The Sketchbook Project at the Hillyer Art Space

by Mary Cameron

The Hillyer Art Space, located in Dupont Circle, recently hosted the Sketchbook Project.  Founded and managed by the Art House Co-op, the Sketchbook Project is truly an innovative idea.  The Art House Co-op was created  in 2006 by Steven Peterman and Shane Zucker.  The Co-op sends sketchbooks to anyone who requests them.  Artists can then fill the sketchbooks however they choose.  The sketchbooks are permanently archived in the Brooklyn Art Library, where visitors can come and peruse the collections.  The sketchbooks are also taken on tour across the country.  One of the stops on the 2011 tour was the Hillyer Art Space.  First year M.A. student Nichole Rawlings and I visited the exhibit for ourselves this past Saturday.  When we entered the gallery we were given a “library card” with a bar code on the back.  We then took the library code up to the check-out table, where we could request sketchbooks by theme or artist.  As I was unfamiliar with the artists, I requested sketchbooks by the themes, such as “the view from up here”, and “happy”.  Second year M.A. student Samantha May, who works at the Hillyer, helped check out the sketchbook to visitors.  Here she is checking out books-

Both Nichole and I were truly impressed by the range of creativity present in the sketchbooks.  Some of our favorites included a sketchbook filled with embroidered portraits, another with paper cutouts, and one that told the story of a firefly circus.  Having the opportunity to personally handle art was truly an amazing experience, one that the traditional museum or gallery does not offer.     Check out the Sketchbook Project website-

You can see some of the amazing sketchbooks below.

Nichole showing off a sketchbook

As you can see, this was a great experience.  Definitely check it out if it comes near you!


Dr. Bellow’s Review Widely Viewed On CAA Website

In celebration of the College Art Association’s 100th birthday, the editorial board presented the top “readers’ picks,” one for each year of publication.  To identify the most popular reviews, CAA used statistics from Google Analytics beginning in 2007, when they first became available for the site, through 2010. This enabled CAA to see the total number of hits on individual reviews over the course of three years.  Dr. Bellow’s article Surveying the “Long Nineteenth Century”: A Review of Art-History Textbooks in the Field, was one of the most viewed articles of 2007.  In her article, Dr. Bellow analyzes the four major 19th century art history text books that were published between 1984 and 2006.  These textbooks were written by Robert  Rosenblum and H.W. Janson, Lorenz Eitner, Stephen Eisenman, and Petra ten-Doesschate Chu.  CAA editor Laura Auricchio noted that many of the readers who made Bellow’s the most visited review of 2007 were probably faculty members in search of guidance on what book to assign for their class.  However, Bellow goes beyond a mere summary of the textbooks, instead using her review to question the prevailing assumptions behind nineteenth century historiography.   Bellow asks questions such as “What do we mean when we say “the nineteenth century”? Where does it begin? Where does it end? What does it contain or exclude? How do we make such choices—on what basis?”  To read Dr. Bellow’s article for yourself visit the review at-

M.A. Students Show Broad Research Interests at Conference

The AU MA Art History program had strong representation at the 2011 Robyn Rafferty Mathias 21st Annual Student Research Conference.  Kellie BurrisWalton, Patricia Bray, Orin Zahra, Adriana Lema Polo, and Mary Cameron all presented papers.  The M.A. art history students were grouped together in a session entitled “Self and Other: Images and the Construction of Identity.”

Kellie Burris Walton began the session with her talk entitled “Models of Maternity and Modesty: Colonial Portraiture and Women’s Roles in the New World”.  In her paper, Kellie examines the way in which colonial portraiture during the late seventeenth and early to mid-eighteenth centuries reflected the prescribed gender roles for women of this period.  While the final appearance of a portrait was determined by a number factors including the region where it was created, the social and economic status of the sitter, and the skills of the artist, careful visual analysis of such a work indicates that within the colonies, a woman’s duty as a wife and mother outweighed all others in importance.  In her paper Kellie explains that a survey of these portraits ultimately allows the viewer to construct a model of the proper and fruitful woman, a concept stressed on women of this period, beginning as early as childhood.  To support this assertion, Kellie’s paper examines multiple examples of female portraiture from this time, considering them in conjunction with the British mezzotint sources often consulted by the artists as well as etiquette books of this period outlining the behavior deemed appropriate for these sitters.

Patricia Bray discussed portraiture in her talk “Gabriele Münter, The Polish Woman (1909): Fusing Nature and Culture.”  Patti argued that Munter’s portraiture incorporated aspects of landscape painting in an inventive form of artistic synthesis.  In so doing, the artist challenged conventional associations of men with culture and women with nature. Patti supported her thesis analyzing Münter’s 1909 painting Portrait of a Young Woman in a Large Hat, known as The Polish Woman.  Patti explained that the painting is innovative in its formal execution, as it combines naturalism with abstraction.   The painting also negotiates cultural expectations about women in fascinating ways.  The Polish Woman echoes the topographical and chromatic treatment of Münter’s contemporaneous landscapes depicting the town of Murnau in the Bavarian region of Germany. The significance of this painting is two-fold: in making landscape a figural motif, Münter fused artistic genres traditionally kept separate. By combining nature and culture in a portrait of a woman by a woman artist, Münter confounds accepted ideas about the gendering of nature and culture.

