Dana E. Byrd, Bowdoin College and Elizabeth Carlson, Lawrence University | Newberry

Dana E. Byrd, Bowdoin College and Elizabeth Carlson, Lawrence University

Friday, November 13, 2015

2 to 5 pm

Towner Fellows Lounge

Center for American History and Culture Programs
American Art and Visual Culture Seminar

Close Enough to Be Kept at Bay: Harriet Cany Peale’s Her Mistress’s Clothes


Dana E. Byrd, Bowdoin College


The legacy of American slavery is such that when most twenty-first century viewers engage Harriet Cany Peale’s 1849 painting, Her Mistress’s Clothes (oil on tin, 10 1/8” x 8 ¼”, Private Collection) we are troubled by its apparent strangeness – either we recoil in horror at the control exhibited by the young slave mistress whose hand arrests the throat of the young slave girl or we might delight over the display of intimacy between two young women of similar ages engaged in a grooming ritual. Peale’s painting presents beauty as being conditional, and embedded within concepts of racial stereotype and local social convention, while being rooted in a cosmopolitan early 19th century painting tradition. This paper investigates the painting’s myriad sources while articulating a theory of how the painting would have been understood by its antebellum audience.


‘Painting Freely’: Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones’ Portrayal of Shopgirls


Elizabeth Carlson, Lawrence University


Elizabeth Sparhawk-Jones’ painting Shoe Shop (1911) portrays kneeling shopgirls assisting two fashionable women in the shoe section of a modern department store. Through her distinctive “free” brushwork and seemingly neutral subjects, such as babies and shopping, Sparhawk-Jones captivated critics while at the same time interrogated the often-complicated relationship between working and middle class women. This paper examines Sparhawk-Jones’ depictions of shopgirls made between 1908 and 1912. I show that her canvases were statements that smartly and subtly challenged class and gender difference in the modern metropolis and in her own daily experience as a working woman artist.


Respondent: Sarah Kelly Oehler, The Art Institute of Chicago

Cost and Registration Information 

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically. For a copy of the paper, email the Scholl Center ar scholl@newberry.org. Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.