Past, present, and future material culture events on the UW-Madison campus and in the surrounding community.

Visiting Curator talk: SHANNON STRATTON

Tuesday March 26, 2019


Art Lofts Conference Room 1274

107 N Frances St, Madison, WI 53703

Shannon Stratton, former Chief Curator at the Museum of Arts and Design and founder of the Chicago based visual arts organization, Threewalls, will talk about the arc of her practice from artist to institutional curator through the lens of unmaking (and remaking). With roots in craft-based studio training, Stratton brings questions of what craftsmanship means in terms of curatorial practice, alongside a constant interrogation of how to work the institution itself as form or “material.”


Upcoming Guest Lecture – Dorothy Ko

On May 2, 2019, Dorothy Ko will be presenting on group-stories in artisanal communities in China. This presentation, titled, “Blood, Sweat, and Innovation: Stories from Porcelain Artisans in China” will be held in Elvehjem L140.

For more information about this presentation and Dorothy Ko, click here:

Or, visit the Art History Department’s website at: Dorothy Ko Spring Speaker

Curious about the upcoming Material Culture Across Disciplines Graduate Student Conference?

We are less than one month away from the first year hosting our multi-disciplinary conference featuring UW-Madison graduate and PhD students. It is going to be a day filled with a variety of topics! All are welcome to attend this free conference hosted on campus (location TBD).

To view a full schedule, please click here: Material Culture Conference Schedule

Click this link to view the poster: Material Culture Conference – Poster

Material Culture Across Disciplines Graduate Student Conference

On Friday, March 8, 2019, the Material Culture Studies Program and the Department of Art History will be hosting a free one-day interdisciplinary graduate student conference focusing on how material culture is engaged across the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

UW-Madison currently offers 154 Master’s, 4 MFA, and 109 Doctoral programs, many of which interact with the study of material culture in their own distinct theoretical and methodological approaches. The goal of this conference is two-fold: 1) To share new scholarship with peers from across multiple disciplines as it relates to material culture; 2) foster a sense of academic community through shared interests in material culture methods across a wide and diverse range of disciplines and approaches.

This conference will be held at the UW-Memorial Union and features fourteen graduate students discussing a range of topics addressing material culture.

Please check back in the coming weeks for more information as it is available! We look forward to seeing you all there!

March 2018

The Material Culture Focus Group is excited to host the upcoming workshop “Programmable Publishing:Digital Humanities for Everyone!” The event will be on Saturday March 17 from 1-4pm in Elvehjem L170 and is open to students, faculty, and the community. Space is limited, so please e-mail if you are interested in participating.



“Many people have difficulty learning programming because courses, textbooks, and tutorials are often written with the assumption of a math or computer science background. They use mathematical equations and formulas as a universal language to teach you how use and build elements within the programming language. However, if math is the gatekeeper to programming, then learning programming can be a daunting task.

The Racket programming language was largely developed to make programming more accessible to diverse audiences. It’s introductory tutorial eschews the math as gatekeeper pattern by drawing on an entirely different universal language, pictures, to represent the same programming functions. Instead of adding and multiplying numbers, the tutorial teaches you how to combine simple geometric forms. By the end of the tutorial you have a gallery of pictures you’ve cobbled together. The end deliverable, while interesting, is not terribly useful on its own.

Building on this foundation, we have developed a workshop to teach basic programming skills to humanities students with an end deliverable which can be immediately applied to their daily lives. Using the Racket programming language, the user-friendly text editor DrRacket, and the markup language Scribble, participants will learn how to write an academic paper from start to finish which can then be exported to html and pdf. In addition to easy export to multiple formats, Scribble also allows you to write more complex functions directly into your document. This can range from auto-formatting an image list, to looping through a text to calculate word frequency or word groupings.

This workshop utilizes all free-software technology, and will urge participants to release whatever code they create back into the community. Academics are constantly presented with new tools to facilitate digital humanities projects, many of which are locked down and proprietary. But, an underlying understanding of programming allows us to build our own tools, modify the available tools to our specific needs, understand how to go beyond what everyone else who has access to these tools can do, and return these contributions back to the wider academic community.

We believe that programming should be accessible to everyone. While our workshop is immediately applicable towards a humanities audience, the structure can be applied more broadly.”

November 2016



April 2016

The UW-Madison Material Culture Program was prominently featured in last month’s Mount Horeb Area Historical Society newsletter, the Mt. Horeb Past Times. A PDF of the relevant section can be accessed here. In addition, MHAHS received more positive feedback about this on-going relationship. Upon hearing the research conducted by a UW-Madison graduate student, the former owner of “Debbie the doll” exclaimed, “I feel as if I have found roots that I did not know existed.”

During the first weekend of April, graduate students Sara Champlin and Morgan Lemmer-Webber visited Chicago’s Field Museum. There they encountered various artifacts, Sue the T. rex, and Terracotta Warriors from the 210 BCE tomb of the first emperor of the Qin dynasty.

March 2016

Led by Victoria Johnson, Prof. Martin’s seminar AH563: Method and Theory of Material Culture studied issues of form, function, and design the first week of March. Johnson’s presentation asked the class to come up with new design ideas for washing clothes, specifically following their reading of Henry Petroski’s book chapter “Form Follows Failure” in The Evolution of Useful Things (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), 22-33. Can you tell from the designs what the class thought were failures in the system for cleaning clothes? What are your pet peeves and can you solve them?

