Three fellows chosen for the Blanton’s annual curatorial program
The Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin is pleased to announce the three recipients of their annual Andrew W. Mellon Fellowships — a prestigious curatorial training program generously funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation since 2013: Aja Mujinga Sherrard, Christine Zepeda, and Lucy Quezada.
The Mellon Fellowships are one academic year in length and awarded through a competitive process to current and incoming Ph.D. students in UT’s art history program. Three positions are offered per year, one in each of the Blanton’s core collection areas: Prints and Drawings, European Paintings; Modern and Contemporary Art; and Latin American Art.
“We are thrilled to welcome this year’s accomplished group of Mellon Fellows to the Blanton, where their scholarship and wide-ranging perspectives will be an incredible asset,” said Carter E. Foster, Blanton deputy director of curatorial affairs. “Now in its seventh year thanks to the generosity and support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, this fellowship program strengthens the Blanton’s educational mission by providing invaluable professional experience to scholars and future museum leaders, who will no doubt shape the field in significant ways. Our team is looking forward to working alongside Aja Mujinga Sherrard, Christine Zepeda, and Lucy Quezada and following their future accomplishments.”
Developed in collaboration with UT’s Department of Art and Art History, the fellowship program is intended to provide hands-on professional training and develop skills ranging from advanced object research and connoisseurship to identifying curricular connections and creating interpretive resources. All fellows execute a project that grows out of their work at the Blanton, which could include a gallery installation, electronic publication, catalogue essay, brochure, audio-visual materials, or other interpretive resources for university and community audiences.
Original scholarship by past Mellon Fellows has led to the development of several exhibitions in the Blanton’s Paper Vault galleries. Examples include Dancing with Death (2017), From the Page to the Street: Latin American Conceptualism (2018), and the current exhibition Without Limits: Helen Frankenthaler, Abstraction, and the Language of Print. Fellows have also helped design public lectures and symposia like Facing Racism: Art & Action, in conjunction with the exhibition Vincent Valdez: The City (2018), and Conversations in Conservation, which looked at several of the Blanton’s Old Master paintings as case studies for conservation and analysis.
Past Mellon Fellows also have contributed to the museum’s interpretive materials by researching and writing labels for objects in the Blanton’s collection, including for the museum’s 2017 reinstallation of its collection. Another undertaking has been to conduct interviews with key artists from the collection, notably, Eleanore Mikus and Mary Corse, as part of the museum’s growing archive of video interviews with contemporary artists. More recently, 2020-2021 fellows, who completed their fellowships remotely, also participated in digital programs like Curated Conversations, the virtual series that takes a closer look at the Blanton’s collection and exhibitions.
"While working on research and label writing for After Michelangelo, Past Picasso: Leo Steinberg's Library of Prints and Without Limits: Helen Frankenthaler, Abstraction, and the Language of Print, I was exposed to almost every aspect of curatorial practice, from object selection and placement to interpretation,” said Jana La Brasca, 2020-2021 Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Prints and Drawings. “Despite the challenges of remote work during the pandemic, my fellowship at the Blanton was a bright spot in dark times. It offered me not only the opportunity to collaborate meaningfully with colleagues at the museum, but also an education in the history and display of works on paper."
The Mellon Fellows each receive a $22,000 stipend and benefits, a $2,000 travel allowance to attend a museum- or object-focused conference or symposium related to their area of study, or to travel with curators for research, as well as $1,750 to support a special project. Additionally, this year UT’s Department of Art and Art History have contributed $8,000 to each fellow’s university tuition costs.
The Blanton was originally awarded a five-year grant of $500,000 in 2013 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which was renewed in 2020 for another five-year period. The 2020-2021 Mellon Fellows were the first to receive their grants from this additional funding. This year’s 2021–2022 class of fellows will be the second cohort under this most recent grant.
The fellowship program is part of the Blanton’s larger commitment to serve university audiences, which includes curriculum-based teaching, interdisciplinary learning, cross-campus collaboration, and professional development. In addition to the Mellon Fellowships, the Blanton offers several graduate teaching fellowships to UT educators-in-training to work with area school partners and campus audiences, as well as undergraduate internships in multiple museum departments.
About the 2021–2022 Mellon Fellows
Aja Mujinga Sherrard, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Modern and Contemporary Art
Aja Mujinga Sherrard is a doctoral student in the Department of Art and Art History at The University of Texas at Austin. Her research interests concentrate on queer, feminist, and hybrid visualizations of selfhood across the Black Atlantic, as well as the ways anticolonial practices from the African Diaspora and Indigenous Americas echo and complicate one another. Sherrard received her B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College, and completed both a M.A. and a M.F.A. from the University of Montana, where she focused on conceptual art and problems of eurocentrism embedded in the art historical pedagogy. She is beginning her dissertation research under the supervision of Dr. Cherise Smith. Between graduate programs, Sherrard spent three years as an Assistant Professor of studio art and art history at the University of Montana Western, where she managed exhibitions of the permanent collection and produced the program of visiting contemporary exhibitions as the university’s Gallery Coordinator. She has worked with Tippet Rise Art Center in Montana, the Headlands Center for the Arts in California, and all three iterations of the Race and Poetics conference, “Thinking its Presence.”
Christine Zepeda, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Prints and Drawings
Christine Zepeda is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Art and Art History at The University of Texas at Austin. Advised by Dr. Joan Holladay and Dr. Jeffrey Smith, her doctoral research reexamines court art, material culture, and elite architectural spaces from the perspective of royal women in medieval England. Her dissertation, entitled “Royal Women’s Visual and Other Sensory Cultures in Plantagenet England (1236–1409),” employs the principles of anthropology, aesthetic phenomenology, and sensory theory to create individualized sensory models and reception scenarios for England’s Plantagenet queens with the aim of recovering the ways in which these women would have perceived, interpreted, and interfaced with their material environments. Christine holds a B.A. in History with a minor in Philosophy from the University of North Texas, a M.A. in Medieval Studies from Fordham University, a M.S. in Information Studies from The University of Texas at Austin, and a M.A. in the History of Art from The University of Texas at Austin. Together with Dr. Holladay, Christine is currently working on a project to create a digital map of churches in the Swiss Alps designed to track and analyze the trade in altarpieces in this region during the late medieval/early modern period. They presented the progress of this project at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in May 2021.
Lucy Quezada, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Latin American Art
Lucy Quezada is a doctoral student in the Department of Art and Art History at The University of Texas at Austin and is sponsored by The National Research and Development Agency of Chile (ANID),The Fulbright Program, and the UT Center for Latin American Visual Studies. Her research centers on contemporary Latin American art, with an emphasis on the relationships between art and politics in the Southern Cone. Her doctoral research, advised by Dr. Adele Nelson, explores the official field of visual arts during the military dictatorships of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, between the 1960s and the 1980s. Quezada received her B.A. and her M.A. from Universidad de Chile. Her previous research projects focused on cultural institutions from the early 1970s in Chile, such as the Museo de la Solidaridad and the Instituto de Arte Latinoamericano.
About the Blanton Museum of Art
Founded in 1963, the Blanton Museum of Art holds the largest public collection in Central Texas with around 19,000 objects. Recognized as the home of Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, its major collecting areas are modern and contemporary American and Latin American art, Italian Renaissance and Baroque paintings, and prints and drawings. The Blanton offers thought-provoking, visually arresting, and personally moving encounters with art.
About the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive.