Department of Art and Art History News

Q+A with Lucia R. Henderson (Ph.D. in Art History, 2013)

Thu. February 25, 2016

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Lucia Henderson received her Ph.D. in Art History from UT Austin in 2013, specializing in Precolumbian art. Henderson holds a B.A. in anthropology from Harvard, an M.A. in art history from UC San Diego, and is a trained archeological illustrator. She has published on stone sculpture, cave art, volcano imagery, the Maya, the Aztecs, and the ancestral Hopi of the American Southwest. Henderson was a Coleman Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 2014–2015 and is currently a Mayer Fellow at the Denver Art Museum.

She answered questions by email.

You finished your Ph.D. in Art History in 2013. Describe your thesis topic and why you chose to study at UT Austin.

Lucia Henderson: I wrote my dissertation on the sculptures of Kaminaljuyu, an early Maya site now buried under Guatemala City. Although considered one of the most significant sites of the early Maya world, no comprehensive sculptural catalog had ever been gathered or studied. My dissertation project involved hunting down, photographing and illustrating these sculptures, then interpreting them to better understand early Maya religion, ritual and incipient authority.

As for coming to UT Austin, I had studied with David Stuart as a Harvard undergrad. I widely blame him for irrevocably hooking me on the ancient Maya! After graduation, I was hired as an illustrator for the Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions at the Peabody Museum. Its founder, Ian Graham, and David Stuart were my supervisors, training me in technical drawing (black and white inked illustrations of bas-relief sculptures). We first spoke about the importance of illustrating the sculptures of Kaminaljuyu in 2001—there was a rising interest in the early Maya, and the site remained understudied and under-published. When I was searching for a Ph.D. program in 2005, UT Austin rose to the top—not only was David there, but so, too, was Julia Guernsey, an expert in early Maya art. It was a perfect fit.

How did you learn about the Metropolitan Museum of Art Fellowship? What did it mean for your research to become a fellow? What did your time at the Met teach you?

LH: As I neared the end of my doctorate, I began to consider how my graduate career would translate into the “real world.” Museum collections seemed particularly intriguing. No one could tell me much about how the museum universe “worked,” though, so I began cold-calling people—literally talking to anyone who was willing to do an informational interview with me. I reached a woman who worked at the Met in exhibitions and gave her my CV. A few months later, Joanne Pillsbury was appointed the Curator of the Ancient Americas, which prompted an email from my contact suggesting I apply for a fellowship. It was a general pool, meaning I was in competition against art historians in all other specialties. No one in my field had occupied a postdoc fellowship at the Met in recent history, so I put my chances at near zero.

It was a magical year—enriching beyond measure to be exposed to a world of outstanding scholars beyond my specialization. It was also immensely humbling. And productive: I submitted 4 articles for publication, wrote 10 online catalog entries for the museum, gave 6 professional talks, and made major progress on my Kaminaljuyu book.

You recently started a postdoc at the Denver Art Museum. What has that been like?

LH: If I could have written my own dream job description, this would be it. My time is divided between museum hours and my own research hours, so it’s the best of both worlds. Though the Denver Art Museum (DAM) is much smaller than the Met, their Maya collection is nearly twice as large, covering an almost encyclopedic range of time periods, styles, geographies and object types. My Met position was an academic one—I chose to catalog the objects I personally found compelling. At the DAM I am more deeply involved in the curatorial aspects of the museum world. My project is also more holistic and comprehensive, planning the pathways of future studies and creating frameworks with which we can begin to understand these extraordinary, understudied objects. The idea is to identify the broad, thematic categories represented by the collection first, then add in the more specific narratives as we go. Every day is one of adventure and discovery. These objects have so many stories to tell, and it is a rather remarkable thing to find myself in the position of giving those stories a voice.

On top of it all, you are working to finish a book manuscript. Tell us a little about your book and how you’ve juggled the writing and research for it with everything else you’ve been doing.

