faculty

R. Tripp Evans

Professor of the History of Art

Contact

Watson 143

Monday & Wednesday 10-11

(508) 286-3586

(508) 286-3565

About

R. TRIPP EVANS specializes in American art and architecture, with a focus on the material culture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  He received his B.A. in Architectural History from the University of Virginia and his M.A. and Ph.D. in the History of Art from Yale University. He is the author of two books, and in 2010 won the National Award for Arts Writing.  His current research focuses on the role of the American house museum, as seen through four historic homes located in New England.  He is President of the Board of Directors for the Providence Athenaeum in Providence, Rhode Island, and in 2017 he was appointed to the Rhode Island State Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission.

Degrees

Ph.D., Yale University (History of Art): 1998
M.A., Yale University (History of Art): 1993
B.A., University of Virginia (School of Architecture): 1990

Research Interests

My scholarship spans a wide range of times and locales — from ancient Mayan ruins to the “Brahmin” enclaves of Boston — unified by my interest in the places where biography and national identity meet. My first book, Romancing the Maya: Mexican Antiquity in the American Imagination, 1820-1915 (University of Texas Press: 2004), examined how four nineteenth-century figures presented Mexican antiquity as an ancient “pan-American” pedigree for the United States, often for reasons more personal than patriotic.  In my subsequent biography, Grant Wood: A Life (Alfred A. Knopf: 2010), I considered a similar theme, seeking to understand how Wood’s intensely personal imagery often served as a rallying cry for nationalist critics.

In recent years my research has focused on the American house museum, a project that examines how these sites reconcile private, domestic life with larger national narratives. This book-length study considers four historic house museums (Pendleton House in Providence, RI; the Codman Estate in Lincoln, MA; Gibson House in Boston, MA; and Beauport, in Gloucester, MA), all created by unmarried men. Entitled The Importance of Being Furnished: Four Yankee Bachelors at Home, the book will consider how these houses and collections reveal their owners’ attitudes toward legacy, self-fashioning, and, in some cases, desire.

Teaching Interests

Trained in the fields of architectural history and American material culture, I challenge students to consider the ways in which all the arts — the built environment, fine and decorative arts, and modern media such as film and performance — contribute to our understanding of a period, culture, or individual. In addition to my survey courses in Mesoamerican art, the art and architecture of the United States, and African-American art, I also teach a number of specialized seminars examining such subjects as the American house museum (“The American House as Biography”); visual responses to demographic change (“Curating Immigration Histories”); and my forthcoming seminar on the intersections between race and public commemoration (“Slavery, Protest, and the Public Monument”).

Publications

Selected Publications

The Importance of Being Furnished: Four Yankee Bachelors at Home (manuscript under representation by Massie & McQuilkin Literary Agents, New York)

“Invitation to Red Roof,” Historic New England, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Winter 2020)

“Guises of Commemoration: Peggy Guggenheim and the Funerary Arts of the Americas,” in Vivien Green, ed., Migrating Objects: Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Venice: Peggy Guggenheim Collection, 2020)

Grant Wood:  A Life, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010); winner of the Marfield Prize, the National Award for Arts Writing; and the Benjamin F. Shambaugh Award from the State Historical Society of Iowa

Romancing the Maya: Mexican Antiquity in the American Imagination, 1820-1915 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004)

“A Profitable Partnership: The Men and Women of Chicago’s Kalo Shop,” Chicago History; Volume XXIV, Number 2 (Summer 1995)

 

Student Projects

The following projects, all directed within the framework of a semester-long seminar, offered students the opportunity to undertake object-driven, primary research resulting in a public exhibition, published catalogue, and/or online resource.

“Curating Immigration Histories: City and Campus” (Spring 2020)

This course will explore the material histories of immigrant communities in Providence,  Rhode Island alongside the history of Wheaton College. Through historical objects, photography, and other evidence, we will seek to understand how the college and region have responded to demographic change and shifting ideas about national identity. Using objects from Wheaton’s Permanent Collection, Gebbie Archives, and other resources in Providence, students will sharpen their interpretive skills using primary historical sources.  This research will ultimately form a future exhibition in Wheaton’s Beard and Weil Galleries, reactivating historical materials in a manner that speaks to a diverse, twenty-first century public.

“Cataloguing Curiosity: The Providence Athenaeum Art Collection” (Spring 2016)

Students in this seminar undertook the first comprehensive cataloguing of the art collection at the Providence Athenaeum, a library established in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1836.  Each student researched and wrote a set of scholarly catalogue entries for the Athenaeum’s art collection, considering the works’ intrinsic art historical value as well as the objects’ connection to the intellectual and cultural mission of the institution. The completed entries have become an online resource and will eventually appear in a print publication.

“Making it Modern: Wheaton College and the International Style” (Fall 2009)

This seminar began as an investigation of the Wheaton College’s path-breaking conversion to architectural modernism in the 1930s.  Over the course of the semester, the students’ scope of inquiry expanded to include the architectural history of the campus as a whole — considering what a “modern” approach might have meant to successive generations of administrators, designers, and students.  The seminar resulted in an edited volume of essays, as well as an exhibition in the Beard and Weil Galleries.