We are a Community      

This December, as the fall semester came to a close and most students were traveling home for the holidays, I found myself on an airplane bound for Germany. I was headed to the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität in Mainz to give a presentation at the “Objects of Refuge/ Refuge of Objects” international symposium hosted by The Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies in collaboration with the Center for Material Culture Studies at the University of Delaware and the Winterthur Museum. The aim of the symposium was to reflect on the materiality of refuge and refugees as well as to share different programmatic and departmental approaches to material culture scholarship.

Statue of Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz. Photo by Catharine Dann Roeber

My presentation focused on a decoupage table in the Winterthur collection. Decoupage, the art of cutting, arranging, and pasting prints onto objects, is an example of artistic creation through destruction. In cutting the prints the artist effectively destroyed the original state of the print, but the subsequent arrangement of the prints into a layout designed by the artist creates a new context for the prints. The decoupage table is therefore a tangible example of how an individual interacted with the printed materials that surrounded them in their daily life.

Alexandra Ward presenting her paper “Decoupage: A Refuge for Prints” Photo by Catharine Dann Roeber

The value of attending the symposium went beyond sharing my scholarship and receiving feedback. As a participant, I listen to other scholars present their work and their own creative procedures for extracting knowledge from objects. The experience was also immersive. The conversations did not end in the presentation room but followed us to dinner and onto the tram. I was surrounded by material culture scholars. We formed a little community that will hopefully continue to collaborate and grow as we bring more scholars into the material culture fold.

Poster for the “Objects of Refuge/ Refuge of Objects” Symposium


By Alexandra Ward, WPAMC Class of 2017

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