Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellows in American Art

The Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art are awarded to graduate students in any stage of Ph.D. dissertation research or writing, for scholarship on a topic in the history of the visual arts of the United States, including all facets of Native American art. Although the topic may be historically and/or theoretically grounded, attention to the art object and/or image should be foremost. Since 2015, the awards have included the Luce/ACLS Ellen Holtzman Dissertation Fellowship in American Art, named after the Luce Foundation’s Program Director for American Art, who retired that year after 23 years of service. The fellowship is awarded to an emerging scholar of demonstrated achievement whose research and writing concerns American modernism and art of the 1950s and 1960s.

This program is made possible by a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.

Read more about this fellowship program.

Please note: affiliations shown are as of time of award. Please click on fellows' names for current information.

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Watch "Emerging Themes and Methods of Research: A Discussion with ACLS Fellows," an annual meeting session featuring recent ACLS fellows. 

Zara Anishanslin Bernhardt
Zara Anishanslin Bernhardt  |  Abstract
In 1746, Robert Feke painted Philadelphian Anne Shippen Willing wearing a Spitalfields silk, woven in London by Huguenot Simon Julins, after a pattern drawn by silk designer Anna Maria Garthwaite. The visual codes of this portrait and silk dress illuminate how eighteenth-century Americans used Atlantic World material culture to visually express identity. Each chapter of my dissertation takes one of these enigmatic people as the departure point for discussing visual and material culture related to them. As they created and used objects, they also fashioned and displayed personal, political, cultural, and aesthetic identities. My dissertation explores the cultural resonance of Atlantic World material culture in America: a resonance forever captured in this single portrait.

Doctoral Candidate, Department of History, University of Delaware  -  American Portraits in Spitalfields Silk: Atlantic World Material Culture and Visual Expressions of Eighteenth-Century American Identity, 1730--1790

Adrian Kohn  |  Abstract
This study describes and evaluates the issues, problems, and debates driving the development of 1960s’ West Coast Minimalism through three major approaches. First, it establishes areas of correspondence and contrast among West Coast Minimalists, since both analyses are lacking in current scholarship. Second, it examines similarities, differences, and distinctions of degree between Minimalism on the West Coast and Minimalism in New York. Third, as writing on this period shifts from art criticism to art history, this study integrates West Coast Minimalism--and Minimalism as a whole--into the history of twentieth-century American modernism, thereby restoring and preserving the latter’s heterogeneity.

Doctoral Candidate, Art and Art History Department, University of Texas at Austin  -  West Coast Minimalism: Art in Southern California, Art in New York, and the Nature of Visual Perception in Modern Sculptural Practice, 1958-1972

Benjamin Cawthra  |  Abstract
This study examines the work of photographers who made jazz a significant subject in their work from the height of the swing era to the advent of rock. Photography became an important element in jazz's bid for both high cultural acceptance and popular appeal. As photographers, musicians, art directors, editors, and record producers combined to create a jazz-based visual culture, African American musicians were portrayed in dynamic new ways. Oral history interviews, examination of published magazine photoessays, research into the development of album covers for long-playing records, and analysis of gender and racial factors characterize the project. Featured photographers include Roy DeCarava, W. Eugene Smith, Herman Leonard, William Claxton, William Gottlieb, Francis Wolff, and Gjon Mili.

Doctoral Candidate, History Department, Washington University in St. Louis  -  Jazz Photography in American Culture: Race and Image, 1938-1964

Lauren Kroiz
Lauren Kroiz  |  Abstract
The immigrant critics, artists, and curators at the core of this study, Sadakichi Hartmann, Marius De Zayas, and Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, were powerfully influential on emerging theories of modern art in the US during the early twentieth century. Through a frame uniting aesthetics and immigration, we can see a new periodization for art that forms a parallel to what historians call the Era of Exclusion (1882-1943). Focusing particularly on the artistically and politically pivotal period from 1900 through the 1920s, the study suggests that this is also a distinct period within American art, during which mass cultural media such as photography, caricature, and film contributed to modern art practice. Further, this dissertation analyzes the discourses through which US avant-gardes assimilated new immigrants and new media.

Doctoral Candidate, History, Theory & Criticism of Art & Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology  -  Modernizing a "Grey Race": American Art during the Era of Exclusion (1882-1943)

Kimberly M. Curtiss  |  Abstract
This study explores the visual construction of race in printed and painted representations of American Indians made and exhibited in Jacksonian era America, ca. 1828-1848. It pays particular attention to the role that images of those Indians who resisted easy categorization, such as the mixed-race or "civilized" Indian, played in the complex matrix of racial and cultural identities at this critical moment in early American nation building. Through close object analysis and a careful examination of the social and political context in which such representations were made and viewed, this study illuminates how racial identity was constructed and suggest why articulating race was such an important exercise for Americans in these years.

