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. 

Elizabeth Athens
Elizabeth Athens  |  Abstract
The drawings of artist-naturalist William Bartram (1739-1823) by turns charmed and vexed his colleagues. This dissertation takes seriously the strangeness of these works, seeing the compositions’ unusual details and flourishes as the artist’s attempt to convey his understanding of the act of picturing. Rather than serve as transparent windows onto the natural world, Bartram’s drawings function as palimpsests of the corporeal and conceptual, as spaces in which he interleaves embodied and abstract knowledge, world and representation. In so doing, Bartram tracks how subjective experience may be refigured as natural history.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, Yale University  -  Figuring a World: William Bartram's Natural History

Marci Kwon
Marci Kwon  |  Abstract
Beginning in 1931, Joseph Cornell created a body of work notable for its rarified sophistication and enduring popularity. This dissertation considers the alignment of elite taste and common appeal in Cornell’s sculptures, collages, and films from the 1930s and 40s. Cornell’s emergence as an artist was engendered by the interwar culture of populism, which struggled to create a modern art that was at once demotic and avant-garde. He became a key participant in several episodes whose populist roots remain largely unrecognized, including the vogue for American folk art, the early exhibition history of The Museum of Modern Art, the transatlantic migration of Surrealism, and the period popularity of Neo-Romanticism. In reconstructing the social, historical, and artistic context that informed Cornell’s art and shaped its reception, this project also traces a strand of populist cultural production that transformed the ambitions and public presentation of American art in the twentieth century.

Doctoral Candidate, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University  -  Vernacular Modernism: Joseph Cornell and the Culture of Populism in American Art

Elizabeth Bacon Eager
Elizabeth Bacon Eager  |  Abstract
Situated at the juncture of artisanal and industrial processes, mechanical drawing offers a unique opportunity to examine the impact of mechanization on the visual arts in early America. Through analysis of mechanical drawing practices across a diverse array of artistic disciplines, this dissertation traces the machine’s gradual transformation of the means and subject matter of manual representation, while also exploring the continued relevance of traditional forms of artisanal knowledge within the period’s emergent technological literacy. Interrogating patterns of technical instruction, material facture, and representational convention, the project provides a history of America’s early industrial age from within the specific conditions of artistic practice. Ultimately, the dissertation overturns conventional oppositions between man and machine to understand how the manual and the mechanical were practiced as simultaneous, even complementary, ways of both making and knowing in the early Republic.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University  -  Drawing Machines: The Mechanics of Art in the Early Republic

John P. Murphy
John P. Murphy  |  Abstract
Oscar Wilde insisted that “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing.” This dissertation investigates three American attempts to “map” a utopian society: the Arts and Crafts communities of Roycroft and Byrdcliffe in New York, and Rose Valley in Pennsylvania. Positioning them along a continuum of American socialist art, this project asserts what was politically and aesthetically radical about the communities through close formal attention to their objects and architecture. Such an approach demonstrates how a socialist aesthetics, rooted in the laboring body and a local ecology, modeled a fundamental restructuring and re-envisioning of culture, society, and the “art of living.”

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, Northwestern University  -  Comrades in Craft: Arts and Crafts Colonies in the United States, 1894-1915

Grant Wesley Hamming
Grant Wesley Hamming  |  Abstract
This dissertation examines the colony of American artists who worked in Düsseldorf, Germany, in the 1840s and 1850s. It argues that Emanuel Leutze, Richard Caton Woodville, and Albert Bierstadt, among others, reveal the deep interconnections among American, German, and wider European intellectual and cultural life, connections that have often been obscured by a nationalist bent in American art historical scholarship. Addressing such pressing concerns as the meaning of freedom, liberal revolution, the social disjunctions caused by technological change, and the fate of indigenous peoples in the face of Euro-American conquest, these painters present a strong argument for a reevaluation of the American place in the artistic and intellectual culture of the Atlantic before the Civil War.

