Welcome Letter

Dear Colleagues, Students, Alumni, Auditors, and Friends,

Greetings! I hope that you all have had a good summer and that the Omicron AB5 variant has not disrupted your lives.

Please let me start by introducing myself. My name is Kirsten Wolf, and I am a Professor and the Torger Thompson Chair in the Department of German, Nordic, and Slavic+. I took over from Professor Jordan Rosenblum in July as chair of the Department of Art History. It is truly an honor for me to work with wonderful colleagues in what is a world-class Art History department at a world-renowned state university.

I have quite a bit of news for you in terms of staff and faculty (hence my lengthy message). I’m very happy to report that Peggy Hacker has joined the department as our new department administrator. Peggy comes to us from the Law School, where she served as the Department Administrator for the Frank J. Remington Center—a clinical legal education center that consists of ten clinical programs with fifteen full-time attorneys providing education and supervision to 70–100 law students annually and focuses on providing legal services to hundreds of clinical clients each year. Peggy has over twenty years of experience in this setting where she was responsible for administrative and budgetary oversight including: providing budgetary oversight, financial, and cost analysis support to the Director; developing administrative processes as necessary to support changing program needs; tracking and managing client databases; overseeing client intake for core projects; and managing all Remington Center grants and contracts. Peggy replaces Diane Bolland, who retired in the spring. We thank Diane for her dedicated service to the department and wish her all the best during her well-deserved retirement.

I am delighted to announce that we have a new faculty member: Dr. Steffani Bennett, Assistant Professor of Japanese Art and the Joan B. Mirviss Chair in Japanese Art. Steffani received her Ph.D. from the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University in 2020. Before joining our department, Steffani was a postdoctoral fellow at the Chinese Art Media Lab and a college fellow at Harvard University, respectively between 2020 and 2022. Her scholarly expertise spans medieval to early modern Japan, including the interactions between Japan and neighboring states in East Asia. In particular, her research focuses on Zen Buddhist art and examines the career and painting of one of the best-known Japanese artists Sesshū Tōyō (1420–ca. 1506). Her research uncovers previously unknown aspects of Japanese and Chinese cultural exchange and demonstrates how Sesshū’s travels to China transformed his painting.

For the first time in many years, we will begin a semester without Professor Ann Smart Martin. Ann came to the Department of Art History as the new Stanley and Polly Stone Professor and Chair in 1998. Since, she has taught courses investigating two and a half centuries of American interiors and objects of art, craft, and commerce. Her second area of teaching was in exhibition practice and museum studies with ten successful exhibitions and related programming: seven were held at the Chazen Museum of Art or other UW–Madison locations on campus, and two partnered with local and regional institutions. One class project became part of the permanent exhibition American Enterprise at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. In addition, Ann is a prolific researcher. Her book Buying into the World of Goods: Early Consumers in Backcountry Virginia was lauded for its interdisciplinary excellence, winning best book prizes in both material culture and business history. Her ongoing digital humanities project William Ramsay’s World: Accounting for Material Culture in Pre-Revolutionary Virginia continues her multi-year engagement with historical evidence of global trade, mercantile practice, and retail sales to re-imagine the material culture and business of colonial America. When complete, this project will be the first visual dictionary of objects and online chronicle of consumer behavior in early America. Finally, her book manuscript Before the Light Bulb: A Material Culture of Lighting in American Homes is nearing completion. It analyzes how light was created, augmented, experienced, and ultimately transformed in America in the two centuries before electricity.

Professor Thomas Dale is the new Simona and Jerome Chazen Distinguished Chair. As you probably all know, Tom is an internationally recognized historian of medieval European art, who explores the powerful role of visual images in the spheres of religion, politics, cultural exchange, and race. While the topics of his research range from narratives on clothing in late antique Egypt to modernist reliquaries, he has become a leading authority in two distinct fields: medieval Venice and its interactions with the Byzantine and Islamic worlds, and Romanesque painting and sculpture of twelfth-century Europe.

Three of our faculty members will be on leave this year. 1) Professor Preeti Chopra is the recipient of the 2023 Suzanne Deal Booth Rome Prize at the American Academy in Rome. In a tradition spanning more than a century, the Academy has awarded the prestigious Rome Prize to support original and interdisciplinary work in the arts and humanities. While in Rome, Preeti will work on a new project entitled Historic Preservation, British Monuments, and the Legacy of Ancient Rome in Modern India. Thomas R. Metcalf, the distinguished historian has described in his book An Imperial Vision: Indian Architecture and Britain’s Raj that the British saw the Romans as a model for their own imperial venture. In this project, Chopra will push Metcalf’s insights further to explore how the British made Roman monuments and architecture part of India’s history and tangible heritage. If the Romanized British became Indianized in India, many Indians became Romanized through their inhabitation and construction of buildings, philanthropy, and monument-making. Roman influence also came through missionaries, such as the Jesuits. In exploring what the historian Sanjay Subrahmanyam calls “connected histories,” Chopra will reveal another example of the profound reach of Ancient and Early Modern Rome in the global world, and in doing so show how this complicates Historic Conservation practice and debates, not only in India, but in other contemporary contexts. 2) Professor Anna Andrzejewski received a semester long Institute for Research in the Humanities resident fellowship in the fall. In the spring, Anna will be a Hagley-NEH fellow at the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, DE. Hagley is the leading research center on the history of American enterprise. While there, Anna will be researching a collection of Florida tourist ephemera, an essential part of the book she is writing on the history of vacation and retirement communities in Florida. The ephemera collection is a recent donation to the Hagley, and Anna will be one of the first scholars to consult it. She hopes this fellowship will allow her to complete her book, tentatively entitled Building Paradise: A History of White, Middle-Class Leisure Landscapes in Postwar South Florida. 3) Professor Yuhang Li will be on sabbatical during the fall. As a J. S. Lee Memorial Scholarship recipient, a prestigious fellowship supporting the study of Chinese collection in the museums worldwide, Yuhang will conduct research for her second book project at the Beijing Palace Museum in China. Her new research concentrates on Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908), the de facto ruler of Qing China and her involvement in the court stage reform. Yuhang will work with the Palace Museum’s experts closely and systematically study artifacts that are related to the plays staged for the Empress Dowager’s jubilee of her birthdays during the last four decades of the Qing dynasty. These artifacts include drawings and models of stage design, stage settings, theatrical props, costumes, and the images representing theatrical subject. In particular, she investigates these artifacts from the perspective of stage craft-making and discusses how such materialization creates a spectacle of privileged imperial longevity.

If you are interested in learning more about our department, please do not hesitate to contact me.

My best wishes,

Kirsten Wolf
Professor and Torger Thompson Chair
Chair, Department of Art History