This spring the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) and the J. Willard Marriott Library launched the first in a three-year round of awards for the University’s faculty, staff and students: the Fellowship in Collections Engagement, or FICE. Five projects have been selected that promise to foster innovative, interdisciplinary, collections-based scholarship and creativity while highlighting the strengths of the UMFA’s and Marriott Library’s collections. The awards are part of a joint project, “Landscape, Land Art, and the American West,” meant to stimulate research, pedagogy and engagement with the collections and resources of the Museum and the Library. The project is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and matching funds from the U.
Awardees were chosen for their innovation in object-based learning and teaching. Their proposed projects engage primary-source material that suggest compelling evidence for a more dynamic and diverse picture of the American West than well-worn Manifest Destiny narratives traditionally suggest. These projects represent the disciplinary breadth of work happening on campus:
Huddleston’s project, “Women’s Work in the American West: Teaching with Primary Sources,” will build a curriculum aimed at undergraduates, dissecting the undertheorized but crucial role of women’s labor to the nation’s program of westward expansion. Huddleston observes that even today, the history of labor on the American frontier is overwhelmingly presented as “men [who] toil in mines and fields, on railroads and in booming towns, working to introduce civilization to a harsh environment. This myth,” she continues, “is doubly problematic. It ignores both the reality of the people who lived on and cultivated the land before Euro-American colonization and also minimizes the contributions of women to the rich history of what is now the American West.” Her curriculum will reveal a fuller picture of historical representations of labor in the West while introducing students to practical archival research methods, ultimately empowering a new generation with the scholarly tools necessary to deepen our knowledge about the region’s multitextured history.
Larsen, who maintains her role as head of exhibitions and programs at the Springville Museum of Art while pursuing her master’s degree at the U, will focus on a different type of women’s labor in “Utah’s Women Artists and the American West, c. 1890–1950.” Larsen’s research will fill a significant historical gap in contextualizing the work of artists such as Verla Birrell, Mabel Frazer and Florence Ware, who were among the first women to become fine arts professors at the U. Larsen’s project broadens the significance of these artists’ works beyond the state, locating them within an international network of professionals who studied in New York, Chicago and abroad. She will extend her findings to a broader public, raising the profile of little-known corners of the U’s collections and history in a series of articles for 15 Bytes, Utah’s Art Magazine.
In “The Great Salt Lake: Myths, Salt, and Birds” Shertok will pull from not only from the U’s collections but also from the physical geography of the lake itself, to produce a poem portfolio that links the ecological with the elegiac. The series will plumb the Great Salt Lake’s role as a resource for human recreation and commerce and as a refuge for migratory birds and animals as it expands and contracts over time. Shertok’s portfolio is intended to resonate with those concerned for the lake’s transformation, calling attention, he hopes, to “the urgency required for its conservation.”
FitzGerald, Mauck and Hardenbrook seek to use machine learning to quantify commonalities intrinsic to the western landscape genre in their project, “Learning Art: What Makes Western Art ‘Western’?” By pulling their visual data from the Museum’s and Library’s databases, the students will develop training sets that will comparatively analyze photos and paintings depicting landscape scenes. The students intend to apply machine learning techniques to discover like structural elements that are characteristic of the western landscape; their findings will assist them in developing a categorization algorithm, which they hope will ultimately aid the Museum and Library in sorting vast quantities of information about their collections that would be impractical on a human scale.