Month: August 2016

Week in Review – 21 August

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My object of the week is this c.1760 Worcester dish, which features the company’s Valentine pattern (Brian Haughton Gallery). Featuring symbols of love, the emotional qualities of the object resonate with the work I’m currently doing on my monograph project, which examines the social and emotional functions of domestic space and its associated material culture.

This week, I was also intrigued to read the article ‘Renowned Feminist Art Historian Amelia Jones Believes that the Discipline of Art History Should be Restructured to Embrace New Narratives and Diverse Voices‘. Whilst it’s true that Jones’s argument is nothing new (indeed, it has been advocated by Pollock, Parker, and Krauss among others), I find it heartening to see these views discussed on the public platform of the Huffington Post.

I’m also currently obsessed with the New York Public Library’s Emoji Bot – tweet an emoji to the bot, and it will reply with an object/image from the Library’s collections.

Other things that caught my eye this week included:

The programme for the Women’s History Scotland Annual Conference (coming up this Friday).

This Atlas Obscura article How Flower-Obsessed Victorians Encoded Messages in Bouquets.

This interview with the curator of the The Henry Moore Institute’s latest exhibition, William Hamo Thornycroft: ‘Charity And Justice’.

Thomas Dixon’s blog post What is anger? 1. Martha Nussbaum, discusses the definition of anger provided by Nussbaum’s latest book Anger and Forgiveness.

The Things That Make Us podcast, a podcast about people and the objects that have shaped them.

The programme for the Critical Love Studies Research Workshop at the University of Hull’s Love Research Network.

Linda Walsh’s new bookA Guide to Eighteenth-Century Art. I’m interested to see how (and if) Walsh integrates the concerns advocated by Jones (above) in her account of eighteenth-century art.

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BAVS Research Funding Award Report – Bronte Parsonage Museum

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Since beginning my research on the commonplace books of Ellen Warter, I – like their author – have been preoccupied with the Brontës. For Warter, the sisters were the objects of estimation, affection, and interest, and she obsessively documented them within her own literary productions. Made around 1880, and now housed in the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh, her commonplace books are quite unlike ‘conventional’ examples of the genre, which traditionally compile excerpted texts from a broad array of writers upon various topics. Instead, Warter devoted over 300 pages of her volumes to the lives and literature of the Brontës, rendering them more of a record of the family than anything else.

For Warter, commonplacing was an inherently familial practice. The granddaughter of the Romantic poet Robert Southey, she was part of a family whose own commonplacing and album-making spanned several generations. Warter’s grandfather, aunts, mother, and father all made, or contributed to the production of, such volumes, a literary inheritance that places Warter’s own productions within a longer history and set of material practices. Beyond this familial context, Warter’s specific interest in the Brontës locates her albums within another subdivision of nineteenth-century album making: the production of volumes dedicated to literary celebrities, specifically those celebrating and commemorating the Brontës, a number of which I examined during my research trip to the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth.

The Museum holds numerous scrapbooks, albums, and collections of newspaper cuttings chronicling the Brontë family. With dates ranging between 1860 and 1980, the broad range of these holdings suggests the consistency of such practices well into the twentieth century. My research at the Museum focused on those albums produced after the Brontës’ heyday in the mid-nineteenth century until around 1914, in accordance with the chronological parameters of my broader project on ‘assemblage’ in the long nineteenth century. The albums I examined were characterized by the variety of their visual, material, and textual inclusions, which variously included photographs, written correspondence, printed images, dried flora, and newspaper cuttings. Such diversity highlights the variation inherent to nineteenth-century album production, and the dangers of adhering strictly to taxonomic classifications such as ‘scrapbook’ or ‘commonplace book’; ultimately reinforcing the importance of comparing and relating Warter’s own manuscripts to these albums. Further to these material observations, the analysis of around 40 examples of such volumes also revealed a number of emergent themes within their inclusions, with emphases upon: death, commemoration, and memorialization; portrayal and representation; locality; and social and familial relations; many of which are echoed within Warter’s own books. Going forward, the project will situate Warter’s treatment of the Brontës in relation to the albums studied on this visit, as well as the album production of the broader Warter and Southey families, made possible thanks to a travel grant award from the British Association for Romantic Studies.

