Dissertations


Department of Art Conservation, Preservation Studies Program

Richard C. Walbers, “Segregation of Surfactants in Modern Artists’ Acrylic Paints”

Walbers’ dissertation will be unusual in the sense that it will combine elements of treatment design and evaluation with instrumental analysis. The focus of the work will be on the problem of the segregation of surfactant and surfactant-like materials from artists’ acrylic dispersion paints. Specifically, the swelling of model paint films (Golden Acrylic Colors; ColArts Liquitex Heavy Bodied Colors) will be “mapped” under a variety of aqueous and solvent conditions using 3D microscopy (Phaseview “Microphase” Camera) to record as completely as possible the characteristic physical response of these paints to typical cleaning solutions (volume change; surface area increase; surface roughness). Concomitantly, the paint film materials extracted under each condition will be characterized by LC-MS/MS using a Shimadzu Prominence HPLC interfaced with an Applied BioSystems 3200 QTRAP mass spectrometer.  Preliminary results suggest that the physical swelling of these test paints under aqueous conditions is both a pH- and conductivity-driven phenomenon (both second order effects) that relate primarily to the poly-anionic dispersal agent(s) present in these test films and a general or overall osmotic effect of solution ion concentration. Additionally, specific ion effects have been noted that are consistent with Hofmeister ionic phenomena noted in other polymeric materials.  The latter is an especially useful observation, because it suggests that swelling and loss of paint film materials can be largely attenuated by simple ion substitutions in cleaning systems.  Part of this dissertation will also include looking at the distribution of surfactant within and on the surface of test paint films (with XPS, and possibly DART assisted MS/MS techniques) under a variety of aging or exposure conditions. Also model micro-emulsion test formulations will be evaluated using the same techniques to further evaluate the efficacy of restricting physically water phase materials applied to these surfaces.


Tatiana Ausema, “Working Methods and Materials of Color Field Painter Morris Louis”

Like other Color Field painters of his generation, Louis used the newly available acrylic solution paints poured or dripped onto unprimed cotton canvas to create large, abstract, and groundbreaking paintings.  Between 1954 and his premature death in 1962, the artist created over 600 canvases in his Washington, DC home; however, as many of the works were larger than his studio space, Louis had few opportunities to see his works properly stretched and exhibited. Despite this limitation, the eight years of Louis’s mature career contain four distinctive and fully realized stylistic periods. Using primary source documentation, instrumental analysis, and examination of individual paintings, Tatiana will evaluate the forces that shaped Louis’s stylistic development including changes in paint formulation, methods of canvas preparation, critical influences, and refinement of working techniques. This information will then be used to suggest improved approaches for the storage, display, and long-term preservation of these vulnerable paintings.


Kristin De Guetaldi, “Analytical Methods Used to Explore the Evolution from Egg to Oil Paints in Quattrocento Italy”
Dissertation defense: May 2016

In order to successfully identify the components of samples from works of art, we must first explore the capabilities and limitations posed by our instruments and various protocols.  The adoption of Netherlandish oil-painting techniques by early Italian artists has been revealed by both research and analysis of relevant works. This exchange appears to have had a monumental effect on certain Italian artists, causing some to incorporate drying oils into their daily workshop practice.  The use of tempera grassa (mixtures of egg and oil) has allegedly been discovered in easel paintings by several prominent Italian painters of the fifteenth century such as Carlo Crivelli, Masolino da Panicale, and Giovanni Bellini.  A fuller understanding of the use of binding media employed by Quattrocento painters will provide scientists, conservators, and scholars with information that may shed light on workshop practices, attribution, and other topics associated with provenance.


Jane Klinger, “The Identification, Interpretation, Public Perception, and Preservation of the Material Culture of Trauma”

In order to fully understand the place of objects of trauma within material culture, it is necessary to first explore the precepts upon which their identification is based. Beginning with a general definition of objects of trauma as the material survivors of events such as war, oppression, terrorist attacks, assassinations and natural disasters, a thorough study will be made of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the nascent National Museum of African American History. Each of these museums interprets history through a unique lens which influences the identification both of traumatic events within their cultural milieu and of the material culture that serves as evidence and memory of the event. Furthermore, the range of exhibition narratives and how objects of trauma are used within those narratives illustrate the differing sensibilities regarding collective memory, commemoration, and interpretation, as well as, desired response among each of their constituencies. This process of identification, interpretation, incorporation, and use pierces the walls of the conservation laboratory and directly influences the preservation of these objects. It will thus be shown that material culture of trauma in a museum setting is actually a dynamic system of identification, interpretation, use and preservation responding to norms of collective memory, new historical interpretations, and even political and social pressures.