During the fall of 2015, graduate students from the Art Department, the Department of Art History, the Department of History, and Design Studies at UW-Madison gathered once a week to talk about objects with Professor Ann Smart Martin. Throughout the course of this exciting seminar in American art, titled Things: Making, Consuming, Remembering and Subverting, students considered various methods for thinking about material culture. Though much time was spent reading and discussing, the group also had the opportunity to put what they learned into practice. Through collaboration with the Mount Horeb Area Historical Society, AH 865 students spent the semester researching and reflecting on individual historic objects donated from community members to the MHAHS collections.

Their efforts prompted two unusual events. First, in December 2015, the art students produced an exhibition of their own work reflecting on the objects they studied. Second, the students held a symposium in January 2016, in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin to present their findings to the community. More than fifty people turned out to hear about their work. Their work will likely be part of the interpretation at a new museum and educational center in Mt. Horeb called the Driftless Historium, scheduled to open in 2018.

Mt. Horeb Poster

In October 2015, Material Culture students explored objects at the Chipstone Foundation.

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March 2015 – Object Lab at the Chipstone Foundation

Seven students travelled to Milwaukee to spend a Friday afternoon – the first sunny day of spring – looking closely at objects.  Jon Prown and Claudia Arzeno led the group through rounds of interpretive exercises that were specifically designed to make us more attentive to form and cultural meaning.


Jon Prown encouraging the group to think about design.


Chris Slaby and Carolyn Jenkinson present their interpretation of a miniature piece of furniture designed to hold a pocket watch.


Angela Hronek and Ann Glasscock analyzing this object – is it a coffee mug or a chamber pot?

November 2014 – Pottery Courses at the Wheelouse Studios

From wedging to glazing, Wheelhouse Studios in the Wisconsin Union made this hands on learning experience possible.  Some Focus Group members had made wheel-thrown pottery before, but for many of us, it was a first!

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October 2014 – Tour of the UW Dairy Barn

Daniel Einstein led a tour for the group of the UW Dairy Barn.  We learned about the history of the building, the classes that were taught there since its construction in 1897/98, and the research that led to the discovery of Vitamin D.

September 2014 – Welcome Back Potluck Dinner

Join us on Monday, September 29th for food, fun, and conversation! Material Culture Students and Faculty have reserved a room in Nancy Nicholas Hall for our annual meet and greet event.  We will be there from 5PM until about 7:30PM

March 2014 – Monuments Men

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Members of the Focus Group went to see the newly released Monuments Men at Sundance Cinemas, and then met for dinner and discussion at The Great Dane restaurant.

February 2014 – Material Culture Students in the University of Wisconsin-Madison News

Cabinet of Curiosities: Capturing Nature

February 2014 – Material Culture Students in the University of Wisconsin-Madison News

February 2014 – Guy Maddin

Guy Maddin, a distinguished Canadian film maker, will be on the UW-Madison campus this week, sponsored by the Material Culture Student Focus Group, the University Lectures Committee, and the Anonymous Fund.

His lecture on the theme of loss in cinema will be at 6PM on Thursday, February 20th in room L160 of Elvehjem Hall. It promises to be a popular event, so please arrive early.

Friday (2/21) at 2PM UW Cinematheque will show Maddin’s film MY WINNIPEG in 4070 Vilas Hall. Immediately after, there will be a Material Culture panel discussion regarding the artist’s use of objects and space. Panelists include Guy Maddin, Jim Healy (film studies), Andrea Stanislav (mixed-media artist from the University of Minnesota), Ann Smart Martin (Chipstone Professor and Director of the Material Culture Program) and Stefan Osdene (Material Culture Graduate Student).

Friday (2/21) at 7PM there will be a second film screening in 4070 Vilas Hall, this time featuring James Whale’s 1935 comedy REMEMBER LAST NIGHT (one of Maddin’s personal favorites); Q+A afterwards will focus on outside influences.

Recap of the event:

Last week’s Maddin events were a success! Over one hundred people came to hear the film maker’s lecture on Thursday evening, and the auditorium at Vilas Hall was similarly packed for the Friday screening of MY WINNIPEG, the Material Culture panel discussion, and the evening screening introduced by Maddin.   Here are some links to interviews that were conducted while he was here:

“To the Best of Our Knowledge” for Wisconsin Public Radio
On Our Minds: Film History

Article in The Capital Times, Feb. 22, 2014
Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin shows off wintry wonders of ‘My Winnipeg’ : Ct

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Panel discussion with Film maker Guy Maddin, Material Culture graduate student Stefan Osdene, Professor Jim Healy from the Film Studies Department, and Professor Ann Smart Martin from the Art History Department. Professor Martin is Chair of the Material Culture Certificate Program.

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Guy Maddin with Material Culture Graduate Students Sara Champlin and Stefan Osdene

October 2013 – Tour of the Forest Hill Cemetery

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On Saturday, October 26th a group of students visited Forest Hill Cemetery for a tour led by Mark Gajewski of the Wisconsin Historical Society.  It was a cold and windy day, but we had a great time viewing monuments and learning about the lives of some of Madison’s most important figures.

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Gravestone belonging to descendent of Thomas Jefferson, third U.S. President.

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Classically inspired monument belonging to the Slaughter family.

September 2013 – Tour of “Lascaux Dreams” by Teresa Getty

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 8.26.48 PMMara Champagne, the Summer Coordinator for the WUD Art Committee and the new Associate Director of the Memorial Union Galleries and Submissions, will be leading a special tour for the Material Culture Focus Group on Thursday, September 12th at 4PM.

Mara is a student in the Material Culture Program, and an active member of the focus group.

Artist’s Statement:

“I want my process-driven paintings and drawings to be documents of some thing. This drive is rooted in contemplating the commensal relationship of man and machine; one lived first hand with my machine-dependent daughter. I am compelled to document her life while struggling to redefine my mistrust of mechanical progress, but the result is not a representational visual record. Process generates content, weaving time and memory into mark.”

