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. 

Mary Katherine Campbell
Mary Katherine Campbell  |  Abstract
This dissertation focuses on the work of Charles Ellis Johnson (1857-1926)in order to complicate our understanding of what it means to be a “Mormon photographer.” Official Utah photographer for the Mormon Church during the 1890s, Johnson traveled to Jerusalem and Palestine in 1903 to document the Holy Land. In contrast to these religiously themed pictures, however, Johnson also shot stereoscopic erotica. This dissertation engages the full scope of Johnson’s imagery to ultimately explore the cultural work that photographic media performed in both Johnson’s Mormon community and larger Gilded Age America.

Doctoral Candidate, Art and Art History, Stanford University  -  Holy Lands and Profane Women: Charles Ellis Johnson and the Practice of Mormon Photography

Dalia Habib Linssen
Dalia Habib Linssen  |  Abstract
This dissertation introduces the profound yet understudied contributions of German-born photographers Hansel Mieth and Otto Hagel. As immigrants, socially conscious artists, and photojournalists, this wife/husband pair covered subjects ranging from migrant labor camps and strikes to Japanese Americans interned during World War II; they also contributed images to Life magazine. This dissertation is the first to combine image-based and contextual analyses to critically situate both Mieth’s and Hagel’s photographs within their contexts. By engaging three themes—their status as outsiders/insiders, their collaborative practice, and their experience of American and European modernism—this study argues that Mieth and Hagel represent a new model for understanding American documentary photography.

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Art History, Boston University  -  Imprints of Their Being: The Photographs of Hansel Mieth and Otto Hagel

Eileen Elizabeth Costello
Eileen Elizabeth Costello  |  Abstract
This dissertation draws upon specific episodes during the postwar period where Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko moved from painting to constructing architectural environments. It investigates how the dissolution of easel painting into the realm of architecture proposes a new understanding of abstract expressionism as a total-body experience, tactile and active, in contradiction to the notion of the "pure gaze." It analyzes how these artists shifted the viewer's perceptual experience from pictorial space to the physical presence of actual space and anticipated specific concerns of 1960s Minimalism. This achievement redefines Pollock's, Newman's, and Rothko's legacy to the subsequent generation of artists and places their production into a much larger historical framework.

Doctoral Candidate, Art and Art History, College of Fine Arts, University of Texas at Austin  -  Declaring Space, Defining Place: Monumental Abstract Expressionism

Emily Eliza Scott
Emily Eliza Scott  |  Abstract
Several vanguard artists in the United States turned from the interior architectures of the studio and gallery toward material landscapes during the 1960s and early 1970s, engaging outdoor spaces as a critical medium and testing ground. Specifically, many were attracted to “wastelands,” those landscapes that were actually or perceived to be ruined or contaminated. Although art historians have often collapsed landscape-based art from this period into the categories of “land art” or “environmental art,” this dissertation foregrounds the actual sites where such projects were staged and draws together performance artists, post-minimalists, conceptual photographers, ecological artists, and others in order to examine the new ways that artists came to know and work with the land at this time.

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Art History, University of California, Los Angeles  -  Wasteland Aesthetics: Art and the Postindustrial Landscape, 1962-1972

Melody Barnett Deusner
Melody Barnett Deusner  |  Abstract
Through a series of case studies, this dissertation offers a new account of Aestheticism's transatlantic evolution and significance, returning Aesthetic paintings to the three-dimensional interiors for which they were created and to the economic, social, and psychological contexts in which they were produced. Aesthetic paintings were physically and conceptually designed to fit into larger systems and arrays, and in this way they articulated, rather than evaded, the essentially incorporated and networked character of the commercial and political arenas in which their patrons were intimately involved. Much more than mere status symbols or escapist decorations, Aesthetic paintings pictured and evoked a connected and expanding world controlled by and shaped around the patrons themselves.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, University of Delaware  -  A Network of Associations: Aesthetic Painting and Its Patrons, 1870-1914

Dalila L. Scruggs
Dalila L. Scruggs  |  Abstract
This dissertation examines art of “colonization,” a movement to send blacks to Africa as a solution to slavery in antebellum America. This project takes an object-oriented approach to colonization imagery by focusing on photographs exchanged between black settlers in Africa and white pro-colonization reformers in America, exploring how this exchange reveals tensions and conflicts between the two groups. This dissertation explores how these black settlers and white reformers each used colonization images to represent Liberian settler identity to an American public faced with resolving the “problem” of race in the United States.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University  -  Traveling Pictures: Imaging African-American Settlers in Liberia, West Africa.

Sarah L. Eckhardt  |  Abstract
Hedda Sterne’s work resonates with contemporary paintings from New York in the 1940s and 1950s, adding to the artistic vocabulary of the Abstract Expressionists. Yet, in sharp contrast to her male peers, Sterne has spent much of her career attempting to unhinge her own identity from her artistic practice. Rather than delving into her own psyche, Sterne turns outwards, shifting her mode of expression according to her immediate context. Sterne utilized a host of aesthetic styles, none of which expresses a single identity, but which taken together attest to a consistent artistic philosophy of flux. This dissertation contextualizes Sterne’s role within the New York art scene at mid-century, and calls into question deep-seated notions of authenticity, progress, artistic identity, and style.

Doctoral Student, Art History, School of Art and Design, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign  -  Style and Subjective Identity: Hedda Sterne and the New York School

Jenni Sorkin
Jenni Sorkin  |  Abstract
While the 1950s can be characterized by a widespread attention to form in American arts and letters, exemplified by Abstract Expressionism and New Criticism, the handmade has been occluded in discussions of mid-20th century formalism. This project reframes mid-20th century formalism within a discourse of gender, craft pedagogy, and artistic labor between 1940 and 1970. The dissertation focuses on three American women ceramists, each of whom utilized form as a conduit for social contact: Marguerite Wildenhain (1896-1985), Mary Caroline (M.C.) Richards (1916-1999), and Susan Peterson (b. 1925). At a time when women were virtually excluded from painting and sculpture, studio craft provided a vital arena for women as teachers, thinkers, and makers.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, Yale University  -  Live Form: Gender and the Performance of Craft, 1940-1970

Jason Edward Hill  |  Abstract
Published in New York City between 1940 and 1948, PM Daily was a large circulation Popular Front tabloid newspaper whose editorial independence and sophisticated visual program attracted the participation of many of the day’s most celebrated artists, illustrators and photographers, from Weegee and Ad Reinhardt to Lisette Model and Dr. Seuss. This dissertation evaluates this newspaper’s neglected but crucial intervention into the American artistic and visual culture of the World War II era, situating PM between the more familiar conceptual frames of Life Magazine and The Partisan Review as a signal activation of the technology of mass culture toward recognizably avant-garde ends.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, University of Southern California  -  The Artist as Reporter: Picturing the News in PM Daily, 1940-1948

Jennifer C. Van Horn
Jennifer C. Van Horn  |  Abstract
This dissertation examines the way that objects created and maintained civility in colonial America. Using portraits, cityscapes, dressing tables, and other goods, the project employs visual and documentary analysis to uncover objects' function in creating the civil self. Civility, defined in the period as politeness and freedom from barbarity, was an interior state achieved through exterior appearance. This project employs an Atlantic World approach to explore the ways that colonists used objects to enact and to monitor their civility for themselves and an imperial audience. The dissertation argues for the importance of transatlanticism in the study of colonial America, pushing beyond a nationalistic viewpoint to understand colonial objects' contribution to civility on an Atlantic scale.

Doctoral Candidate, McIntire Department of Art, University of Virginia  -  The Object of Civility and the Art of Politeness in British America, 1740-1780