Ying Xu, “When Historic Preservation Encounters Minorities: Examining the Significance of Historic Architecture and Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Bapai Yao”

Based on a long-term study in a minority region in South China, Bapai Yao, Ying’s dissertation examines the complex role government-led market-based preservation plays in contemporary Chines society as a strategy to preserve cultural heritage and stimulate economic development in ethnic minority region. It explores the history of the ethnic region in south of China and the position of the imperial authority and how it had impacted local ethnic community. It examines the significance of the architecture that distinguish the Yao’s settlements and architecture from other Chinese, and how these distinct characteristics reflect local cultural traditions. The dissertation addresses the questions of how the government and local community’s negotiation of heritage preservation, rural development and poverty alleviation shape the preservation practices, and how the state preservation policy help minorities to gain access to a social and economic system that is dominated by the majority, while retaining their separate ethnic cultures and identities. The purpose of the dissertation is to demonstrate that in the case examined here, not only do historic preservation projects impact upon culture, but also the minority’s cultural setting that surrounds communities and the way that they enact those settings impact upon historic preservation projects.


Maria João Petisca, “Sino-Portugal connections as represented in lacquerware and other examples of material culture (16th to 19th centuries)”

João’s doctoral research will study Chinese lacquer and its production for the export market. In the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries, Portugal, France, Holland, Sweden, England, and the United States traded with China and purchased items designed to please foreign taste; in the case of lacquered furniture this translated into combinations of western shapes and eastern decoration. These pieces are widely represented in Western museums and collections. Overall their conservation state is often poor. This study will focus especially on export pieces in black lacquer painted with gold, their trade routes, production centers and workshops, and their comparison with pieces created for the internal market using the same techniques. An understanding of the materials used in the manufacture of both export and domestic Chinese lacquerware will contribute to analysis of the degradation processes and help determine more effective conservation treatments and steps for long-term preservation.


Mariana Di Giacomo,  “The Conservation of Fossil Bones”

For many years, fossils were believed to be exceptionally resistant. The common belief was that if they had been preserved for millions of years, then nothing would happen to them. The result was a severe destruction over time of important pieces that were unique or that had important information regarding the anatomy of the animals or even about the taphonomy of the site in which they were found. Only after many pieces were lost, museum curators realized fossils were not as resistant as once thought. Mariana’s doctoral research will focus on the agents of deterioration, especially light and UV radiation, and the chemical properties of fossil bones. Fossils from Arroyo del Vizcaíno and La Brea will be employed to analyze the different properties of bones with similar ages. Pleistocene bones may be the best way to study preservation in fossils since, in many cases, they share characteristics with modern bones.


Michael J. Emmons Jr., ““Marking” and Inscribing in Early America”

Michael’s project examines the markings left behind on buildings and artifacts as powerful signifiers that are underutilized as historical evidence. As material culture with embedded messages, markings offer us the ability to “read” artifacts as historic texts—sometimes quite literally, as with datestones on buildings or inscriptions on clocks—but also in the archaeological sense, such as when historic graffiti can reveal important information about social and cultural context. Markings and inscriptions represent and communicate a broad range of personal and cultural messages. Depending on the type, markings can demonstrate temporal consciousness, signify rebellion and deviance, convey instruction or direction, express an innate human need to leave a permanent mark, indicate inclusion or belonging, express religious belief or superstition, assert possession or ownership, commemorate or honor, or display artistic expression. Michael’s work establishes a typology of markings in early America, and promises to lend valuable perspectives that inform historic preservation strategies and, more broadly, the interpretation and conservation of objects and buildings in museums and beyond.


Department of Art History

Michele L. Frederick, “Shaping the Royal Image: Gerrit van Honthorst and the Stuart Courts in London and The Hague (1620-1649)”
Date of expected completion: 2018

Frederick’s dissertation examines the paintings that Dutch artist Gerrit van Honthorst produced for two important cultural centers: the court of Charles I in London and that of his sister Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, who was in exile in The Hague. The project expands our understanding of the role of the painter and the function of display in early modern court culture, reinserting the paintings into the complex web of relationships within and between courts in which they were produced. The study examines Honthorst’s paintings in relation to the larger material dynamics of European courts and evaluates his role in the creation of a royal identity, where paintings formed one piece of a complex and mercurial system of self-fashioning that included everything from costume and etiquette to table settings and carpets.