–Teresa Getty

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Students also visited a show in the adjoining gallery.

September 2013 – Seizing the Last of Summer’s Warmth

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 8.34.02 PMSeizing the last of Summer’s warm weather and prolonged daylight, the material culture community gathered at Prof. Ann Smart Martin’s home for a “welcome-back” potluck dinner. In addition to our signature dishes, we all brought forms of outdoor lighting so we could enjoy the patio scene after the sun had set.

Lots of candles, tiki torches, and battery operated lanterns enabled us to banish the darkness; while a single carved watermelon with its ambient red glow served as a beautiful and fragrant centerpiece.

April 2013 – Visit to the Forevertron

Students embarked on a road trip to visit Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron off of Highway 12, just south of Baraboo, WI.

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We were met by Mrs. Every, who graciously gave us a tour and told us about how the art park came to be.  Like her husband, she, too, creates large-scale metal sculptures.  It was wonderful to hear her story and her insight about the Foreverton, which is the largest scrap-metal sculpture in the world!

February 2013 – Dydia DeLyser Evening Lecture: “Collecting, Kitsch, and the Intimate Geographies of Social Memory: A Story of Archive and Intervention”

February 20th; 6:00-7:00 PM in Room L140 of Elvehjem Hall

Co-Sponsored By The Material Culture Program, The Department Of Geography, And The Art History Department

Lecture Description:

This lecture traces the real significance(s) of seemingly superficial tourist souvenirs, and the intimate geographies of social memory to which they are linked. Dydia DeLyser collects kitschy American artifacts such as salt and peppershakers from sites that she experiences as a cultural geographer. Rather than using artifacts from libraries or archives, DeLyser acquires souvenirs that influence the direction of her academic writing. She suggests that the process of acquisition allows one to write about social memory in a more meaningful and personal manner. This talk examines the intersection of academic research with the subjective endeavor of collecting American memories and artifacts.

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Brief Biography: Dydia DeLyser is an associate professor of cultural geography at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. She earned her Ph.D. from Syracuse University in 1996. DeLyser’s work deals with issues such as tourism, social memory, the American roadside, and the history of women in aviation. She is the author of the book Ramona Memories: Tourism And The Shaping Of Southern California (2005, Minnesota) and has edited numerous scholarly volumes.

November 2012 – “Humor in Cold Dead Type: Performing Artemus Ward’s London Panorama Lecture in Print,” Public Lecture

Jennifer A. Greenhill, Assistant Professor of Art History, University of Illinois,Urbana-Champaign

Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 6 p.m. in Elvehjem Building, Room L140

Save the date as well for an afternoon graduate student workshop with Professor Greenhill on race, abstraction, and illustration.

Greenhill’s recently completed book Playing It Straight: Art and Humor in the Gilded Age (University of California Press, 2012) investigates the strategies artists devised to simultaneously conform to and humorously undermine “serious” artistic culture during the late nineteenth century, when calls for a new cultural sophistication ran headlong into a growing public appetite for humor.

This talk explores the materiality of print and awkwardness of typographic humor through a study of Artemus Ward’s Lecture (As Delivered at the Egyptian Hall, London), an experimental volume published in 1869.  The book attempts to preserve the hilarity of a recently deceased American humorist, Charles Farrar Browne, known as “Artemus Ward,” the character who made President Lincoln laugh during the Civil War and inspired Mark Twain as he developed his own comic techniques. It does so with explanatory glosses on the lecture’s content, thirty-six woodcut illustrations depicting the various scenes of Ward’s visual aid, an execrably painted panorama, and experimental typography meant to evoke the humorist’s delivery of his material.

Excessive in its contrivances, Ward’s book demonstrates the inevitable awkwardness of intermedial translation projects, perhaps especially those focused on preserving the subtleties of comic performance and the interactivity of the theatrical encounter. But the book’s awkwardness is symptomatic of its overriding logic and therefore signifies more than simply a failed effort to translate the stage to the page.  It signifies, Greenhill argues, the degree to which Ward’s editors had internalized his entertainment and his reputation more generally, as a humorist given to excess and lecturing on a subject—Mormonism—that had its own reputation for immoderation. The book offers a powerful example of mid-nineteenth-century conceptions of “muchness,” as Ward would say, but it does more than this: it suggests the ways that typographic expression might not only index surface features of a performance, but also reveal the deep structure of the event and the social framework in which it found form.

Sponsored by the UW-Madison Material Culture Program, University Lectures Committee, Department of Art History, and the Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture

November 2012 – Exploring “Dimensions of Material Culture”

Written by Ellery Foutch – November 2012

What is “material culture”? For students in Art History / Design Studies/ History 464, the answer is unfolding over the course of a semester by exploring University of Wisconsin collections, learning from local experts, and contemplating a variety of “things”—the material world to which people give meaning and which, in turn, influences their lives. The class takes the perspective that what we make, see, inhabit, eat, acquire, cherish, and discard—all are important agents of communication and part of broad social and cultural contexts. We are all part of a complex system of makers and consumers, interacting with the world of made objects and constructed spaces.

To this end, co-instructors Lauren Kroiz and Ellery Foutch have planned a variety of guest lectures and site visits, in which students learn different ways of interpreting and interacting with material culture. This year, the Dimensions course, a requirement for the Certificate in Material Culture, is organized around three themes: land and landscapes, the body, and technology. The course is a capstone in the Material Culture Program, traditionally offered every fall and co-taught by faculty in Art History and Design Studies; it was originally developed by Professor Jean Lee and Virginia Boyd, with support from a UW-Madison Chancellor’s Collaborative Teaching Award for Senior Faculty.

