Christina Michelon is the recipient of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Patricia and Phillip Frost Essay Award for her article “The In/Visibility of Mourning: Seeing Labor, Loss and Enslavement in an Antebellum Posthumous Portrait,” which appeared in the summer 2021 issue (vol. 35, no. 2) of American Art, the museum’s peer-reviewed journal for new scholarship. Michelon’s essay reframes Sarah Miriam Peale’s posthumous portrait “Mary Leypold Griffith (1838–41)” within the material culture of mourning to reveal the hidden experiences, labor and grief of people enslaved by the Griffith family. The award’s jurors praised Michelon for her “analysis of the construction of Whiteness in the American South, rendered all the more powerful through the invisible sway of its power.”
The jurors who awarded the $1,000 prize were Jolene Rickard (Tuscarora), associate professor of art history and visual studies at Cornell University; Anne Collins Goodyear, co-director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art; and Michael Hatt, professor of art history at the University of Warwick. All three are members of the journal’s editorial board.
The jurors noted “Michelon reveals the emotional economy of the American South, in which mourning itself becomes an activity of privilege, and one that is adamantly denied one of Mary’s own caregivers. Through her rigorous analysis of Peale’s painting, Michelon provides an invaluable model for the deconstruction of Whiteness and the privilege it confers, crafting a model for contending with race and reading production of fine art and its histories against the grain.”
The Frost Essay Award recognizes excellent scholarship in the field of American art history by honoring an essay published the previous year in American Art. Each year, the winning essay must advance the understanding of American art history and demonstrate original research and fresh ideas. The award, established in 2004, is made possible through the Patricia and Phillip Frost Endowment.
Michelon is assistant curator of art and special collections at the Boston Athenæum where she stewards a collection that ranges from works on paper and rare books to photography, painting and sculpture. She specializes in 19th-century American visual and material culture. Michelon earned a doctorate in art history from the University of Minnesota in 2018. Before joining the Athenæum, she completed a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society (2020) and a postdoctoral fellowship at the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library (2019). Her research has appeared in the journals Commonplace, J19: The Journal of 19th-Century Americanists and Panorama. She currently is working on a book about “printcraft” (the creative reuse of printed material), an exhibition about 19th-century images of ruins after urban fires and is leading the Boston Athenæum’s major art reinstallation project.
For only the second time in the history of the award, the jury has given a 2021 Frost Essay Award honorable mention to Louise Siddons for her article “Red Power in the Black Panther: Radical Imagination and Intersectional Resistance at Wounded Knee,” which also appeared in the summer 2021 issue (vol. 35, no. 2) of American Art. The jurors recognized that the essay “not only brought overlooked graphic material to our attention, but also produced a powerful historical argument about the role of what Siddons calls ‘intersectional aesthetics’ in political resistance. Moreover, the essay is an important reminder that this history continues, and that visual culture still has an urgent role to play in uniting social justice movements in an increasingly splintered world.”
Siddons is a professor of art history at Oklahoma State University, specializing in American art and the marginalized visual cultures of modernity. She earned a doctorate from Stanford University in 2005. She is the author of a monograph, Centering Modernism: J. Jay McVicker and Postwar American Art, published by the University of Oklahoma Press (2018).
The journal American Art is part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s active publication program of books and catalogs that complements the museum’s exhibitions and educational programs. Information about subscribing, purchasing single issues or submitting articles to the journal, which is published for the museum by the University of Chicago Press, is available online. A complete list of past Frost Essay Award winners and additional information about the award are available on the museum’s website.
About the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is home to one of the most significant and inclusive collections of American art in the world. Its artworks reveal America’s rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today. The museum’s main building is located at Eighth and G streets N.W., above the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail station. Its Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft and decorative arts, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. The museums are open on a modified schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic; check americanart.si.edu/visit for the current hours and admission information. Admission is free. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Website: americanart.si.edu.