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Art History, Rutgers University-New Brunswick  -  Painting Skin: The Construction of Racial Identity through Representations of American Indians in Jacksonian America, ca. 1828-1848

Sarah M. Miller  |  Abstract
This study examines multiple, competing concepts of "documentary" in American photography, as they were formulated and set into circulation through specific photographic projects and publications. Refuting prevalent theories of documentary as a singular genre or ideological imperative, this study instead historicizes documentary as a terrain of experiment and contest as the medium's cultural and artistic roles multiplied in the 1930s-40s.

Doctoral Student, Department of Art History, University of Chicago  -  Inventing "Documentary" in American Photography, 1930-1945: From Experimental Practices to Public Contests

Jennifer A. Greenhill  |  Abstract
This study examines the contested place of humor in American art in the years following the Civil War, when the nation was engaged in developing, for the first time, a truly 'high' sense of culture. Conservatives sought to present an image of unshakable seriousness on the world stage, one demonstrating that the nation had finally achieved some level of civility. Humor undermined this image and was accordingly seen as something that had to be contained or concealed. Painters and sculptors struggled to preserve a place in fine art for an ambitious and critical humor, against conservative impulses to channel it into a restrictive set of normalizing guises or ghettoize it as properly belonging to more mass forms of artistic production.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, Yale University  -  The Plague of Jocularity: Art, Humor, and the American Social Body, 1863-1893

Dorothy Moss  |  Abstract
Reproductions of paintings played many roles in the United States from the eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, as agents of European culture, as part of the social function and practice of portraiture, and as educational tools. Yet, beginning in the 1870s, as colleges developed art history departments and museums defined their missions, the critical response to copies fluctuated among ambivalence, praise, and condemnation. This study investigates the copy/original polarity around 1900 with case studies addressing displays of painted copies in museums, photographs of works of art in college art departments, forgeries of trompe l'oeil paintings, tableaux vivants, and early films, offering new perspectives on the copy's oscillating critical status today.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, University of Delaware  -  Translations, Appropriations, and Copies of Paintings at the Dawn of Mass Culture in the United States, circa 1900

Kevin Michael Hatch
Kevin Michael Hatch  |  Abstract
During the late 1950s and 1960s, the deterioration of private, interior life in postwar America haunted the work of the San Francisco-based artist Bruce Conner. This study focuses on Conner's artistic activity in the first decade of his career in order to explore how this preoccupation informed his early assemblage, filmmaking, and drawing. Considering Conner's work in these three different media as the product of a single artistic vision allows an elusive but important artist to come to light in all his complexity—a complexity born of his liminal position between two extremes, living and working in northern California while operating in dialogue with New York, the epicenter of the American avant-garde.

Doctoral Candidate, Art & Archaeology, Princeton University  -  Looking for Bruce Conner: Assemblage, Films, Drawings, 1957-1967

Patricia Smith Scanlan  |  Abstract
This study examine the careers of several important American women illustrators such as Elizabeth Shippen Green, Charlotte Harding, Jessie Willcox Smith, and Alice Barber Stephens, and the significance of their art and professional practices in turn-of-the-century American culture. These women achieved both significant professional recognition as fine artists as well as national fame and popularity for their magazine illustrations, yet their careers and works have largely been written out of American art history. This study illuminates the pivotal role of women illustrators in the realms of fine and commercial art alike; expands the canon to include forms of popular art; and contributes to understandings of the cultural landscape in the United States at this period.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, Indiana University Bloomington  -  God-gifted girls: Women Illustrators, Gender, Class, and Commerce in American Visual Culture, 1885-1925

Wendy Ikemoto
Wendy Ikemoto  |  Abstract
This study situates the form of the paired, or pendant, canvas within the ideological paradigms of the Victorian gothic, and in relation to theories and practices of replication and doubling in antebellum visual and literary culture. By approaching five core painted pairs "visual narratology", this project investigates the pendant structure as it exploits the dialogic construction of meaning and the off-screen space between canvases to establish a uniquely binary discourse.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University  -  Double Vision: Pendant Painting in Antebellum America

Robert Slifkin
Robert Slifkin  |  Abstract
The history of post-war American art typically has been framed in terms of a progressive defiance of figuration. The 33 paintings Philip Guston exhibited in 1970 at the Marlborough Gallery in New York, works primarily known for their return to figuration, provide an opportunity to reassess the canonical account of American modernism, and more specifically, the role of figuration within it. This study reconsiders and expands the conventional morphological conception of figuration in order to more fully understand post-war artistic production in the US. Guston’s commitment to engagings with social issues led him to explore such presumably preconceptual and non-visual spheres of experience as time as a means of figuring the real in his art by forging analogic correspondences between disparate historical events.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, Yale University  -  Figuration in post-war American art: Philip Guston at the Marlborough Gallery, 1970.