Graduate Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Leary (MA 2019) Publishes Paper in Athanor

Sarah Leary, AU Art History MA class of 2019, recently published her paper “Sarah Miriam Peale’s Mary Leypold Griffith and the Staging of Republican Motherhood” in the current issue of Athanor, Florida State University’s Art History Graduate Symposium journal. 


Sarah Leary speaking at the 2019 Florida State University Art History Graduate Symposium. Photo courtesy of Sarah Leary.

Leary first presented this research at American University and George Washington University’s annual Art History Graduate Symposium in the fall of 2018, and then again in 2019 at Florida State University’s Annual Art History Graduate Symposium. Her inspiration for pursuing publication was to add to the growing body of feminist scholarship in art history: “Not only does my article expand the body of scholarship on Sarah Miriam Peale, but I feel that it offers valuable insight into the complex gender roles for 19th century American women,” said Leary. 

Sarah Miriam Peale was a successful nineteenth-century American portraitist. Leary’s research centers around Peale’s memorial portraits of deceased children and their significance to visual culture in the early years of the American Republic. Leary examines Peale’s 1841 Mary Leypold Griffith (1838-1841)  in relation to period ideas of gender, education, and death. She posits that Peale’s portraits represented these children as young patriots–a trope that supported societal constructions of nineteenth-century motherhood and patriotism.

Peale_Mary Leypold Griffith

Sarah Miriam Peale, Mary Leypold Griffith (1838 – 1841), 1841, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by the American Art Forum, the Catherine Walden Myer Endowment, the Julia D. Strong Endowment, and the Pauline Edwards Bequest, 2015.13. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum.

While Leary’s thesis focused on the early twentieth century American avant-garde, her research on Peale’s portraits enabled Leary to revisit her work and translate it for a wider art historical audience. Leary states that “after the AU/GW symposium, I didn’t feel that this project had come to its natural endpoint,” said Leary. “I wanted more feedback and to eventually publish it as a way to promote further consideration of Sarah Miriam Peale and the idea of republican motherhood.”

The publishing process, with all its complexities and copyright permissions, can be a strenuous process. Leary sought advice from her thesis advisor Dr. Nika Elder on how she could take her work to the next level and received guidance on the possible difficulties she would face. One of those difficulties was the procurement of images for her published article: “Fortunately, Dr. Elder warned me in advance, but gaining permission from various institutions to use images of artwork in their collections proved to be a challenge at times.” Thanks to the strong mentorship from faculty, those challenges were met!

For anyone interested in publishing their own research, Leary suggests exploring the art history social media community. “I suggest joining listservs and groups in your specialization as members often post calls for papers. That’s how I came across this publication opportunity.”

Congratulations on the publication of your research, Sarah! We know there is so much more to come. 

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