American Art and Visual Culture Seminar: Elizabeth Lee and Sarah Schrank | Newberry

American Art and Visual Culture Seminar: Elizabeth Lee and Sarah Schrank

Friday, October 14, 2011

2 pm to 5 pm


Elizabeth Lee, Dickinson College, and Sarah Schrank, California State University
Center for American History and Culture Programs
American Art and Visual Culture Seminar

“The Body of the Collector: Charles Lang Freer and the Culture of Disease in Turn-of-the-Century America”

Elizabeth Lee, Dickinson College

The railroad industrialist Charles Lang Freer suffered from repeated episodes of neurasthenia, at least two strokes and a mental breakdown from the late stages of syphilis before his death in 1919.  Existing scholarship, which tends to emphasize the spiritual and transcendent aspects of Freer’s collecting, has not yet fully considered the role of the physical body—specifically, a diseased and ailing body—in analyzing what and how Freer collected.  This presentation addresses that imbalance by considering Freer’s interest in the restorative effects of hiking, fresh air and vaporous baths, for instance, in relationship to his fascination with Whistler, who described painting in embodied terms as “breath on the surface of a pane of glass.”  It also considers Freer’s corporeal relationship to objects, whether holding a painting up to his nose or stroking a Chinese jade at his death, within a framework of illness and disintegrating health.

“Naked Houses and Sunshine and Health Magazine: Suburban Architecture and the Visual Representation of Nudism

Sarah Schrank, California State University, Long Beach

“Naked Houses” traces the American pursuit of nudism, an unconventional health and body practice, and postwar suburbanites’ efforts to seamlessly incorporate it into their daily life through innovative home design. An examination of the photographs, photographic methods, and architectural designs displayed in Sunshine and Health, the flagship magazine of the nudist movement, place the visual culture of domestic nudist practice within the broader context of middle-class health pursuits, sexuality, and shifting concepts of the “natural” body in American urban environments.

Commentator: Melody Barrett Deusner, Northwestern University

Cost and Registration Information 

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically.  For a copy of the paper, e-mail the Scholl Center at  Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.