Unfree Artists on the Borders of US Empire, 1850-1930


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Art History and Archaeology


This dissertation examines unfree artistic labor in the United States from the final years of formal slavery to the creation of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. This project considers stoneware vessels made by enslaved potters in Texas; ledger drawings made by Kiowa and Southern Cheyenne prisoners of war in Florida; and wicker chairs made by incarcerated weavers in the occupied Philippines. These case studies trace a series of forced migrations along the borders of the expanding US empire, in which material entanglements with the land—clay, paper, and rattan—mirrored artists’ own precarity of place. However, these unfree artists found ways to negotiate traumatic circumstances in order to assert their agency and humanity. This dissertation establishes unfree artistic labor as foundational to the development of US art and material culture.