Art history prof leads Scholars' Day at the Met
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art are, from left, Catherine Walsh, Melody Deusner, Anna Marley, Thayer Tolles, Karen Sherry, Wendy Bellion and Catherine von Holochwost. Photo by Maurie McInnis

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8:07 a.m., Dec. 11, 2009----Leading a group of 70 scholars and curators through a private showing of a major art exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City was a unique and exciting event for Wendy Bellion, University of Delaware associate professor of art history.

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Bellion, along with colleague David Lubin of Wake Forest University, was invited by the curators of “American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765-1915” to lead a group of art historians through the exhibition during a Scholars' Day on Monday, Nov. 16, when the museum was closed to the public.

“It was an honor to be asked to lead the group of invitation-only art historians,” Bellion said, “It was a wonderful day -- not only to see the amazing collection of paintings closely, but to gain insight and input from scholars in the field as they discussed the works of art.”

In the morning the group of 70 toured the exhibition with the Metropolitan curators who had assembled the exhibition, and in the afternoon Bellion and Lubin led the group in discussion.

“Since my focus is on early American art, I covered the period to the Civil War and David discussed the later works,” Bellion said. Artists featured within the exhibition included such noted painters as Charles Willson Peale, Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt and George Bellows.

“The exhibition was based in part on paintings that told stories, such as a famous portrait of Paul Revere, by John Singleton Copley, showing him as a silversmith with a teapot and the tools of his trade,” Bellion said. “The tour of the exhibition was like a seminar on the move. I asked questions to start discussion rolling, such as, how do paintings operate as vehicles for storytelling? How do paintings tell tales differently than other sorts of narrative media, such as novels or plays? How do paintings that represent figures talking or playing music invite us to listen as well as look?”

The University of Delaware was well represented at the Scholars' Day with alumni and graduate students who were invited to participate. “I was delighted by the size of the group from UD,” Bellion said. “Few graduate students were in attendance from other schools, and both the current and former UD students made tremendous contributions to the discussion. Their presence at such events is a testament to the strength of our graduate program and its national reputation.”

Two recent alumni attending were Thayer Tolles, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Anna Marley, a curator at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The graduate students, several of whom hold prestigious predoctoral fellowships at different institutions, included Catherine von Holochwost and Melody Deusner, both at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Catherine Walsh at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art; and Karen Sherry, a curator of American art at the Brooklyn Museum of American Art.

Bellion is the author of a forthcoming book, Citizen Spectator: Art, Illusion and Visual Perception in Early National America, to be published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2010 for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. The book explores the exhibition of illusionistic art and objects in the early United States.

She also is planning a pair of graduate seminars for fall 2010 with Edward Larkin, associate professor of English, on “The Art and Literature of the American Revolution in Global Contexts,” supported by an Integrated Semester grant from the UD College of Arts and Sciences' new Research Institute for the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Article by Sue Moncure

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