In the first unit of the semester, students contemplated human interactions in the environment and the constructed concept of the “natural,” from painted landscapes in the Chazen Museum of Art to sessions devoted to urban planning, landscape garden design, and interventions in the Wisconsin landscape due to agriculture and foodways. Allen Centennial Gardens provided an exemplary site to explore and juxtapose conventions of formal garden design and the human desire to demonstrate control over the natural world, while the intrusion of the active sprinkler system gave a visceral indication of the technology and effort required to maintain these constructions! In presentations and discussions with former Madison mayor Dave Cieslewicz and Art History professor and member of Madison planning commission Anna Andrzejewski, students thought critically about urban planning and the built environment of suburbs—how the layout of streets, sidewalks, shopping centers, and family homes affects social interactions. With facilities cultural resource manager Daniel Einstein and amongst the dusty rafters of the UW Dairy Barn, where the single-grain experiments took place, and the gleaming machinery of Babcock Dairy, students learned of the University’s role in nutrition science as well as the architectural and landscape modifications constructed for the care of livestock and the cultivation of a milk-consuming society on a grand scale. Guest speaker and Folklore faculty Janet Gilmore further discussed Wisconsin’s population of Hmong immigrants and their relationship to the state’s foodways and landscape.

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Allen Centennial Gardens

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Prof. Andrzejewski and Citizen Dave

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Einstein and UW Dairy Barn

To investigate the concept of Bodies and Material Culture, the students learned about Associate Professor of Marketing Joann Peck’s quantitative research on consumption and touch, or what motivates shoppers to touch and buy products.  The class then visited the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society, where curator Leslie Bellais discussed Victorian-era undergarments, showing the students examples of 19th-century body-shaping garments, corsets, bustles, hoops, and more. The shaping of bodies was also explored through discussions of turn-of-the-century bodybuilders and popular exercise programs, which the students attempted by following the instructions for bodybuilder Eugen Sandow’s popular dumbbell exercises and calisthenics. Bodily modifications of skin, rather than muscle, were the focus of visiting speaker and Milwaukee-based author Amelia Klem Osterud’s discussion of turn-of-the-century “Tattooed Ladies,” sideshow performers who bared their elaborately-decorated skin to paying customers. A visit to the recently-reopened Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection gave students an opportunity to study curious artifacts of Victorian hairwork firsthand, objects that were both made from bodily material—human hair—with the intention of adorning the body. Yoruba practices of bodily adornment and beadwork were the focus of another visit to the Chazen Museum of Art, led by art historian Henry Drewal.

TECHNOLOGY will be the third and final theme of the semester. Given the historic election year, two classes will be devoted to the material culture of campaigns and elections, visiting the Wisconsin Historical Society and curator Paul Bourcier to see examples of historic campaign material (from buttons to powder compacts), and reading about the history of ballot design, voting machines, and the infamous effects of “hanging chads,” “pregnant chads,” and material implications of ballots and ballot designs in the 2004 Presidential election. The course will conclude with a discussion of material cultures of teaching and learning, from the materiality of books (seen firsthand in Special Collections and Rare Books with librarian Robin Rider), to the traditional tools of art history classrooms: slide projectors and the recent transition to powerpoint and digital technologies. Faculty Associate in Astronomy and Director of Space Place James Lattis will guide students in a very different kind of “looking,” demonstrating the technologies in use at the historic Washburn Observatory.

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Campaign materials, Wisconsin Historical Society

Students are working in groups to produce final projects that apply methods of material culture study and analysis learned in class, with projects that range from researching the material culture of yoga practice in the United States to potential landscape plans for the Class of 1920 Memorial Plaza. The combination of assignments and topics examines the way that things help us to connect to the world, see the world in a new way, and give meaning to our lives.

Ellery Foutch is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Humanities and the Department of Art History, University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received her PhD in Art History from the University of Pennsylvania in 2011 with a dissertation entitled “Arresting Beauty: The Perfectionist Impulse of Peale’s Butterflies, Heade’s Hummingbirds, Blaschka’s Flowers, and Sandow’s Body.” She earned her MA from the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art and a BA from Wellesley College. Her work has been supported by fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Philadelphia Area Center for the History of Science.

October 2012 – Guest Lecture and Demonstration

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Marc Vallon, Baroque Bassoon Professor in the School of Music, gave a lecture and demonstration of musical properties with the baroque instrument for Prof. Ann Smart Martin’s class, Art History 363: American Decorative Arts and Interiors: 1620-1840.

September 2012 – Guest Lecture on Greenwood Joinery

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Special Guest Lecture on wood (specifically green wood joinery) for Art History 363: American Decorative Arts and Interiors: 1620-1840, taught by Prof. Ann Smart Martin.

September 2012 – Guest Lecture by Prof. Anna Andrzejewski

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 5.05.48 PMProf. Anna Andrzejewski spoke about cities for Art History 464: Dimensions of Material Culture, taught by Prof. Lauren Kroiz and Ellery Foutch

September 2012 – Guest Lecture by Joel Huntley

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Joel Huntley, a local ceramist, was a guest speaker for Art History 363: American Decorative Arts and Interiors: 1620-1840, taught by Prof. Ann Smart Martin.

