Doctoral candidate Emily Thames recently completed the Joe and Wanda Corn Predoctoral Fellowship at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) and the National Museum of American History (NMAH) for the 2016-2017 academic year. This fellowship supports scholars whose research interests span American art and American history, allowing them to draw upon the rich collections of both museums for their research.
Utilizing the diverse and extensive resources available through both museums, Emily conducted research for the advancement of her dissertation project, “The Life and Art of José Campeche: Enlightenment, Reform, and Identity in Late Eighteenth-Century Puerto Rico.” Her project focuses on José Campeche (1751-1809), a prolific artist who lived and worked in Puerto Rico during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Emily examines Campeche as an individual intricately entangled within his specific historical milieu, a simultaneous product and agent of cultural change and transformation in Puerto Rico during his lifetime. Her work considers the under-investigated significance of the artist’s race, the Hispanic Enlightenment, the Bourbon Reforms, Spanish imperial agendas, creole and proto-national identity in Puerto Rico, and the role of images in Spanish colonial societies.
Throughout Emily’s fellowship, she worked with Carmen Ramos, Curator of Latino Art at SAAM, and examined the eight works by Campeche that are in the museum’s collection. She also had the opportunity to examine several of the works in the painting conservation lab using a microscope and a UV light to detect retouching to the paintings’ surfaces, while consulting with Chief of Conservation, Tiarna Doherty. During her time at NMAH, Emily worked with Steve Rodriguez, the curator of Latino history at NMAH, to examine the Teodoro Vidal collection, which contains hundreds of objects from Puerto Rico from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries.
Emily’s research led to her traveling to other museums in the northeast that have paintings by Campeche in their collections, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Hispanic Society of America. In an effort to broaden her investigation Emily travelled to San Juan, Puerto Rico in March. While there she visited several archives and collections, including the Historical Military Archive at the San Juan National Historic Site. Concluding her fellowship, Emily presented her research at the 2017 SAAM Fellows’ Lectures, which were held May 3-5, 2017. Emily reflects,
The Joe and Wanda Corn Predoctoral Fellowship has provided me with a unique opportunity to gain direct access to a variety of Campache’s works through multiple institutions. As a result, I was able to develop a more well-informed and comprehensive analysis of the artist and his specific historical context in Puerto Rico at the turn of the nineteenth century.