LH: As I mentioned, my position at the DAM is part-time museum work and part-time research, so I have been extremely fortunate in that regard. That said, I understand why people take year-long sabbaticals to write books! It’s a full-time job.

When combined with my DAM research, publications and conference talks, it can be overwhelming. This kind of schedule is more the rule than the exception in academia, though. We are all in constant multi-tasking mode. What has made this book a particular challenge is that in 2014 (the year after I submitted my dissertation) scholars revised Kaminaljuyu’s chronology—shifting the site’s sculptures about 200-300 years forward in time. Debates are raging and we are working to fully understand the implications of the revision. By rather accidentally ending up as a Kaminaljuyu specialist, I have found myself in the midst of the academic maelstrom. It’s been spectacular fun but also incredibly difficult to navigate—the book must balance the necessity for a coherent narrative while emphasizing that we have just undergone a seismic shift in the field.

The years to come will certainly be interesting ones. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Alumnus Louis Hicks looks back on journey from UT to D.C.

Wed. February 24, 2016

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“The university was a dominant presence for everyone in the city,” Louis Charles Hicks, Jr. said. “My dad insisted that I go to UT.”

Hicks was born in East Austin 1951 and lived there though the 1970s. The Vietnam War raged on in the background of Hicks’ studies. He completed a B.A. in psychology in 1975. After spending some time substitute teaching for Austin Independent School District, Hicks was encouraged to return to the university for teacher certification.

Instead, Hicks found himself completing a B.F.A. in Studio Art by 1978—focusing on design under late professor Leonard Ruben.

While completing his B.F.A., Hicks worked for the Austin Public Libraries and his supervisor encouraged him to apply for a position as the new Curator/Director of the George Washington Carver Museum (later named the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center).

“At that time, it was just one building, the former library was renovated and was connected to the newly constructed branch library. I was tasked with the job of creating the first exhibition for the Carver. I had never stepped foot in a museum, I didn’t know what I was doing. But because of my training through my professor—he trained us to take problems and issues and come up with creative solutions. It was through this guidance that I was able work for three months over the summer in the Austin History Center Archive even though there was no formal program set up to train me in what was needed to run a museum.”

Hicks worked at the Carver Museum for eight years and created exhibitions that explored African American history in Austin.

“Subsequent exhibitions that we developed at the museum over the years, were things that I was curious about because I did not know anything about black history in Austin nor the history that was beyond my grandmother’s generation,” said Hicks. “So through those efforts, I was able to take my interests and marry them with things that were brought to us, proposals, by people within our community as well as opportunities through partnering with organizations like Laguna Gloria.”

He found himself at Howard University where he wrote his thesis, “An Examination of the Aesthetics and Functions of Selected Works of Art of the Voodoo Religion in Haiti” and continued working in the museum field. He has worked in and around museums for over thirty years and is currently the director of grants and special projects at Humanities DC.

“My sense of design was developed through design class projects where we had to take a proposed problem and create a physical art project from it,” said Hicks. “We were also challenged with solving a problem within a short three hour session of class. That training taught me to think really broadly, to not be confined with what’s before me but to engage all of my senses and contacts to draw upon to take what I had and make what I needed.”

The George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center has mounted a special photographic retrospective of From the Grounds Up: A Retrospective, originally organized by Hicks in 1983. The retrospective will be on view through March 21, 2016.

Design undergraduates travel to New York City and visit design firms

Wed. February 24, 2016

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Design undergraduates (from left to right in photo) Jacqueline Juengst, Hillary Henrici, and Moses Lee traveled to New York to visit and experience agencies and events relevant to their practices. Read about their experiences on their blog.

Through the Professional Development Travel Initiative, the College of Fine Arts Career Services awards financial support to qualifying groups of students who design their own travel opportunities to apply their academic work to their professional goals.

Nassos Papalexandrou discusses recent resarch and lectures at The Getty

Wed. February 24, 2016

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Read an interview with Nassos Papalexandrou about his recent research. Papalexandrou will give a lecture February 27, 2016 at the Getty Villa.