October 2011 – Elissa Auther talks about her work and String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art

Elissa Auther has taken on the movement from textiles as “craft” to textiles as “art” and helps us to understand the more radical contemporary craft movement. She is an associate professor of contemporary art at the University of Colorado and the author of String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art, which presents an unconventional history of the American art world, chronicling the advance of thread, rope, string, felt, and fabric from the “low” world of craft to the “high” world of art in the 1960’s and 1970’s and the emergence today of a craft counterculture. She is interested in how feminist artists have embraced these homey craft materials as a critique of the prevailing hierarchies and social structure.Her scholarly work has been supported by major research grants from the J. Paul Getty Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Georgia O’Keefe Museum and Research Center, among others.
Funding provided by the Anonymous Fund.
When: October 5th at 4:30pm – 5:30pm
Where: Room L160 Chazen Museum of Art, 800 University Ave. Madison, WI 53706.

September 2011 – “The Chinese Scholar Pattern: Style, Merchant Identity, and the English Imagination,” Public Lecture

Please join us for this lecture sponsored by the Chipstone Foundation with Sarah Fayen Scarlett on:

Thursday, September 29th at 6:15pm
Milwaukee Art Museum, Lubar Auditorium

Before this summer’s The Way of the Dragon, MAM’s Decorative Arts Gallery featured Enter the Dragon (Winter 2006), which explored the first three decades of the English Chinoiserie style. Curator of that exhibition, Sarah Fayen Scarlett, returns to present research that grew out of that show. Come hear the story of the Chinese Scholar pattern, a simple image of a seated Chinese figure that English potters adopted from Dutch copies of Japanese versions of Chinese Ming porcelain. This tale of seventeenth-century global trade and European fascination with Asia will appear as a full-length article in Chipstone’s next issue of Ceramics in America.

April 2011 – Chicago field trip

Here are some photos from the Chicago field trip (April 2011) taken by students in the seminar AH865: Vernacular Arts: Outsider, Folk, Eccentric, and Other Arts at the Edge, taught by Prof. Ann Smart Martin.  Stops included the House of Blues and Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art.

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Erica Meier walking around the “Architecture of Hope” exhibition at Intuit.

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A group photo taken at the House of Blues. Top row, left to right: Prof. Martin, Lex Lancaster, Chris McGeorge, Amy Brabender. Bottom row, left to right: Emma Silverman and Erica Meier.

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April 2011 – Fred Wilson Events

On April 4-6, 2011, artist and independent curator Fred Wilson visited campus and graciously gave his time to a variety of events, including a public lecture, a brown bag lunch and workshop with graduate and advanced undergraduate students, and guest taught Prof. Nancy Mithlo’s class, AH432, “Multiculturalism and the New Museology.”  Here are some photos from Wilson’s time with Mithlo’s class.

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Prof. Martin with Wilson in the Chazen Museum of Art’s Contemporary Art Gallery.

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Prof. Martin, Wilson, and Prof. Mithlo discussing the changing role of the museum and its relation to different racial, ethnic, and class groups.

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The AH432 class in the contemporary art mezzanine, Chazen Museum of Art.

April 2011 – “The Builder’s Wright: Marshall Erdman, ‘Wrightification’ and Regional Modernism in Madison, WI,” Public Lecture

Friday April 1, 2011
5:00pm, L140 Elvehjem Building
Love ’em or hate ’em,  suburbs and suburbia are very much apart of American consciousness and culture.  Material Culture core faculty member Anna Andrzejewski will be giving this semester’s Friends of Art talk on her current book project that centers on Marshall Erdman, a Madison-based builder, who incorporated Frank Lloyd Wright’s design concepts into his suburban residential and commercial projects.

April 2011 – “Displaying Race: Material Culture, White Identities, and the Postwar House,” Public Lecture and Panel Discussion

Friday April 1, 2011

5:00pm, L140 Elvehjem Building

Love ’em or hate ’em,  suburbs and suburbia are very much apart of American consciousness and culture.  Material Culture core faculty member Anna Andrzejewski will be giving this semester’s Friends of Art talk on her current book project that centers on Marshall Erdman, a Madison-based builder, who incorporated Frank Lloyd Wright’s design concepts into his suburban residential and commercial projects.

April 2011 – “The Work of a Rogue Wisconsin Fountain Pen Maker,” Lecture

Thursday, April 7, 2011
5:00-6:30pm , Conrad A. Elvehjem Building L150
Mr. Sorgatz will discuss his process of prototyping and crafting fountain pens from scratch using late nineteenth and early twentieth century designs. He will discuss how he uses modern materials and technologies to create new and innovative based loosely upon the work of pioneering pen makers such as Parker Pen of Janesville, Wisconsin.  He will also discuss the overlap of engineering and handcraft in the lecture and may possibly bring a nineteenth century decorative turning machine to demonstrate.
This is the first of two public lectures associated with the 2011 Mid-America American Studies Association conference, “The Life of the Object.”

April 2011 – “Textile Salvage”

Friday, April 8, 2011
8:30-9:30am, Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L160

Dr. Hanna Rose Shell, assistant professor in The Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT, will be the keynote speaker at the 2011 Mid-America American Studies Association annual conference, being held April 7-10, 2011.  Please come to what is sure to be a facscinating and timely talk.  Below is an abstract of the lecture:

“Clothing, almost by definition, is a circulating technology that is also a medium of social transmission: material culture par excellence. It is both the means and the site for storage and the spread, and the withholding, of information. Clothes are made to be carried by the human body (as in the French porter and the Haitian Creole pote) as the body moves through space, time and life in the world. From their origins in the first days of human culture and into the twenty-first century, textile skins were portable artifacts and temporary prostheses, material culture shaped by the demands of a mobile body and inscribed with markers of that body’s history. The demands on clothing have always been high – armor (protection against shame, enemies, and the elements) and aesthetics, comfort and durability. The portability of clothing, and its proximity to the human body, means that it is also changeable. Clothes are technologies in continual flux. As this keynote lecture will argue, recycled clothes wear the traces and bear the burdens of an increasingly global history of American material culture.”
–Hanna Rose Shell

