The Civil War in Art: Teaching & Learning through Chicago Collections
Discover the American Civil War like never before. The Civil War in Art: Teaching & Learning through Chicago Collections (civilwarinart.org) makes nearly 130 works of art from seven Chicago cultural organizations accessible to teachers, parents, and students around the world. Developed by a team of museum and library professionals, historians, and teachers, this unique website connects elementary and high school students to the issues, events, and people of the era through:
- A high-resolution, zoomable gallery of objects
- Illustrated essays examining the causes and impact of the war and role that art played
- An extensive glossary of close to 200 art and historical terms and biographies
- Lesson plans developed by teachers for teachers
“Artbeat” on Chicago Tonight
Since 2007, with support from the Terra Foundation, Chicago PBS affiliate WTTW11 has created a series of informative segments on American art. “Artbeat,” which airs on the network’s award-winning weeknight news show Chicago Tonight, offers a fascinating look at the city’s art history, covering prominent artists, collections, exhibitions, and historically significant spaces in Chicago.
Topics range from outsider artist Henry Darger and photographers and friends Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind to Tiffany decoration at the Chicago Cultural Center and Progressive-era murals in Chicago schools. Recent “Artbeat” segments include:
- The Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park (aired April 10, 2012). One of the most distinguished sculpture parks in the country and the only site to exhibit a collection of cutting edge, contemporary outdoor sculpture in the Chicago area, the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park spans more than 100 acres of prairie landscape at Governors State University. The collection was established in the late 1960s by Lewis Manilow and boasts highlights such as works by two winners of the National Medal of Arts, as well as works by Bruce Nauman and Richard Hunt. View segment.
- “Figurism” (aired March 13, 2012). This exhibition, at the Chicago Gallery of the Illinois State Museum, features more than 100 years of representations of the human figure—some literal, others abstract or fantastic—by American artists from the Midwest, such as Ed Paschke and Alphonso Iannelli. There is also a special emphasis on women artists, including Gertrude Abercrombie and members of the “Hairy Who”. View segment.
Terra Foundation Lectures on American Art at the Chicago Humanities Festival
Since 2005, the Terra Foundation has awarded several multi-year grants to the Chicago Humanities Festival to support a public lecture on the history of American art and visual culture at the organization’s annual two-week celebration. The Terra Foundation Lecture on American Art exposes Chicagoans to leading scholars and thinkers in the field.
Past lectures include:
- November 10, 2012, Lawrence Weschler, “A Harrowing Masterpiece”
- November 11, 2012, Judith Barter, “When Modern Art Came to America”
- November 11, 2012, Rachael DeLue, “Rediscovering the American Landscape
- 2011, Wanda Corn, “Women Building History”
- 2011, Rebecca Solnit, “Eadward Muybridge and the Technological Wild West”
- 2010, Sarah Burns, “Corruptible Flesh: Art and Necrophilia in Chicago”
- 2009, Jennifer Greenhill, “Humor in Postbellum American Art”
- 2008, Erica Doss, “Picturing New Deal American Art”
- 2007, Angela Miller, “American Landscape Art and Environmental Thinking”
- 2006, David Lubin, “Art for War’s Sake”
Louise Lincoln is the Director of the DePaul Art Museum and curator of Re: Chicago, the eclectic and collaborative exhibition which closed on March 4, 2012.
TFAA: The process of selecting the works for this exhibition involved over forty critics, artists, and curators, which is certainly a unique approach. Despite so many different opinions, the result is wonderfully cohesive. Can you tell us about this process?
LL: In the beginning stages of this project I was asked if I had other models in mind and I think that I must have gotten it from somewhere. But in a lot of ways it grew up around itself. We’ve had an interest in Chicago art for a number of years and we knew that for our opening exhibition in this new building we wanted to do a Chicago–themed show, and it morphed into this group–sourced curatorial project and began to feel exciting and unpredictable. We wanted to widen the canon of Chicago artists, and to explore the reception of art as opposed to production of art. Then we hit on this idea of asking people in the Chicago art world to choose a Chicago artist to be in the show and to explain their choice, and to use those explanations as the labels for the works. We invited two DePaul University faculty members, a student, and a trustee, as well as scholars, critics, collectors. As we’d hoped, those texts turned out to be immensely varied in tone, approach, and what people wanted to talk about. A good example is Lynne Warren’s label on Harry Callahan’s Untitled, 1960. Her label destabilizes my approach to the photo. Before reading her wall text I looked at the photograph in terms of composition and timing, but I hadn’t looked at it in terms of Callahan, or his humaneness. The personal tone of her response has really changed how I see the photo. With texts like hers, this has become a show about something else; it is much more about reception than we had originally intended. We’re noticing that visitors are reading all the labels, and that’s gratifying.
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Q & A with Sarah Miller, Terra Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Chicago
Sarah Miller is the Terra Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in pre-1945 American Art in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago. Dr. Miller shares some of her experiences in working with students and local art historians to pursue original research in the field of American Art.
TFAA: What initially drew you to the field of American art? How has your interest or focus changed or developed throughout your career?
SM: I began my studies in the history of photography and architecture and urbanism, but I almost always worked on American subjects. I didn’t deliberately set out to study American art history specifically, but was always drawn to the areas of art history that are most closely related to cultural history and social politics, and my interests in those fields were usually American. I started out being most interested in contemporary art, and then steadily worked backwards. By the time I wrote my dissertation I knew I wanted to work in the pre-1945 period of American Modernism and that I generally thought of myself as a modernist, more than a contemporary, scholar.
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Q & A with Melody Deusner, Terra Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at Northwestern University
Melody Deusner is the Terra Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in American Art from 1600–1950 in the Department of Art History at Northwestern University. Dr. Deusner shares some of her experiences in working with students and developing scholarship.
TFAA: What initially drew you to the field of American art? How has your interest/focus changed or developed throughout your career?
MD: My interest in art history was originally grounded in nineteenth century French painting and developed through my graduate career into modern European art generally, but I tended to have ideas of work I wanted to do only to find that something similar had already been done. I think it was largely the openness of the American field that was so attractive to me. It seemed that on the American side there was so much accessible visual culture to work with, and that was, and is, really exciting. I began learning that there were all of these other visual objects that really enriched the fine art world and how I saw it—what is immediately available to you in American museums and archives, in person and online, is astounding. Because of my early training I still think of myself as a nineteenth century person in broad terms, but I try to use that grounding to look at American art as part of a continuum.
Download the full interview.