Jeff Richmond-Moll, “Roots/Routes: Spirituality and Modern Mobility in American Art, 1900-1945″
Date of expected completion: 2019

Richmond-Moll’s dissertation considers how American artists navigated early-twentieth-century experiences of mobility and displacement by turning to religious subjects. Their works located a spiritualized sense of place in an ever-more dislocated world, and thus invite scholars to revise theories that modernization’s forces were unilaterally secularizing. Four chapters—whose objects of study include Southwestern still lifes by Marsden Hartley, scenes of Midwestern migration by John Steuart Curry, and expatriate paintings by John Singer Sargent and Henry Ossawa Tanner—examine how the modern American search for roots unfolded en route, and became entangled with spaces, experiences, and materials of spiritual belief. While the relationship between roots and routes is a defining feature of scholarship on post Cold-War globalization, Richmond-Moll argues for the relevance of such models at an earlier moment of nation-building and does so by returning religion to the picture. Further, by engaging transculturally with mobility and spirituality, this project shows how differently positioned individuals—racial or ethnic, mainstream or marginalized—experienced modernity’s unmooring effects in distinct ways, and sought, in response, a means of anchorage.


Karli Wurzelbacher, “Reverse Painting on Glass: Seeing Through the Surface of American Modernism”
Date of expected completion: 2018

This dissertation is the first study of the practice of reverse painting on glass and its role in the development of modern American art. Fusing the methodologies of feminist art history and material culture studies, I analyze the artwork of Marsden Hartley, Rebecca Salsbury James, Rockwell Kent, and Joseph Stella to understand how and why American artists experimented with the materials and methods of painting in the early decades of the twentieth century. The technique of layering pigment on the back of a transparent support has a deep, global history. My project demonstrates the ways in which modern American artists deliberately engaged stained glass, New England tinsel painting, New Mexican tinwork, and Bavarian religious painting. At the same time, I contend that Hartley, James, Kent, and Stella responded to industrially produced glass as a quintessentially modern material, one that spurred the advances in science, architecture, and technology that altered American life.


Department of English

Halina A. Adams, “The Ruins of Romanticism: Architecture and Circum-Atlantic Revolution, 1776-1835”

The Romantics were wild about ruins. From the sheep pen in “Michael” to the gothic castles of Radcliffe and Lewis, ruins crowded into Romantic texts and dominated the ways in which writers and readers thought about literary production—the fragment, the piece of a moment captured in text, by definition in complete, yet some how still fascinating. But rather than reading ruined sites as set pieces or material manifestations of psychic distress, my work examines ruins and the process of ruination within the context of political revolution. Writing in the period between the Age of Revolutions and the birth of the modern nation state and imperialism, Romantics on both sides of the Atlantic used ruins to engage with complicated issues of belonging and citizenship. Texts about the American, French, and Haitian revolutions reveal the ways in which buildings and ruination could be used to articulate alternative histories and genealogies of the nation. From the fall of the Bastille to the “Fall of the House of Usher,” architecture and ruins offered writers an opportunity to recover the revolutionary activities of women, minorities, and members of the lower classes. Located at the intersection of literary studies, material culture studies, and spatial theory, my work focuses on descriptions of what Edmund Burke called “the fresh ruins of Revolution” in the periodicals, architectural manuals, novels, poems, engravings, and travelogues of the period. Through these texts and artifacts, I argue, we are able to more fully access histories of difference, opposition, and varied experience generally put under erasure by the homogenizing narrative of the development of the Romantic state.


Department of History

Amanda Casper, “Cheap, Safe, and Easy: Altering Homes in Philadelphia, 1870s to 1920s”
Date of expected completion: August 2016

This dissertation investigates the shift in American conceptualizations of home alteration between the 1870s and 1920s. During this period, the experience of home alteration shifted from a mundane aspect of everyday life, to a process that was defined in law, regulated by authorities, commodified in the marketplace, and understood as a distinct process. This was in large part due to popular perceptions of old homes as a problem, and a new set of emerging solutions that solved those problems, all of which aimed to make home alteration cheaper, safer, and easier. This shift reflects the material and social changes of period, during which complicated technologies, new construction methods, increased urban population density, aging housing stock, and expanding standards of living all provoked a reorganization for the ways in which people conducted changes to their homes. Increasingly, home alteration became an identifiable aesthetic, economic, and cultural activity that pulled people into political and economic arenas in new ways. This changed the framework within which most Americans conducted their home alteration. These changes modernized home alteration in America and set the stage for the home remodeling experience of the twentieth century.