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I would like to thank both the British Association for Victorian Studies and the Brontë Parsonage Museum for making this visit possible. The Museum’s Brontë collection is the largest in the world, and its holdings include original manuscripts, objects belonging to the family, and the records of the Brontë Society, established in 1893. The Museum also houses an extensive research library of primary and secondary sources, making it a crucial repository for the study of any aspect of the Brontë family.

N. B. this report will also appear in a future edition of the BAVS Newsletter.

Week in Review – 7 August

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This week’s object of the week isn’t mine per se, but Zara Anishanslin’s. In her recently published book, Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World, Anishanslin uses the silk dress depicted above as a means to (de)construct and examine the worlds of four identifiable people who produced, wore, and represented it: a London weaver, one of early modern Britain’s few women silk designers, a Philadelphia merchant’s wife, and a New England painter.

 Other announcements, events, courses, and posts that caught my eye this week included:

The recent special issue of the Scandinavian Journal of History on Gender, Material Culture and Emotions in Scandinavian History. The issue contains articles on religion and emotion, needlework, botany, and Chinese porcelain.

The University of Exeter’s fascinating new MOOC Empire: the Controversies of British Imperialism, which begins today.

Sean Willcock’s fascinating article ‘Composing the Spectacle: Colonial Portraiture and the Coronation Durbars of British India, 1877-1911‘, in the latest volume of Art History.

The Paul Mellon Centre for British Art’s new public lecture course, The Country House: Art, Politics, and Taste. The course covers a fascinating array of subjects over a broad period. See the syllabus here.

This videoAcademic video blogs: 5 tips for getting started. I’ve written before about enjoying both Ellie Mackin & Emma Cole’s early career researcher vlogs, so it was with interest that I watched this source from jobs.ac.uk. I believe that video blogs, much like twitter, can help to destabilise traditional hierarchies endemic to academia.

Alexis L. Boylan’s article ‘Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Robert Louis Stevenson, and the Erotics of Illness‘, from the recent issue of American Art is a gorgeously written, fascinating approach to its subject, Saint-Gaudens’ portrait miniature of the infirm Louis Stevenson.

Lily Ford’s essay Unlimiting the Bounds”: the Panorama and the Balloon View‘, the second essay in a two-part series in which she explores how balloon flight transformed our ideas of landscape.

 

Week in Review – 31 July

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image.jpgAn illustration of Polyporus beatiei, from Mary Banning’s The Fungi of Maryland.

My object of the week is an image from Mary Banning’s The Fungi of Maryland, a lush volume with 175 hand-painted watercolors accompanied by extensive descriptions. Banning was a fascinating and highly productive mycologist, whose dedication to fungi – as opposed to flowers – marked her out amongst amateur botanists. A short history of Banning’s life and work can be found in Alicia Puglionesi’s article for Alta Obscura.

The Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650–1830 symposium, which examines Rhode Island-made furniture, its makers and its social contexts, and accompanies the exhibition of the same name, on display at Yale University Art Gallery from August 19, 2016 until January 8, 2017.

The CFP for the New Perspectives on Parisian Haute Couture (1850-present) conference.

James Clifford’s lectures on ‘Museum Realisms‘ at the Research Center for Material Culture, available online here.

The CFP for the Making Memory: Material and Visual Cultures of Commemoration in Ireland, c.1800-2016 conference. The conference develops ideas and expands the chronology of the earlier Making 1916: Material and Visual Culture of the Easter Rising conference, the proceedings from which were published by Liverpool University Press.

The online exhibition Artisans and Craft Production in Nineteenth-Century Scotland. Created as part of the University of Edinburgh’s Leverhulme-funded ‘Artisans and the Craft Economy in Scotland, 1780 to 1914’ project, the exhibition explores both the materiality of craft-making for those working in artisan trades, and the cultural landscape they and their work inhabited.

The CFP for the fascinating-sounding CAA panel, Modernism’s Craft Discourses. The session examines the ways in which modernists have historically understood their own work in painting, sculpture, photography, or collage as craft practices, asking ‘how have the discourses defining craft—notions of process, medium, labor, and reform—contributed to the development of modernist art and its criticism?’ These questions are particularly relevant to my postdoctoral project on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century collage, or, what I’ve previously thought of as collage ‘before modernism’. I’m interested to see how the conversations deriving from this panel colour my perceptions of modernism’s relationship with craft, and how this in turn might inform my own reading of collage before 1912.

