Roots/Routes: Spirituality and Modern Mobility in American Art, 1900-1935


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Art History


US artists and audiences found in religious subjects a means to navigate early twentieth-century experiences of mobility and displacement. These works located a spiritualized sense of place in an increasingly dislocated world—roots in the midst of routes—and challenge theories that modernity's forces were unilaterally secularizing. This dissertation looks across decades of unprecedented movement of people and capital to examine artists, viewers, and objects in motion: from stereographs of Palestine in northeastern parlors to Marsden Hartley’s still lifes of southwestern santos; from Henry Ossawa Tanner’s and John Singer Sargent’s expatriate paintings in Europe to Violet Oakley’s altarpieces on battleships in the Pacific; and to John Steuart Curry’s scenes of spirituality in the migratory Midwest. Together these examples demonstrate how differently positioned individuals—from diverse racial or ethnic groups, mainstream or marginalized—experienced American modernity’s unmooring effects in distinct ways, and sought a means of anchorage through artistic representation.