New Beginnings, New Adventures


The Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, VA, as it appeared on April 20, 2018

Another academic year is winding down, and as always, I find myself looking backward and forward. This past June, I welcomed my baby daughter into the world, and at first the plan was to keep to a light professional load this year to give myself time to adjust to the reality of being a parent. But then the events in Charlottesville, Virginia happened, and suddenly I found myself with just about as much work as I could handle.

First came the interviews: with the Washington Post, Mic, U.S. News and World Report, The Art Newspaper, and several other outlets. Then I began a series of public talks. This past fall, I traveled to Newark, Delaware to speak at the University of Delaware, to Columbus, Ohio for the Southeastern College Art Conference, and to Washington, DC to visit American University. My travels in the spring included the College Art Association in Los Angeles, the Midwest Art History Society in Indianapolis, and a special symposium on the long history of iconoclasm in art at the University of Virginia. That last event brought me to Charlottesville, where I visited the sites that figured so prominently in the events of last August (special thanks to Jalane Schmidt for an informative and candid tour!).


PAFA Students in “American Sculpture” discuss plaster models of sculptures by Hiram Powers with Smithsonian curator Karen Lemmey

While keeping up with my work on monuments, I also had a full year of teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In the fall, I taught two sections of the first half of the survey (Prehistoric to Medieval), along with my “American Art to 1945” class. In the spring, I had two sections of the second half of the survey (Renaissance to Modern). But I also had a chance to fulfill a dream, teaching my first-ever class on the history of American sculpture! The scale of the class was intimate, with only eight students (most of whom were practicing sculptors), which meant plenty of opportunities for in-depth discussion and field trips to see sculpture in the round. Some of the highlights included a walking tour of Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia and a lovely afternoon with Curator of American Sculpture Karen Lemmey at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). I learned a lot while prepping the lectures, and my students’ enthusiasm made Wednesday afternoons one of the highlights of my week. Definitely a semester to remember!

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia

But even as I reflect back fondly on the past year of teaching, I also look forward to putting away my lesson planning and purple grading pen for the next fifteen months, because I will be going on leave! I am thrilled to announce that I have been awarded the Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan Fellowship through the James Smithson Fellowship Program at the Smithsonian Institution for the 2018-2019 academic year. I’ll spend the year working on my book project, Monumental Crisis: Accident, Vandalism, and the Civil War Citizen Soldier and learning all about public policy so that I can develop solutions for communities grappling with their problematic monuments. I’ll be in residence at SAAM, and I’m looking forward to returning to a cubicle in the Fellows’ Office. My plan is to split my time between DC and New Jersey so that I can be with my family on weekends, and I’m working on a bucket list of monuments, cultural institutions, and other sites to visit while I’m in DC – hoping to make the most of every day that I’m down there!

Indianapolis Soldiers and Sailors Monument, April 2018

This brings me to one final point: lately, I’ve been thinking that I’d like to take my work on monuments in a bit more of an entrepreneurial direction. There’s a lot of work to be done to document the monumental landscape as it currently stands and to negotiate what to do with statues that no longer align with community values. I’d like to do more to help: giving public talks, writing for the mass market, and designing workshops to think through monumental issues. I’m not sure how all of this will look just yet, but I’m hoping that this fellowship year will help me to develop a clear strategy for putting some of these ideas into practice. To that end, watch this space for big changes. Over the next few months, I’m hoping to increase the frequency of my posts on this blog and to overhaul the entire site to foreground some of my strategies for public outreach. I hope you’ll come along on this journey with me, and as always, I welcome all suggestions and leads! I look forward to diving into my research full-time and rethinking my place in the current monument debates.






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