The Pennsylvania State University

School of Visual Arts

Re-centering Art Education Histories at the Brushes with History Conference

History of A Ed Conference

Penn State art education faculty, doctoral students, and alumni played leading roles in re-examining histories of art education during the Brushes with History: Imagination and Innovation in Art Education History conference, November 19-22, 2015, at Teachers College in New York City. Dr. Wanda B. Knight, associate professor of art education and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, held the attention of everyone in TC’s Milbank Chapel as she described how Grace Porter Hampton took the stage during the 1971 National Art Education Association conference to deliver a manifesto from African American members protesting their exclusion from conference planning, lack of representation as speakers, and absence from consultation on ethnic concerns in the field of art education. Based in part on oral history interviews with Dr. Hampton, professor emerita of art education, integrative arts, and African and African American studies at Penn State, Dr. Knight’s paper, “Racism and Discrimination: Black Brushes with NAEA,” was one of several addressing histories of art education from perspectives of African Americans, women, people of color, and others previously left out of official records. Doctoral candidate Jessica Baker Kee, speaking in the same session, explained how students at Hampton Institute preserved traditional African American aesthetics and narratives through an art collection and the Hampton Folklore Society, introducing art education even before Austrian immigrant Viktor Lowenfeld arrived to teach visual arts in 1939. Dr. Sharif Bey, alumnus of Penn State’s art education program and now associate professor of art education at Syracuse University, gave the third paper in this session on the contributions of Augusta Savage to African American art education. As Dr. Judith Kafka, associate professor at the Baruch College School of Public Affairs and Graduate Center, noted in her response to this session, art education is marginalized in general education, just as history of education is. When histories of art education address African American art education and educators, they achieve a third degree of marginality. Thus, many of the papers given during Brushes with History argued for re-envisioning the field with what had been margins relocated to the center. Kafka concluded that art education has been central in the history of our nation, especially for those marginalized and oppressed.

Other Penn Staters gave papers that brought K-12 art teachers and supervisors, Japanese internees, and Asian arts into a central focus. Current doctoral candidates Christine Hanawalt and Sue Uhlig interpreted the life and life-long learning of Massachusetts art teacher Mabel Spofford. A postcard book Spofford created while taking a summer mural workshop with Lowenfeld at Penn State was the stimulus for their research. Alumnus David Burton of Virginia Commonwealth University spoke about the first Virginia state art supervisor and her efforts to build support for both black and white teachers in a segregated school system. Gina Mumma Wenger, a doctoral alumna and now professor of art at Minnesota State University, Mankato, investigated art education in Japanese internment camps during the Second World War. Doctoral candidate Eunjung Choi introduced how Asian art was displayed during the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Following the conference, Eunjung described how the “convivial ambiance … facilitated lively intellectual engagement and professional/personal interaction” (personal communication, December 3, 2015). Felix Rodriguez, art education doctoral candidate, commented on the conference’s closing session where participants were encouraged to pose questions that might contribute to a future research agenda: “After listening to several presentations focused on race and gender issues in art education in the United States, and presentations about art education in Canada, Korea, Sweden, and Germany, I realized that there is a need for voices that serve as two-way translators that bring up to this kind of setting historical issues of art education pertaining to the Hispanic community both inside and outside the United States” (personal communication, December 5, 2015). 

Grace Hampton, SoVA Director Graeme Sullivan, and Professor of Art Education Mary Ann Stankiewicz were among the invited discussants for conference sessions. Doctoral alumnus John Howell White, chair of the Department of Art Education and Crafts at Kutztown University, spoke on the history of art education there and served as a discussant. Professor Stankiewicz was a member of the conference planning team, which included Drs. Judy Burton and Ami Kantawala of Teachers College, and Dr. Paul Bolin, University of Texas, Austin.

Photo caption: Mary Ann Stankiewicz, Sue Uhlig, and Eunjung Choi at the reception for Brushes with History, Macy Gallery, Teachers College. Photograph by Ji Young Shim.