April 2011 – MAASA/Material Culture Conference: “The Life of the Object”

The Life Of The Object: An Experimental Workshop And Conference On Production, Consumption, and Creative Reuse In American Culture

The Mid-America American Studies Association (MAASA) Conference at The University of Wisconsin-Madison

Sponsored by the UW Art History Department, the Material Culture Certificate Program, the Material Culture Focus Group, the Art History Grad Forum, and the Chipstone Foundation

April 7-11, 2011

Historians and cultural critics who study objects have long focused on the relationships between production and consumption, but these dynamics deserve reexamination in today’s object-flooded world. At the same time, the concept and aesthetic of reuse is enjoying the spotlight in contemporary fashion and design, but has been employed for many years by architects, artists, and the American public as a strategy for survival as well as a political statement. This interdisciplinary experimental workshop and conference invites questions related to the core themes of production, consumption, and reuse in American history and contemporary life.

This workshop and conference offers an unconventional venue for considering the role of objects in American culture. It will consist of hands-on workshops and experiments with objects while also offering a more traditional scholarly context for the presentation of papers. We believe that our understanding of material culture relies as much upon rigorous scholarly research as the sensorial and tactile engagement with artifacts and cultural landscapes.

For more information, visit the MAASA website

April 2011 – “REFASHIONING IDENTITY: Secondhand Clothing in Haiti and the Diaspora” 

Keynote lecture of the 2011 Mid-America American Studies Association conference.  Free and open to the public!

“REFASHIONING IDENTITY: Secondhand Clothing in Haiti and the Diaspora”
Dr. Hanna Rose Shell, MIT
Friday, April 8, 2011
8:30am Room L160, Conrad A. Elvehjem Building

Description: Clothing is a circulating technology that is also a medium of social transmission: material culture par excellence. This multimedia lecture and film presentation examines “pèpè,” or secondhand clothes imported into Haiti from North America.  Recycled clothes wear the traces and bear the burdens of an increasingly global history of American material culture.

Dr. Shell is assistant professor at MIT in the Program in Science, Technology and Society, and Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows.Sponsored by the University Lectures Committee, Material Culture Focus Group, Art History Department, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology  Department, Art History GradForum, and the Center for Visual Cultures.

April 2011 – “Object as Interface” Symposium

March 2011 – “Displaying Race: Material Culture, White Identities, and the Postwar House,” Public Lecture and Panel Discussion

Public Lecture: “Displaying Race: Material Culture, White Identities, and the Postwar House” Monday, March 28, 2011, 5:30 PM, Location: Chazen Museum of Art Room L140

This lecture demonstrates the ways in which the owners and occupants of ordinary postwar houses in the United States (1945-60) used the consumption and display of household objects as a means to confirm their purchase of white, middle-class, American identities. Individuals and families construct and reveal their identities through artifacts purchased for and displayed in the home in an ongoing process that changes as they try out different notions of the self that are nonetheless contained within specific parameters of race, class, and gender. Possessing and carefully displaying the right items helped to ameliorate the homogeneous monotony of hones in some suburban developments–a homogeneity that could be associated with images of the non-white and lower classes. But consumer goods were also a crucial measure of distinction among a group that was newly upwardly mobile, newly affluent, perhaps even newly “white.” Material goods then, helped affirm class and race and became especially important to those whose identities were in flux as they moved from dwellings shared with immigrant parents into homes of their own, and in the process, forged new identities. Storage also became a carefully calculated matter that balanced what had to be concealed with what best served the family through being revealed. Built-in storage and cabinetry assumed new significance in ordinary postwar houses since a closed cabinet implies capacity and occupation by goods that are simultaneously well-managed. I will therefore examine some postwar habits of consumption and the ways houses changed to accommodate the new goods that carried specific symbolic meanings for Americans who sought to confirm their racial and class identities in the postwar era.

Panel Discussion: “History and Fate of the Postwar American Suburb, “Monday, March 28, 2011, 10:00 am to 12:00 noon
Location: Memorial Library Room 126 (West Corridor), 728 State Street

Participants include:
–Dianne Harris, Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture, Architecture, Art History, and History; Director, Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
–Arnold R. Alanen, Professor Emeritus, Department of Landscape Architecture
–Anna Vemer Andrzejewski, Associate Professor, Department of Art History and Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures Program
–Kurt Paulsen, Assistant Professor, Department of Urban and Regional Planning
–Brad Murphy, Director, Planning Division, City of Madison
–Daina Penkiunas, National Register Coordinator, Division of Historic Preservation, Wisconsin Historical Society

Description: So-called suburban studies is a hot topic of late in academic scholarship; recent books on Levittown and other postwar landscapes are coming out in abundance. Historic preservationists are wrestling with whether or not and how to preserve these landscapes, just as planners and developers are trying, in various ways, to consider the future of postwar suburban spaces as they built “new urbanist” communities in and near postwar developments. This panel examines the state of the “postwar American suburb” as a topic for study as well as a physical reality. Panelists will come at this topic from a number of perspectives, and consider both practical and theoretical questions.

Discussion topics will include:
–How has scholarship on postwar suburbia changed over the past 60 years?
–How has recent scholarship on this topic challenged prevailing ideas of the postwar house? The postwar suburb? Urban sprawl?
–What kinds of questions are historians exploring now in postwar suburbia and why?
–What has been the impact of the so-called “new urbanism” and “sustainable design” on postwar suburbs and the buildings within them?
–How has recent popular interest in “mid-century modern” design affected the ideas about postwar suburbia?
–How are preservation regulations and/or urban planning laws favoring (or not) the preservation or redevelopment of these spaces?

