Department of Art and Art History News

Art History doctoral candidates present papers at the 2015 Maya Meetings

Thu. December 18, 2014


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Caitlin Earley is an art historian specializing in ancient Maya art. She is currently a Junior Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, DC, and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Art and Art History at The University of Texas at Austin. Earley’s dissertation research focuses on ancient Maya sculptures from the Comitán Valley of Chiapas, Mexico, and what they reveal about power and identity in the ancient world. Earley maintains a wide array of research interests, publishing and presenting on the iconography of kingship, the Maya ballgame, and Preclassic artistic motifs. A native of Alexandria, Virginia, Caitlin graduated from Williams College with a BA in English in 2003, and earned her MA in Art History from the University of Texas at Austin in 2008.

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Meghan Rubenstein is a doctoral candidate in Art History concentrating on Precolumbian Mesoamerica. Her academic research is motivated by her interest in art’s ability to facilitate, or resist, social and cultural change. Within this broad framework, Meghan explores themes of identity and modes of visual communication. Her current work focuses on architecture in the Puuc region of Yucatán between 750 and 950 CE. Her dissertation, Animate Architecture at Kabah: Terminal Classic Art and Politics in the Puuc Region, is a study of the Codz Pop, a building that provides insight into the vibrant relationship between religion, politics, and architecture during a period of local and regional transition. This research has benefited from ongoing collaboration with the archaeological project at Kabah as well as archival research at the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) in Mexico City and Mérida, and the Alexander Architectural Archive at The University of Texas at Austin.

Rubenstein’s fieldwork has been supported by a Fulbright-García Robles Fellowship, two E.D. Farmer International Fellowships, and various grants from the Graduate School and the College of Fine Arts at UT Austin. Prior to coming to Texas, she received a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MA from Indiana University. She has worked as an archaeological illustrator for projects in Mexico and Belize, and considers the process of drawing—both in and out of the field—an essential component of her research. At the 2015 Maya Meetings, she will present a paper entitled Scaffold Sacrifice at Kabah.

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Stephanie Strauss is a second year PhD student in Art History. Her research explores the interconnectedness of text and image in early Mesoamerican art, specifically the ways in which motif (de)construction and isolation catalyzed and informed the invention and use of hieroglyphic writing in the New World. Strauss’ work uses the interdisciplinary approaches of art history, archaeology, and linguistic anthropology to situate early hieroglyphic writing systems into their greater social context. Her dissertation addresses the enigmatic “Epi-Olmec” visual culture of the Late Preclassic Isthmus of Tehuantepec (300 BC to AD 250; principally in the Mexican states of Veracruz and Chiapas). She is particularly interested in how this understudied art and hieroglyphic program relates to other coeval text and image practices, such as the Preclassic Maya or Zapotec visual systems. Strauss has recently received grants from the Donald D. Harrington Foundation, Department of Art and Art History, College of Fine Arts, and the Charles Edwards Endowment to conduct summer research at sites across the Isthmus (summer 2014) and to present papers at the annual meetings of the College Art Association and the Society for American Archaeology (spring 2015).

Strauss previously worked as a contract exhibition scriptwriter and ceramics researcher at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. She earned her BA in Anthropology and Latin American Studies from Yale University (2011), where her honors thesis was granted the Michael D. Coe award for best departmental senior project. She completed her MA in Anthropology from George Washington University in 2013. While at GWU, she was a finalist for the Philip J. Amsterdam Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching. Strauss joined The University of Texas at Austin as a Harrington Doctoral Fellow in the fall of 2013. During the 2015 Maya Meetings, she will present a paper entitled Taking K’awiil and Giving Nen: Rethinking Infant Sacrifice Among the Classic Maya.

The Maya Meetings will take place January 13–17, 2015. For details about speakers and registration, visit The Mesoamerica Center.

Meet new graduates who walked the stage early December

Thu. December 18, 2014

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Devin Tayne, BA in Art History

Tayne knew she wanted to become a teacher before she came to college and decided to begin by studying Art History, her favorite subject from school. She also studied History and joined the UTeach Liberal Arts teaching preparation program. During college, she developed a passion for educating the next generation about issues in art history and world history. She also grew a respect for other cultures and a desire to travel and work abroad. Tayne is now headed off to teach history in an international school in Bangkok, Thailand. Certified in teaching AP Art History, she hopes to one day teach an Art History course but isn't hesitant to sneak plenty of art history into her World History class.


Tayne said, "I'm going into a career in which I am in the position to shape many of tomorrow's minds and the Art History program has prepared me to address many difficult issues, such as gender and race inequalities, and to better the world through the power of education."

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Alejandra Amaya, BFA in Studio Art

Amaya is a nomadic Texan with a passion for the ephemeral experience of identity. She creates installations utilizing sculpture as well as performance based video art. The layers of theses mediums and others speak on the different vantage points of perception and experience. When asked about her time at the university, Amaya said, "My favorite part of being a part of the Department of Art and Art History was the privilege of working with engaged peers and challenging mentors.”


