds, as well as the anomaly of an Arts & Crafts mansion built in early twentieth century New England.
Elena Torok. WUDPAC
“Preservation of natural history collections”
Natural history collections present tremendous preservation challenges unlike those of any other type of museum collection. Objects in these collections are generally large in number and vastly diverse, ranging from biological specimens that are alive today to fossils of animals that went extinct millions of years ago. These objects are studied by researchers from a multitude of interdisciplinary backgrounds including scientists, biologists, historians, archaeologists, and artists. The information that can be learned from natural history collections is deep and invaluable, and despite the challenges, it is imperative that these exceptional materials be preserved and protected.
Curators of such collections have used various materials and methods to mitigate the natural deterioration of these objects. Unfortunately, some of these materials have also proven to age in adverse and complicated ways themselves. At the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York, thousands of micro-specimens in the Department of Invertebrate Paleontology are currently mounted on slides with adhesives that are now failing. This summer, I will work with conservators and paleontologists at AMNH to help research this problem and develop a conservation treatment plan to preserve these slides and protect the information associated with them. Understanding the challenges in preserving natural history collections is critical; our research aims to enhance the survivability of these materials for years to come.
Jamin Wells. History
“The shipwreck shore: Maritime disasters and the creation of the modern American littoral”
Shipwrecks were near daily disasters along the American coast during the nineteenth century. My research examines shipwrecks as both physical objects and cultural narratives in order to understand how everyday disasters shaped the American experience. I seek to trace how the people, places, and politics of one section of the coast—the greater New York littoral—changed during our nation’s formative century. Shipwrecks are central to this story because they underwrote the expansion of state power into the neglected coastal periphery, and they helped assimilate the coast, its residents, and its visitors into a westward-moving nation, changing all involved in the process.
During the fellowship period, I will examine how the isolated greater New York littoral became physically and culturally integrated with industrializing America. By comparing the 1849 wreck of the St. John with the 1884 wreck of the City of Columbus, I will trace the role shipwrecks, as objects and narratives, played in facilitating this change. Archival research will unearth how material and cultural changes combined to crowd the wreck-strewn shores with many new groups of people. At site visits to the St. John andCity of Columbus wreck sites I will capture images, video, and audio recordings that will be used to develop an interactive multimedia presentation that will illustrate how shipwrecks can help us better understand America’s changing relationship with the sea and shore.