Doctoral Candidate, Art and Art History, Stanford University  -  Amerikanisch Malkasten: American Art and Dusseldorf

Andrea M. Truitt
Andrea M. Truitt  |  Abstract
This dissertation addresses the ways in which American women interacted with visual representations of the domestic environment, especially magazine illustrations, through embodied practices of seeing. Through imagined, multisensorial vision, these illustrated interiors, found in middle-class interior decorating and women’s periodicals, became three-dimensional spaces into which the reader projected herself. This project focuses specifically on illustrations of exotic interiors—categorized as “Oriental,” “Moorish,” “Turkish,” and “Persian”—in order to explore women’s engagement with imperialism. Drawing upon art and architectural history and material culture studies, and using theories of identity politics, everyday life studies, phenomenology, and Orientalism, it explores the heterotopic nature of late nineteenth-century American domesticity.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities  -  Experiencing the Otherworldly: Magazine Reading and Illustrations of Orientalist Domestic Space in the United States, 1880-1920

Emily H. Handlin
Emily H. Handlin  |  Abstract
Between 1884 and 1887 Eadweard Muybridge obsessively photographed bipeds and quadrupeds in motion at the University of Pennsylvania. Published under the title “Animal Locomotion,” the resulting photographs captured phases of movement invisible to the naked eye. This dissertation explores the troubled relationship between the motion studies and nineteenth-century empiricism by examining how Muybridge’s collaborators at the university addressed questions concerning visual technologies, perception, and the mind within their own artistic and scientific practices. It thus approaches “Animal Locomotion” as a collaborative project and, more broadly, reassesses how users and viewers of photographs negotiated the limits and identity of the medium during the last decades of the nineteenth century.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, Brown University  -  Moving Beyond Vision: Eadweard Muybridge in Philadelphia

John A. Tyson
John A. Tyson  |  Abstract
Drawing upon recent studies of art, technology, and systems theory, this dissertation historically contextualizes Hans Haacke’s understudied oeuvre. This project identifies and explores continuities—such as an interest in systems, education, and the activation of spectators—linking all of the artist’s works. The study also provides fresh readings of the tactics Haacke mobilizes in his artwork. Two claims undergird the project: that Haacke’s art is “pedagogical” and “parasitic.” His artworks can function as irritants to the institutions that host them. Haacke’s works bring politics and economics, traditionally believed alien to art, into galleries. In addition, the artist undertakes acts of “paracitation,” redeploying extant structures or codes in order to educate and inform his public. Thus, following this account, Haacke’s artworks catalyze reactions; upon engaging them, viewers strike new positions and slightly change their ways of acting in the world.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, Emory University  -  Beyond Systems Aesthetics: Hans Haacke’s Pedagogical and Parasitic Art

Shana Klein
Shana Klein  |  Abstract
Between 1865 and 1900, still-life representations of fruit were ubiquitous throughout American homes. In the form of painting, chromolithography, sheet music and sideboard decoration, still lifes abounding with fruit celebrated the burgeoning wealth and agricultural prosperity of North America. Still lifes of fruit also engaged viewers in dialogues about the fate of agricultural land and labor that pressed upon national debates over slavery, immigration, and expansion. Focusing on still lifes of grapes, oranges, bananas and watermelons, this dissertation examines how artists depicted the cultivation of fruit in still lifes to address the broader cultivation of citizenship, territory and empire in the late nineteenth century. This project closes with a brief study of still lifes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to demonstrate how the dialectics of food and empire penetrate representations of fruit beyond the nineteenth century.

Doctoral Candidate, Art and Art History, University of New Mexico  -  The Fruits of Empire: Contextualizing Food in Still-Life Representation, 1865-1900

Shannon Vittoria
Shannon Vittoria  |  Abstract
This dissertation is the first comprehensive study dedicated to the work of American painter-etcher Mary Nimmo Moran (1842-1899), an innovative printmaker and influential interpreter of the American landscape. She began her career in 1863, studying under her husband, artist Thomas Moran (1837-1926). Although she exhibited oil and watercolor paintings in the 1860s and 1870s, she is best known for her landscape etchings, a medium she pursued beginning in 1879. In the two decades that followed, she produced an extensive oeuvre of romantic and expressively etched views of nature, nostalgically preserving the landscape of America’s eastern seaboard. Her inventive approach to printmaking placed her at the forefront of the American etching revival, as her works embody the expressive potential of original etching. This project reveals the breadth of Nimmo Moran’s artistic achievements, demonstrating her contributions to the development of American printmaking and the history of American landscape art.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, City University of New York, The Graduate Center  -  Nature and Nostalgia in the Etchings of Mary Nimmo Moran, 1842-1899