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. 

Heidi Applegate
Heidi Applegate  |  Abstract
This project considers how the fine arts exhibition at the Panama Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) responded to the Armory Show of 1913, as well as other exhibition venues for contemporary art in America, in order to promote a broader definition and understanding of "modern" art to a mass audience. Drawing upon theories concerning visuality, spectatorship, consumption, and the institutionalization of culture, the study examines the ways in which the installation and interpretive practices employed at the PPIE made modern art accessible and acceptable to American viewers. The project includes analyses of fine art guidebooks and how they organized, controlled, and encouraged certain kinds of viewing experiences of the exhibition; the Sargent and Bellows galleries as case studies in how the single-artist rooms were organized and received; the commercial aspects of the art exhibition at the PPIE; and the influence of the Exposition on the acquisition and exhibition practices of American museums.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University  -  Staging Modernism at the 1915 San Francisco World's Fair

Anna O. Marley
Anna O. Marley  |  Abstract
This dissertation focuses on important centers of economic and cultural exchange in the early national United States: the wealthy tobacco plantations of Virginia, the booming port city of Baltimore, and the rich farming and mercantile area of the Connecticut River Valley. By using a comparative approach to the study of landscape in this period, this study shows how Americans in various regions of the country invested the landscape with competing meanings, and how they represented those landscapes to themselves within the home in the early national period. In doing so, it explores a genre of landscape representation that has all too often been left out of the history of American art, and thereby yields new insights into late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century American conceptions of nature, home, land, and empire.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, University of Delaware  -  Rooms with a View: Landscape Representation in Early National Domestic Interiors

Robin Cowie  |  Abstract
This project investigates the cultural significance of sunlight in turn-of-the-century America, in order to provide a framework with which we can understand American impressionist painting. Paintings by Childe Hassam, among others, have not been given their critical due, even as they have received much attention in recent years. Sunlight during the period was an equivocal metaphor, able to signify both an invigorating energy and a deadening weight or oppression. By tying study of the painting to period-specific meanings of sunlight, this project reveals the ways in which sunlight was captured in the medium of paint to denote asppects of upper- and middle-class subjectivity.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, Yale University  -  The History of the Sun: Childe Hassam and American Impressionism, 1890-1910

Sascha Thyme Scott
Sascha Thyme Scott  |  Abstract
This project investigates paintings of Pueblo Indians produced in the 1920s. Painted at a time when the Federal Indian Policy of Assimilation was being vigorously contested, many of these images are imbued with a preservationist perspective. Artists such as Hartley, Sloan, and Blumenschein struggled to find a new visual language for representing the Pueblo people, one that would correspond to their protests against assimilation. Through the efforts of preservationists, a new concept of “Indianness” was popularized; traditional representations of “vanishing” Indians and their objects were displaced by paintings that abstracted the “feel” and rhythm of Indian ritual. This new visual language, with its ideological complexities, permeates Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings of Indian ceremonials.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, Rutgers University-New Brunswick  -  Paintings of Pueblo Indians and the Politics of Preservation in the American Southwest

Elizabeth M Gand
Elizabeth M Gand  |  Abstract
This dissertation is an in depth study of Helen Levitt, the New York-based photographer and film-maker who documented her city's working class cultures. It focuses on the significance of Levitt's concern with the figure of the child and the activity of play, relating these core themes to multiple discourses on childhood that were under investigation in psychology and sociology. Focusing on her defining period of the late 1930s, the 1940s, and into the post-war decade, this study anayzes her work in relation to changing social constructions of childhood. It considers images of children that circulated within both "high" and "low" arenas of visual culture to establish claims about art and politics, vulnerability and violence, vitality and irrationality.

Doctoral Student, History of Art, University of California, Berkeley  -  Modern City, Wild Child: Helen Levitt's Photographs and Films

Julia A. Sienkewicz
Julia A. Sienkewicz  |  Abstract
Although modern disciplines separate art, architecture, and landscape, this project explores a period in the United States without such boundaries. It considers the diverse creative practices and theoretical convictions of Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820), Thomas Cole (1801-1848), and Horatio Greenough (1805-1852). By studying painting, sculpture, architecture, and landscape design in the context of artists who worked across these fields, this study locates meaning in the particular modes of viewing and reception they invoked. It identifies a multisensory viewing experience theorized by these artists and present in their works, which was rooted in a conviction that art could alter a viewer’s character if it utilized both bodily and perceptual experience.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign  -  Citizenship by Design: the Creation of Identity through Art, Architecture, and Landscape in the Early Republic

Jason David LaFountain
Jason David LaFountain  |  Abstract
This study explores the relation between "technometry" and the theorization of art by English and American Puritan intellectuals; defines a vocabulary derived from period texts and objects (to construct a historical semantics) for understanding New England Puritan art; explicates the ideology of Christic imitation as it undergirds the conceptualization, production, and consumption of art for New England Puritans; and analyzes the centrality of ideas of building and planting (i.e. of edification) to Puritan art-making.

Doctoral Student, History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University  -  A History of New England Puritan Art

Malka Simon
Malka Simon  |  Abstract
Between 1860 and 1939, Brooklyn grew into a major center of industry within the Port of New York. Its rich network of warehouses and factories form a series of intricate streetscapes dictated by the necessities of production. This dissertation uses these buildings as a case study to analyze the impact of industry on the urban landscape as well as its place in the architectural canon. American factories served as models to European architects in formulating modern architectural theory, but their true contexts were not always fully understood. Brooklyn's stratified industrial landscape reveals a stylistic progression of industrial architecture, presenting a unique opportunity to analyze the American industrial vernacular and discuss its complex relationship to European High Modernism.

Doctoral Candidate, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University  -  The Space of Production: Brooklyn and the Creation of an Urban Industrial Landscape

Jessica Lanier
Jessica Lanier  |  Abstract
When Martha Coffin Derby went to Italy in 1802, perhaps the first American woman to take the Grand Tour after the revolution, American painting was very much in the shadow of the English Grand Manner. Derby's international experiences, and those of a handful of Americans, would shape the progress of American art in the early national period. Traveling Americans formed collections featuring a wide range of decorative arts, casts, copies, and prints as well paintings by living American and European artists. Displayed for polite society, particularly in the domestic environments of elite homes, these constituted formative sites for art education. Upper-class women not only fashioned this domestic sphere but reached beyond it to shape American aesthetics and national taste.

Doctoral Candidate, Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, Bard College  -  Martha Coffin Derby (1783-1832): Travel, Patronage, and the Promotion of Art in the Early Republic

Laura E. Smith
Laura E. Smith  |  Abstract
Kiowa photographer Horace Poolaw (1906-1984) was one of the first Native American professional photographers in the early twentieth century and was witness to the intense transitions experienced by indigenous peoples of Oklahoma. Among Native photographers of the time, Poolaw stands virtually alone in his ability to represent contemporary Indians in all of their contradictory complexity. This dissertation examines Poolaw’s photographs as participants in a dialogue about modernity and Indians, both contested terms that were in constant flux throughout the years of his professional activity. It demonstrates how Poolaw’s portraits obscure the seemingly clear and invariable lines between Indians and the industrial, fashionable, sophisticated, progressive, and Christian white world. This study delineates the significance of Poolaws’s career between the years of 1925 and 1945, the height of the period of indigenous artistic resurgence in Oklahoma.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, Indiana University Bloomington  -  Obscuring the Distinctions, Revealing the Divergent Visions: Modernity and Indians in the Early Works of Kiowa Photographer Horace Poolaw, 1925-1945