Presented with funding from the Mellon Foundation/UW Center for the Humanities and in conjunction with Illuminate: Year of the Arts.

Professor Harris’s visit is also co-sponsored by the Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures Program, the Material Culture Program, the Design Studies Department, the Department of Art History, and the Visual Cultures Student Focus Group.

March 2011 – “The Traditional Arts of Wisconsin’s Industrial Workers”   Public Lecture

Please join us for an illustrated talk by University of Wisconsin-Madison folklorist Jim Leary this Sunday, March 27, at 1:30 pm in the James Watrous Gallery, located in the Overture Center for the Arts, located at 201 State Street.

This free talk is in conjunction with the photography exhibition Wisconsin Labor: A Contemporary Portrait.

Wisconsin’s culturally diverse industrial workforce has included many practitioners of traditional arts who have used job site skills, scraps, experiences, and downtime to fashion carvings, fabrics, musical instruments, sculptures, songs, stories, and more.  Although the creations of these folk artists sometimes evoke their particular occupations as factory and construction workers, they often conjure an ethnically homogeneous, rural, handmade, holistic, largely bygone world contrasting markedly with their cosmopolitan, urban, mechanical, fragmented, contemporary surroundings.  Folklorist Jim Leary will offer an illustrated presentation on the significance of such industrial workers and traditional artists as a Ho-Chunk ironworker adept at bridge construction who relies on metalwork skills to make German Silver jewelry, an African American industrial seamstress who transforms scraps from hemmed pants into quilts, a Serbian immigrant crane operator who carves black walnut miniatures of his Old Country peasant village, and a Hmong weaver of bamboo baskets who finds a new medium in plastic strapping castoff from pallet loads.

December 2010 – Baroque Bassoonist plays for Art History 363

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Prof. Vallon with his reproduction eighteenth century bassoon, which he made himself.

Marc Vallon, associate professor in the School of Music here at UW-Madison, graciously agreed to come to Prof. Martin’s AH363 class to play the baroque bassoon.  Prof. Vallon brought two bassoons, one in the eighteenth century style, which he made himself, and a modern model.  He played both and put the music and the instrument into a historical context.

December 2010 – Artists Talk with “Handmade Meaning” Contributors

Artists Susan White of Madison, Anne Kingsbury and Courtney Heimerl, both of Milwaukee, gathered to speak abut their work and then answered questions as a panel, moderated by Prof. Beverly Gordon of the Design Studies Department.  Each artist gave a talk about their working methods and piece(s) in the show.  Some themes discussed by them, in both their talks and in the Q&A focused on time, repetition, and meditation.

White presented a new performance art piece where she examined the role of making and notion of work without producing an object through crocheting a chain, the foundation of all crocheted objects.  Kingsbury talked at length about the role time plays in her art practice of beading images of her journals, where she records the time it takes her to complete activities.  Heimerl gave a history of her involvement with craft.  Her embroidery is featured in the show, and the theme she takes up in the objects on display are death and coming to terms with it as a life process.

December 2010 – “Handmade Meaning” Exhibit

Beginning last spring, the Art History department’s Exhibitions Class, under the direction of Professor Ann Smart Martin, put together an exhibition on 19th century crafts made by women and the contemporary objects that respond to them entitled “Handmade Meaning: The Value of Craft in Victorian and Contemporary Culture.”  Taught with the help of Martha Glowacki, director of the James Watrous Gallery, and Emily Pfotenhauer, Outreach Specialist with Wisconsin Heritage Online, and creator of the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database, the class chose and researched the objects.The Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters’ publication, Wisconsin People and Ideas, featured an article written about the exhibit, in which Emily lays out the collaborative process used to create this exhibit and some of the concepts found in the show, notably notions of nature, memory, community, and amateurism.  Also in conjunction with with the exhibit is a blog which features more in-depth research on objects, related craft information and events, and the community art project that accompanies “Handmade Meaning”.  Thanks to Art graduate student Andrea Miller for coordinating this effort!  Please take a look at the blog, and thanks to Design Studies graduate student Rebecca Keyel for creating and managing it!
Handmade Meaning: The Value of Craft in Victorian and Contemporary Culture
December 17, 2010 to February 6, 2011
James Watrous Gallery, Overture Center for the Arts
201 State Street
Photos from the Opening of the Exhibition:
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December 2010 – “Wax, Coral and Woolen Pac-Men: The Domestic Handicraft Paradigm 1810-2010” 

Public Lecture
Dec. 2, 2010 4pm
7191 Helen C. White Hall
Amateur domestic handicraft had become an enormously popular hobby by the middle of the nineteenth century. Women pasted shells on boxes, formed wax flowers, designed scrap screens, cut cardboard into workbaskets, sewed fish scales to silk, twisted wire, spattered ink over ferns, stuffed birds. Through close readings of Victorian craft discourse, this talk analyzes the way women articulated their cultural concerns through handicraft. Domestic handicraft gave women a way to articulate their own modernity and industrial prowess, while simultaneously critiquing the modern financial world in which they lived. The talk concludes by explaining how the core values of contemporary craft actually update ideas first articulated by the Victorians.
Talia Schaffer is an associate professor of English at Queens College CUNY and the Graduate Center CUNY. She is the author of The Forgotten Female Aesthetes; Literary Culture in Late-Victorian England (2001); co-editor with Kathy A. Psomiades of Women and British Aestheticism (1999); editor of Lucas Malet’s 1901 novel, The History of Sir Richard Calmady (2003); and editor of Literature and Culture at the Fin de Siècle (2006).  Novel Craft: Fiction and the Victorian Domestic Handicraft (Oxford, forthcoming), is about the history of amateur handicraft and codes of aesthetic and economic representation in the mid-Victorian novel. She has published widely on non-canonical women writers, material culture, popular fiction, aestheticism, and late-Victorian texts.