Amaya's work can be viewed on her Vimeo and website. Currently, an installation of her work is on display at By George on North Lamar as part of a final project in Margo Sawyer's installation course.

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Jonathan Gruchawka, BFA in Studio Art

Gruchawka was born in 1987 in the state of New Jersey, and has since lived in Georgia, Connecticut, Tennessee, and now, Texas. He switched the focus of his studies from biology to visual art while attending community college in Dallas before transferring to UT Austin. Upon graduation, he moved back to Dallas and is preparing to show his work in February at the Dallas Public Library, while continuing his work in sculpture and painting as well as preparing for application to MFA programs across the country.


Gruchawka described that the Studio Art program "was a complete physical and intellectual challenge that left me not only a much better artist, but also a more intelligent, confident, and wise person that somehow has more questions now than ever before."

Ann Reynolds speaks about Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty

Thu. December 18, 2014

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Associate Professor Ann Reynolds speaks about Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty on RadioWest.

Eddie Chambers publishes chapter in new book

Thu. December 18, 2014

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Associate Professor Eddie Chambers published a chapter entitled "Black-British and Other African Diaspora Artists Visualizing Slavery" in a new book, African Diaspora in the Cultures of Latin America, the Carribbean, and the United States, edited by Persephone Braham.

Q+A Martha Hviid, graduate exchange student from Royal College of Art in London

Thu. December 18, 2014


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Image courtesy the Visual Arts Center. Photo by Sandy Carson.

You have been on exchange from the Royal Collect of Art in London (RCA) for the fall semester. What interested you in studying abroad at The University of Texas at Austin?

Well, to me it was a matter of several factors coming into place. First of all, when this exchange was announced to us at the Sculpture program at the RCA, I thought it would be one of the craziest things I could do. I had just settled in London and was really excited about being there. Our MA program is only two years long, so going away for 3 months out of this seemed like a long time. But the more I thought about it, it made sense for me to go explore a place of such different scale. I’m thinking not only the university, but Austin as a city, and Texas as a state.

Returning to the United States (I’ve lived in L.A. previously) seemed like a healthy way to come full circle with a lot of things in my life and thereby also in my art. From experience I think it’s often a good idea to do the thing that seems the craziest or most daunting—jumping into the water and then learning to swim. I applied and, fortunately, got selected by the faculty at the RCA. My practice isn’t very studio-bound so it was fairly easy for me to pick up my stuff and just go.

Would you describe the themes that you work with? What drives your interest in them?

I think, to many artists, being asked these two questions feels like getting caught in the headlights. It’s quite paralyzing having to sum this up in a short and clear way. I usually tell people that I work with perception, though not just in sensory way but also often in a more phenomenological way. I am very interested in how we as humans orient and place ourselves in context and space. I’m curious about where the central nervous center of the body lap over into the more intangible and, to use the perfect German word Geistlich, which refers to both spirit and ghost, mind, and essence.

clay sculpture of mice, pillow, and clay and yarn installed in gallery space
Image courtesy the Visual Arts Center. Photo by Sandy Carson.

You've talked about impressions as a theme that recurs through your work. The exchange program seems to fit right into that. Can you describe how you've felt impacted in even this short time?

I think most art students collect impressions, and they try and make sense of it all in their brains and bodies. I think a lot of art is about being confused and then trying to figure out the confusion—or even surrendering to it. For me, traveling (meeting new people and seeing new places) is like stirring the pot, adding a bit of unknown and confusion. In that way it gives me something to work with.

There is a very different physical feeling of being in tense, compact, busy London and spread out, warm, laid back Austin. Some have asked me which I prefer, but to me it’s really not about that, it’s about knowing (or trying to know) both. I’m from Copenhagen in Denmark, which is a third version. Even though I love it in Denmark, I can’t imagine I would have become a very good artist if I had just stayed there, in this unstirred pot, for my whole life.

What has been the most surprising experiences while you have been here?

I don’t think I get surprised as much as I get excited. I’ve generally had a really wonderful time here. In a way, I think the most surprising thing has been how easy it was fitting in, making friends, and getting things to happen. It was brilliant to get the opportunity to have my own show in Fieldwork Projects. I think it was a great exercise and a good practice for when I get back to London and have to start working on my graduate show. In my time here, I got to meet some very inspiring persons, including the artist and musician Laurie Anderson, the retired astronaut Alan Bean, and a variety of Austin-based curators and the school’s faculty.

The most overwhelming thing, though, must be the friendliness, generosity, and talent that the graduate students at the studio art program have shown me. Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined this kind of energy and inspiration being channeled. I deeply hope I can stay in contact with this group of people because this has been the main reason why I feel so privileged to have done this exchange.