Mary Cameron’s talk was entitled “Rookwood Vases: An Exchange between East and West.”  Mary’s talk was an excerpt from her larger thesis paper.  In her talk, Mary discussed how Japonisme influenced the Arts and Crafts movement, especially the Rookwood Kiln in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Interest in Japan was widespread in late nineteenth century American culture.  Following the opening of Japan in 1854 by Commodore Perry and a push for modernization undertaken by the Meiji emperors, a wealth of Japanese goods flowed into the West.  Here they met receptive artists and collectors, who disseminated Japanese aesthetics to the wider public.  One artistic trend that embraced Japanese style was the Arts and Crafts movement, originating in Great Britain in the 1870s.  The movement was largely devoted to reversing the negative effects of industrialization.   As a result of Americans studying in Great Britain and British artists lecturing in America, the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement spread to the United States.  American artists, influenced by the concurrent threads of Japonisme and the Arts and Crafts movement, combined both styles in order to reject industrial techniques and to offer a retreat from the grind of the modern world.  As a result of this cross-cultural pollination, a plethora of intriguing art that combined Japanese and Western styles was created.   A fascinating example of this phenomenon can be found in the pottery produced by the Rookwood Kiln in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Orin Zahra ended the session with her talk “Natvar Bhavsar: Indian Modernism and the American Avant-Garde.”  Orin explained that when discussing prominent American art movements of the twentieth century, such as Abstract Expressionism, the contributions made by Indian artists are hardly discussed in scholarship. Despite the lack of scholarly literature on this topic, Orin’s talk made use of primary sources, such as interviews, and cites key essays from art historians as it explores the transnational art of the painter, Natvar Bhavsar. Orin asserted that Bhavsar’s dynamic paintings show an amalgamation of Abstract Expressionist aesthetics and his cultural roots. By comparing Bhavsar’s original technique as a color-field painter to his American contemporaries, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, Orin argued that Abstract Expressionism really provided the means for artistic expression to Bhavsar, but the aesthetic vision was already on the artist’s mind prior to being introduced to the American movement. This vision came out of the colorful, symbolic rituals with which Bhavsar was raised in India. Ultimately, Orin disagrees with scholarship which argues that a focus on nationality and geography reduces the artist and the artwork to essential ideas. Instead, Orin asserted that these concepts are actually quite complex and enrich, rather than diminish and devalue, the scholarship on modern Indian artists who have inspired from the West.

The papers presented in this session demonstrate the wide range of research interests and diversity of methodologies employed by AU’s M.A. Art History students.

A large crowd enjoying the Mathias luncheon.

Museums and Society course


[written by first year M.A. student Catherine Southwick]

Dr. Juliet Bellow is teaching a course this semester called “Museums and Society,” in which we are discussing both the history of museums and their relationship to the public.  In addition to museum theory and case study readings, each week students visit a DC museum and write a response that analyzes the museum experience in terms of our current class topics. The response below is one I wrote for our class discussion on the “non-art” museum.


National Postal Museum

The “non-art” museum I visited this week was the Postal Museum. Before attending, I wondered what might attract a potential visitor to this museum. In the most basic terms, while not on the Mall, the museum is in a prime location next to Union Station and conducive to a brief stop-in for tourists. As it is part of the Smithsonian network of museums, it is free and therefore a no-risk investment for visitors (i.e. – no obligation to spend several hours to “get your money’s worth”). Also, people may feel less intimidated visiting a museum about something they experience in their everyday lives, while in turn, a museum honoring a seemingly “ordinary” governmental body adds a sense of legitimacy through the promotion of its institutional history.

The museum is inside the City Post Office building, which was in use as such from 1914-1986. The Postal Museum was established in 1993 after a significant renovation. The most convenient entrance from Union Station allows the visitor to view a beautifully preserved portion of the old Post Office before descending to the museum. The museum itself is organized around a large, central exhibition hall, which has smaller galleries as offshoots. The central hall features various historical modes of transportation for the mail, including a train car, an old mail carriage, a plane, and a contemporary mail truck. The text panels and video monitors suggest that the postal system has come a long way, and emphasizes the hardships posed by early mail delivery methods. One side gallery takes the visitor through a recreated, dimly-lit forest through which the early mail carriers had to traverse, leaving ax marks on trees as their guide.

I noticed certain obvious differences in this museum as opposed to an art museum. There were no guards, and no staff at all on the lower level on the day that I visited (a volunteer greets guests on the upper level before the escalators to the museum). Wall panels are large, colorful, and numerous, which is typical of science or history museums. The objects aren’t left to speak for themselves, as art objects often are, but require explanatory text to tie them together.

This museum also seemed to promote a more pressing agenda than an art museum might appear to have. The exhibits tended to emphasize the significance of the postal system in American history, such as the gallery devoted to wartime mail and the exhibition on postal workers’ involvement in national security (identifying mail bombs). As the postal service faces serious financial trouble, the museum seemed anxious to prove its own importance. One text panel affirmed that “real mail is alive and well and more creative than ever.” Despite this not-so-hidden agenda, I was pleasantly surprised by the museum, and I felt that it presented material in an interesting, innovative, non-overwhelming way.