November 2010 – Ceramic Demonstration by Joel Huntley

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Huntley with AH363 students.

Joel Huntley, a local potter, recently demonstrated 18th century ceramic techniques for Prof. Martin’s class, “Early American Decorative Arts: 1620-1840” at the Art Lofts.  Techniques included: slip trailing, joggling, and mocha diffusion, seen here in the photograph.  This process employs a tobacco and oxide mixture that, when dripped onto the slip, creates spider-like motifs.  Huntley owns the Wisconsin Pottery in Columbus, Wisconsin, and his work is featured at the Smithsonian Institution, among other locations.

November 2010 – “The Dominy Craftsmen: Who, What, When, and Why?”

Lecture to be held on Tuesday, November 9, 5:30pm,
L140 Elvehjem Building
The Dominy Craftsmen: Who, What, When, and Why?
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One page of the many Dominy shop records, now in the ownership of Winterthur Museum and Garden, Winterthur, DE.

Charles F. Hummel, Curator Emeritus and Adjunct Professor, Winterthur Museum and Garden, will explore aspects of the lives and products of a family of craftsmen who lived and worked in East Hampton Village. For more than one hundred years, ca. 1750-ca.1850, four generations of the Dominy family supported themselves and their families with the products of their craft activity. “The Dominy Craftsmen: Who, What, When, and Why?” explores the social, economic and cultural factors that help to explain why they prospered and the factors that shaped the products of their shops.
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Patterns used for table legs, and turned pieces.

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Bedsteads made by the Dominys.

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The best sort of scholarship: written records to go along with objects!

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A carving tool with decorative scroll work on the blade.

October 2010 – “Lynn Sorgatz: The Pen Dude,” Guest Post by Emma Silverman and Amy Brabender

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Emma, Amy and Stefan, members of the Exhibition Committee for the Material Culture Conference this spring, went on a research trip last Friday. They ventured out to Orfordville Wisconsin to visit the workshop of Lynn Sorgatz, an artist-engineer. Sorgatz is one of a handful of craftspeople in the United States who restore and construct fountain pens using vintage designs and materials. He uses labor-intensive techniques such as lathing and polishing acrylic and cellulose acetate for the pen bodies, hand tooling metals for ornamentation, and carving shells to decorate the exteriors. Sorgatz’s pens will be exhibited on campus in conjunction with the conference, and he will be lecturing about his work and the history of pen making in Wisconsin on the first evening of the conference.

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Lynn Sorgtatz’s studio: in the foreground, cellulose acetate pen bodies, in the background, some of the machines Lynn uses to make them.

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Lynn displays some of his handiwork.

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Emma and Amy listen attentively about Lynn’s process.

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A colorful display of raw materials used for pen bodies: cellulose acetate, celluloid, hard rubber, and acrylic.

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An example of Lynn Sorgatz’s work- a pen made of ivory-like cellulose acetate and pearl.

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Another example of Lynn Sorgatz’s work- his patented Triad pen made of cellulose acetate.

September 2010 – A Visit to Metalsmith Fred Fenster’s Home and Studio

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Fred Fenster with his UW Metals predecessor, Kim Cridler.

On Sunday September 26th, metalsmith Fred Fenster graciously welcomed the “Makers: Historic American Studio Craft” seminar class into his home and studio.  To our surprise, he had a table full of snacks and drinks waiting for us, and after settling into his living room, the class sat around while he talked about his long and fruitful career, from his training at CUNY to his graduate work at Cranbrook Academy, and about his long teaching career here at the UW.  After this, we went down to his studio where he demonstrated some of his signature techniques and spoke about the plethora of tools that he owns, many of them intended for other purposes, which bespeaks his creativity and practicality.

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A design for a kiddush cup and allen wrenches with golf ball handles for a better grip.

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Fred and Kim with Material Culture program director Ann Smart Martin.

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Fred creating a folding line on his piece of silver through the use of an allen wrench.

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Another wall of tools in Fenster’s studio.

September 2010 – Mobile Making in Art History 563

Here are some photos taken by Professor Ann Smart Martin of her mobile making exercise in the Material Culture methods seminar, AH563.  This semester’s focus is “Skilled Hands and Inquisitive Minds.”  The goal of the activity was to learn about craft and workmanship, work process, and the meaning behind objects not only through seminar discussion, but through doing.
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The potential meaning-making objects spread out on the table.

Some of the issues brought up about craft and workmanship was the balance of free creativity and the need and use of an established design or pattern, as all made the same product.  People created their mobiles with choices informed by color, shape, or theme, and it is through these choices and associations that students individualized them and made these objects meaningful and symbolic.
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A student shares her finished mobile.

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PhD student Amy Braebender with her mobile.

September 2010 – Guest Lecture in Art History 363 by B.A. Harrington

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BA Harrington, a practicing studio furniture maker and a graduate student in Art History, guest lectured in Prof. Martin’s AH363 class, American Decorative Arts and Interiors: 1620-1840.  She holds a MFA in 3-D/Wood from the UW, granted in 2007, and will finish her MA in Art History this year.  Her unique position as both an artist and academic allows for a unique interpretation of objects that draws on both the making and the using of objects.  Her own work explores the connections between older furniture forms and can be seen at her website,