The CFP for the Collecting & Collectibles Area of the Popular Culture Association, 2017 conference.

Last week also saw the publication of Lord Stern’s review of the REF, the results of which have real implications for Early Career Researchers. See the report here. Matthew Shaw and Charlotte Mathieson have also compiled an initial bibliography of literature on the review, which provides a list of essential reading on the subject.

As ever, the blog Notches: remarks on the history of sexuality is an endless source of fascination. Claire Hayward’s post ‘Queer Terminology: LGBTQ Histories and the Semantics of Sexuality’, and Ania Ostrowska’s think-piece on the The Institute of Sexology exhibition held at The Wellcome Collection, are recent highlights amongst a wealth of fascinating articles and interviews.

Some thoughts on Lee Miller’s ‘Collage’

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I’ve written previously about wanting to explore ideas and thoughts for my next research project on this blog. Today I’d like to do so by thinking about collage as a medium, locating this in relation to a broader network of scholars who are currently working on collage.

About a year ago I attended Dr. Patricia Allmer‘s (Chancellor’s Fellow, Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh) research paper ‘Cutting up Picasso: Cubism and Lee Miller’s Collage‘ (details of the talk are available here). Pictured here within Allmer’s powerpoint presentation, Collage (1937) is a 28 cm x 21.5 cm mixed-media piece that comprises cut paper, prints after Miller’s own photographs, and a postcard featuring an image of the Cotes d’Azur. It was produced during the summer of 1937, when Miller, (along with several other prominent Surrealist artists, including Man Ray) stayed with Picasso and Dora Maar at their home in Mougins, France.

As I work on revising my thesis for publication, I am beginning to think about my next project – an examination of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century collage practices – and the methodologies I will employ throughout its duration. Accordingly, how the image was addressed struck a particular chord with me, with Allmer providing both an object biography of Collage, whilst simultaneously emphasising the object’s own biographical nature.

In her talk, Allmer skillfully deconstructed the collage’s constituent elements, from found object, to silhouette cut out, to photographic reproduction, powerfully demonstrating how each rooted Miller’s work within the histories of the avant-garde and the Surrealist group. Allmer also highlighted how the work was a reflection upon Miller’s relationships with the groups’ other female artists, including Dora Maar, Eileen Agar, and Elsa Schiparelli, and each of whose presence is signalled by a portraitive gesture within the image. In pulling apart the fragmented images and scraps of paper that comprised the collage, Allmer provided a sort of object biography (or, in fact, multiple biographies), in which she traced the collage from conceptual birth, through the processes of making, and into its material afterlives, where the piece ultimately embodies Miller’s participation within that summer, as well as the communal nature of the creative output of the Surrealist group more broadly. At the same time, Allmer presented Collage as a thoroughly biographical object, through a reading of which we might glean an understanding of the complex social, gendered, and creative relationships of the group’s members, and how these were reflected within, and constituted by, the visual and material objects they produced. Following Rosalind Krauss’ assertion that collage is more like poetry than an art work, and as such, must be read, rather than viewed, Allmer’s ‘reading’ of Collage offers a productive model for talking about the relationship between collage, lives, and even life writing.

It is this connection – between the making of collage, and the making of the self – that my research seeks to probe. Through both its fragmentary nature and close relationship with the biography of its makers, collage is a powerfully narratological art form. Furthermore, prior to its co-option with modernist movements such as Cubism and Dada, it was a ubiquitous cultural practice, enacted by men, women, and children from various social strata. However, as many of its forms – from shellwork, quilting, paper collage, to scrapbooking – have traditionally been aligned with decorative arts practices, they have yet to receive the critical attention they deserve. A study of collage is therefore, simultaneously a focus on objects previously excluded from the canon of ‘fine art’, which can accordingly reveal the daily emotions, concerns, and interests, of the the many and the minority, those forgotten and the underrepresented. I’m excited about how working on collage can reveal these possibilities, something that I’ll begin to explore during my forthcoming archival research trips for the project – the first, a trip to the Brontë Parsonage Museum to examine their collection of scrapbooks, happening in just a few days time.

Allmer’s fascinating monograph on Miller was recently published by Manchester University Press.